So I’ll admit it, this is just my opinion, and there is probably a few other statements that have ruined peoples faith, but I think this may be the worst of the litter.
“you just need to have faith”
We hear this statement in a number of situations. Perhaps someone is going through a hard time and they are struggling to see how God is allowing their friend to battle through cancer, they are dealing with a difficult breakup, or they lost their job and don’t know what they are going to do. Then along comes the well-meaning Christian, he plops down beside him and says that horrible combination of words ‘I know it’s hard, but you just have to have faith’.
Or in another situation someone is struggling through the scriptures in seeing what seem to be some immoral acts of God, they have doubts about whether God exists, whether the Bible is reliable, or even just are struggling to grasp and/or believe some piece of theology. Once again, here comes that well-meaning Christian to help his struggling brother or sister. He feels he has a sufficient understanding of what’s going on and ignorantly presents the ‘you just have need to have faith’ line.
I think I’ve been in both situations at one time or another, but both times I felt my heart or brain throw up a little. To a point, when we say this we are spot on. At one point or another we should trust that God has things under control. Even with the best apologetics training in the world there is still that movement between knowing in our mind and trusting through our actions that we must take a leap or even just a really awkward step of faith.
The statement isn’t wrong in itself. It’s true. The timing is wrong.
If you say ‘you just need to have faith’ to the person who is going through a hard time you have failed miserably to empathize with them. They may even know it already; they may even believe it already, but having faith doesn’t mean that the situation doesn’t suck. It still sucks. What someone needs in that moment isn’t someone to fix it, or express the cold hard facts of life, especially when they probably already know ‘they just need to have faith’. They just need someone to be there.
When we say this sort of thing to someone struggling in their faith we also haven’t stepped into their shoes. We clearly haven’t taken the time to hear out their struggles. Maybe you haven’t had that sort of crisis of faith yourself, so you don’t understand. Let me tell you how you sound to that person. When someone is genuinely seeking truth and struggling to find and trust God in the midst of it and you tell them ‘you just need to have faith’, do you know what they hear? They hear ‘Hey buddy, there really aren’t good answers to what you’re asking about, you just need to stop using your brain and dedicate your entire life to God blindly without really knowing if He really exists or not’.
Sooooo. . . not helpful.
Please don’t say this to anyone struggling with their faith. Perhaps you don’t know the answers, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t any. Tell them to check it out, try to be a resource to help them in it, or find someone who can.
Let’s agree ‘you just need to have faith’, is totally true. But sometimes it isn’t helpful.
Reblogged this on Cyber Penance.
Another good article. It helps us understand what is being heard when Christians talk to others. I have a question for you but it’s a bit academic.
Apologists and philosophers are interested in truth. What is truth and how do we know truth. You are saying that when it comes to communicating with others,we need to take other factors into account other than what is truth and how do we know truth. The epistemology we use to learn truth and the methodology we use to communicate truth differ. Hmm, I have a question here somewhere. If our epistemology is correct, why would we change our methodology in such a way that it doesn’t match?
Great article. Exactly my sentiments. When I was going through my faith crises 2 years ago (and my brain continues to harass me with emotional doubt) well meaning friends/family/even pastoral counselors told me “Just have faith”, As if this hadn’t occurred me. As if I just needed to turn of my brain and force faith. My husband had a similar unhelpful gem, “That’s why they call it faith, Kate”. Thanks, Sherlock.