Ask Michelle Tepper (September 23-27, 2019)

Hello, friends! (@Interested_In_Ask_RZIM)
This week, we on Connect are privileged to have the opportunity to ask questions of Michelle Tepper, RZIM itinerant speaker based in Florida. If you are unfamiliar with the broad range of topics she has addressed, do check out the list below. (Spoiler alert: it’s pretty extensive!)

Happy asking!

Michelle’s RZIM bio

Michelle Tepper is an itinerant speaker for RZIM and Chaplain at the Zacharias Institute.

Michelle has a bachelor’s degree in political science from Stetson University and studied theology at the Oxford Centre for Christian Apologetics (OCCA) where she was part of its first graduating class. Prior to joining RZIM, Michelle was the University Chaplain for St. Aldate’s Church in Oxford, England, for six years.

She teaches worldwide on a number of subjects including suffering, God’s character, sharing the gospel with students, questions churches face, and sex and relationships. Michelle has been a part of RZIM since 2011, working first as a speaker with RZIM Europe and as a guest lecturer at the OCCA. Now a member of the US speaking and writing team, she also is actively involved in RZIM’s growing presence in Latin America where she helps run university mission weeks and train evangelists.

Michelle lives in central Florida with her husband, Peter, and daughter, Sophia. She is a sunshine lover and espresso aficionado. When she is not traveling, she ministers in her local church where her husband is a pastor.

Michelle speaks on a variety of topics including:

  • Where Is God in Suffering?
  • Christianity and Women
  • Love, Sex, and Relationships
  • How Could You Believe in Miracles in the 21st Century?
  • How Could There Be Only One Way To God?
  • Is Christianity Arrogant and Exclusive?
  • God of Love or God of Justice: Do We Have To Choose?
  • Is Fearless Faith Irrational and Dangerous?
  • Is the Christian Faith Unreasonable?
  • The Reality of the Resurrection
  • Can We Trust the Bible?
  • Evidence for the Existence of God
  • Why Would God Send His Son to Die?
  • How Does the Cross Prove Love?
  • Everyday Apologetic Conversations
  • Breaking the Silence on Faith and Other Hard Topics in Everyday Life
  • Sharing the Gospel with Your Kids/Youth
  • What Is the Question Behind the Question?
  • Help My Unbelief
  • The Trinity
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Hello Michelle,
I have several questions within the topics you speak upon, but I will begin with this one regarding suffering:
About a month ago, the husband of one of my wife’s co-workers was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer. The other co-workers (not believers) ask why God would allow this to happen. In attempting to help my wife interact with her co-workers, I advised for her to listen and weep with them at this time. Their emotions seemed to be driving the question rather than inquiry. A time will come for the a reasonable answer, but that would not comfort in the emotional turmoil of the moment.
Was there a better answer that I missed? What would be the next step in conversation with the co-workers?

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Hello Michelle,
The introduction states that you speak on a variety of topics. Are these talks available either in audio or as a blog? There are some subjects I would like to engage to ask further questions.

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Hello! Michelle,
It is pleasure to be with you and asked a question. I have often encounter with our pentecostal brother and having a conversation regarding a gift of tongue. I have some doubts on the gift of prophecy and speaking tongue. I believe God is powerful and can still do a miracles but, apart from bible can will still done Miracle like speaking tongue, prophecy in today world? How far the gift of Holy Spirit work in our church today.

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Hi everyone,

It is my privilege to join you this week. I can’t wait to engage with your questions. RZIM connect is such a great forum for community and conversation on the deep questions of life. I see there are already some great questions coming in!

Thanks for taking the time to engage,
Michelle

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Hi Daren,

Thanks for your questions. To answer your first question, if you go to rzim.org and do a search for my name then you can reference any past articles or resources that I have contributed to. Most of them are free to access, apart from the RZIM Academy core module lecture that I give on The Trinity and the elective What does it mean to be Human on Love and Relationships. To view previous talks you can search the RZIM youtube channel as well.

In regards to the question about your wife’s co-workers, I want to commend you and your wife for the sensitivity you are practicing as you respond to their suffering. In the midst of such personal suffering as a loved one or a co-worker, usually the last thing needed is philosophical reasoning, even when people are asking ‘why’ they are suffering.

In fact, the preeminent aspect of the Christian response to the problem of pain and suffering is that the God of the universe responds to the suffering of humanity with his embodied presence through Jesus Christ. In John 11 we see that Jesus responds to Mary and other mourners at the tomb of Lazarus, just as you counseled your wife, with tears and profound grief. As Christians we are called to testify to the beauty of the gospel by bringing Christ to our world through our physical presence. When we identify with, and have compassion in the suffering and grieving of others, we give a much more powerful response than words alone could ever offer. Also, our compassion gives an invitation for deeper relationships and further conversation at a later point.

When it comes to taking next steps in conversation it is important to remember that your co-workers are individuals, so chances are each will respond diferently to your invitation to go deeper on the subject. The first step is to continue to be open and invitational in your conversations with them. It is important that they feel listened to and that you are interested in them as people, whether or not they ever want to talk further on this subject or if they ever become Christians. Next, if it is possible, you and your wife may want to find ways of offering support to the wife who’s husband is ill. For, example maybe she could organize something like meals, house cleaning or child-care if appropriate, and invite the other coworkers to participate in a practical response to suffering. I often find that it is easier to go deper in converstaions with people if those conversatiosn happen over a meal, or coffee and in smaller groups. Maybe your wife could sync some of her breaks at work with some of the co-workers that have questions. Then she could invite them to tell her how they are feeling about the news, how they deal with suffering in their own lives. As she listens, chances are she will be invited to share more of her hope in suffering.

I am often struck by how willing people are to recieve prayer, even when they are not believers. Prayer is such a crucial aspect of dealing with suffering. As you and your wife continue to pray for your co-workers during this time, you may find opportunities to offer prayer for those who are greiving at work. Don’t be afraid to be open and honest about your reliance on prayer and continue to offer prayer for individuals in your workspace.

On that note, I would like to end with a prayer for you and your wife as you journey with her co-workers at this time.

Heavenly Father, thank you so much for sending Jesus to us in the midst of our suffering. We are in awe of your love and compassion for us. Thank you that you promised that you will never leave us or forsake us, and we choose to trust your word even when we cannot understand or see you. I pray specifically for Daren and his wife, that you would remind them personally of the power and hope of your resurrection life. I pray that as they reach out to these co-workers, the light of your glorious gospel would shine through them. I pray that this office space would be a place where the comfort of the Holy Spirit and the truth of Jesus Christ would be seen and known through Daren and his wife. Give Daren’s wife eyes to see and ears to hear where you, Lord, are prompting her to go further in conversations. I pray that you would comfort the wife and husband going through this sickness and that you would use this suffering to turn them and many other co-workers to you in repentance. Thank you that you are real and that you care for us in our suffering. In Your name Jesus, I pray. Amen.

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Michelle, it is so good to have you here. One of my favorite class in the Core Module was your talk on the Trinity.

I have a friend who has been close for over 50 years. He is in a group called The Way. When I saw him last week, I asked His position on Jesus - was He God? His response was, "How long do you have?’’ My reply to him was that I did not see the need for a discussion on Jesus because He was God. His reply was a hesitating agreement. I love him and his wife dearly and he wants to be called a Christian but I can’t put my finger on why I think we aren’t on the same page. Could you speak to The Way?

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Hi Chuimatai,

Thank you so much for asking this important question. Many people wonder whether the gifts of the Spirit that we read about in the New Testament and specifically in Paul’s writings still occur today. I want to commend you for your friendship with members of the body of Christ that might be from a different tradition than you are from. In my experience, many of the divisions and misunderstandings within the body of Christ arise from the lack of relationship or experience with Christians outside of one’s own tradition. This was definitely true of my own experience!

I grew up in a pentecostal denomination, then when I went to study in Oxford I attended and later served as a lay minister at an Anglican Church. I met my husband while studying, and he was ordained in the Evangelical Presbyterian Church. After we were married, we ministered together in a historic Anglican church in Oxford and then helped with a fresh expressions church plant, still within the Anglican movement but which met on a farm in a tent! When we moved back to the states 4 years ago my husband was invited to join the pastoral staff at an Assembly of God church to help them make some much-needed transitions and changes. After fulfilling his commitment at that church, he has accepted a pastoral position to help revitalize a historic Anglican church in Central Florida. I have included these personal details because I know that my understanding and practice of many aspects of my faith have been enhanced and stretched through exposure and collaboration with multiple different denominations of the body of Christ.

Regardless of the church tradition, we come from, scripture is the most important starting point when faced with practices or teaching that we are unfamiliar with. Scripture clearly teaches us that there is more to this life than the material world. The God of Christianity created the natural world that we live in, He cannot be contained within it, and yet he freely and willingly interacts within our natural universe to make himself known to us. 1 Corinthians chapter 12, 14 and Romans 12 are biblical passages that speak of gifts of the Spirit of God that are given to believers for the “common good” or strengthening of the body of Christ. Every sound denomination agrees on the inspiration of all scripture, including these passages, they simply differ on how they are practiced today.

You mentioned that you believe that God is powerful and can still do miracles today. So it seems that you already believe that we can witness God at work in powerful ways in our world today, that is a great starting point. Isn’t it reasonable then, to expect that if our all-powerful God is still at work today, then the ways in which he interacts with us might seem incredible to both to believers and unbelievers? Could it be that your questions about speaking in tongues, prophecy and other gifts of the Spirit come from the lack of solid biblical explanation of them and perhaps the lack of genuine experience thereof? There was a great article posted recently on RZIM connect by a member of the community that addresses this question specifically, you can find the article here: Gifts of the Holy Spirit: Is it possible people doubt them because people don’t operate in them perfectly?.

The bible tells us in Hebrews 13:8 that Jesus is the same yesterday today and forever. We should let this promise and the promise of his continued presence with us through the Holy Spirit help guide us as we grow in our relationship and knowledge of him. I would like to point you to some further reading on the topic. The book is called Holy Fire: A Balanced, Biblical Look at the Holy Spirit’s Work in Our Lives, it is by R. T. Kendall. I have found this book to be extremely helpful because the book does exactly what the title claims. In it, Kendall unpacks many questions about the Holy Spirit and His work in our lives and in the church, and each chapter and topic is explained in a sound Biblical manner.

Bless you brother,
Michelle

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Hi Michelle,
It is a joy to have you responding to questions this week.

My name is Ro Spaulding, I teach Apologetics to 7th & 8th grade students at a small Christian school in central Florida. Hey neighbor!
I strongly believe so many young people walk away from the faith by the time they go to college, b/c they have moral complaints against God’s character, the church or the validity of the Bible. It is so important that these questions be addressed and prayerfully settled before they can move forward in trusting Him.
Thus, this class was born for students to ask questions & understand who Jesus truly is. As I read their questions, I feel the weight of their hearts and I am humbled to be entrusted with these precious souls.

At the beginning of the year, I instructed each student to write down a question that they have been struggling with for a while. I let the students know, I would be submitting their questions to a member of the RZIM staff on an open forum. I told them to be patient, for it may take awhile to submit the questions, but each week the students ask with eager anticipation if their question has been answered.

I have grouped their questions into categories and I wish to submitt 2 questions from 1 category as they have written them. Suffering.

"God says he’s always with us and he also knows what is going to happen so he just sits there and watches? Why would a so loving and big God let you go through so much if he is real! I am Georgia and I’m a teenager. "

“Why would God allow sorrow, loss, and pain on innocent people? The reason I’m asking this is cause I lost many family members when I was young and they didn’t deserve to die. Also, this is Gabby, I’m 13 and I’ve always wondered why loss has come to my family.”

If you have time in the next few months, It would knock my kids socks off if you came to visit during one of our class. I truly believe you, taking the time, in the flesh, to interact with them, could be the catalyst some of these students need to solidify Christ in their lives. Plus, it would be so cool and I would love it.

Please let me know if a visit is remotely possible and thank you so very much for answering the cry of these two precious girls hearts.

So Very Grateful,

Ro Spaulding

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Wow! That amazing @Michelle_Tepper two different denominations meet together and serve in different denominations its a first time I ever saw. How great the love of God works to build good relationships… Thank you so much to open up my mind, and I will go through those book.

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Hi Ro,

I’m so very glad that you wrote! What a wonderful blessing that you are these student’s teacher. I have a few questions for you. Have you submitted any other questions on this forum from your students and have they been answered in the past? Also, would you prefer me to just confer with you through private message on here about finding a date to come and visit the class instead of answering these questions briefly on here? I will message you personally as well to talk about location and potential dates. Suffering is such a big topic, and for Gabby and Georgia’s sake I would much prefer to take a full class to talk it over with them and the other students, instead of sending a few paragraphs. Please tell them I got their questions and they are so important to me that we are working on a visit!

Thanks Michelle

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Hello Michelle,
Good morning! My daughter is in 10th grade and her class is focusing on the crusades and a discussion lead by the teacher focused on the brutality of the crusaders. The room immediately became negative toward Christians my daughter became mad and angry but said nothing due to the hostility of the room and her limited knowledge on these topics. All I could say to her this morning was that it’s true, what occurred during the crusades was horrible but you can’t judge a faith by its abuses! What would be a better response to help her understand how to handle these situation, and what could I read or provide her more skill in critical thinking around these discussions?

Best regards,
Mark Murphy

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Thank you so much for this, Michellle. I have a very similar background in that I was raised Pentecostal but later attended an evangelical Episcopal denomination, now broken off into the Anglican Church of North America. The reason I left the Pentecostal church was that I felt so much of their worship was based on emotion, specifically as evidenced in the speaking of tongues. I actually asked God to take away my emotion.
After being in the Episcopal church, I did find my faith became more balance, as you so well explained it. Now, I’m attending a Baptist church and God has given me my “emotion” back, but it is now more of an expression of my deep love for Him than what I experience in my earlier years in the Pentecostal faith.
I praise God for the work of you and your husband in bringing balance to both the Anglican and Pentecostal denominations. Your response has helped me understand more of my journey.

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Hi Tim,

Thank you for your question. There is an important trend in some of the questions that have come in this week, in that many of them stem from a friendship or professional relationship. One of the most important aspects of everyday evangelism is that we remained focused on the person behind the question. You have 50 years of friendship with this many, this will be the most influential aspect of how future conversations of faith develop with him.

It is common for people who are followers of sects such as Mormons, or Jehovah’s witnesses, and The Way to describe themselves as Christians. Often this stems from the lack of sound theological teaching and explanation of foundational Christian doctrine. The best way to help people understand the important differences between true Christianity and their sect is through on-going relationship. I will go into some of the important problems with The Way below, but it is so important to make sure that your future conversations with this beloved couple are characterized not by arguments and differences but by genuine questions and good listening. You want to communicate to them that you care about them and that you are willing to learn about what they believe. After they trust this it will be much easier to draw out differences between true Christianity and what they have been taught.

If you do a quick search online for The Way, the results can be confusing. Firstly, even google will not bring up any results if you just search 'the way", you have to search for an older name the sect was known by “The Way International.” On their own website, they describe themselves as a site for non-denominational Biblical research, teaching and fellowship," which sounds innocuous. What can be further misleading is the encyclopedia Britannica lists it as “Christian, Evangelical, and Pentecostal” and Wikipedia lists it as a “Christian ministry”. However, it only takes a little bit of further reading to identify why The Way is actually a sect or cult and cannot be categorized under any historic Christian branches of the church or within modern protestant denominations. By the end of the Britannica article it says “Although he had at first taught traditional Christian doctrine, Wierwille eventually came to believe that the Trinity was a pagan intrusion into the church. His understanding of the Trinity led him to deny the related belief in the divinity of Jesus. These doctrinal divergences separated The Way International from the main body of the Christian community.” Equally, a closer read on Wikipedia defines The Way as a “non-trinitarian” Christian ministry. I cite both of these ‘sources’ to show that even a quick search at the popular level of research will show that there are important doctrinal differences that separate The Way from Christianity.

If you dive deeper into the sect’s own website, both in their statement of beliefs and their listing of foundational Biblical teaching, you will find two of the most common doctrinal errors that distinguish a cult or a sect from true Christianity. On the website the both “Jesus Christ is Not God” and “One God” are listed as core doctrinal beliefs with a myriad of Bible verses taken out of context to argue that Jesus is not divine and that God is not eternally existent as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

The Way was founded in 1942 by a man named Victor Paul Wierwille who claimed that God spoke to him and told him that he would be able to interpret scripture more accurately than anyone since the age of the apostles. The Way is characterized by these ‘new interpretations of scripture’ that Wierwille felt he personally received. Although in the statement of beliefs the sect says that Jesus is Lord and that the Bible is fully inspired, Wierwille and his later successors believed that because of flaws in the original translations of scripture, much of the Bible needs to be reinterpreted or disregarded in order to weed out bad teachings such as baptism, trinitarian theology and the deity of Jesus Christ. They believe that fully spiritual regeneration comes from confessing Jesus as Lord AND passing through the sect’s biblical course on “The way of abundance and Power.”

The theological errors about the deity of the Jesus Christ, God as Trinity, and Salvation being dependent upon anything outside or in addition to Jesus Christ are enough to show biblical grounds for placing this sect outside of the Christian faith. Since you are so close to this man, you may want to do some further research. Here is a helpful article that went into the history of the movement, where it is now, a listing of major theological errors as evidenced in scripture and a practical list of how to move forward in conversation and relationship with someone who is a follower of the way. Whatever Happened to The Way International?

May God bless your conversations with your friend and his wife and may they be brought to the glorious truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Michelle

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Sharon,

Thank you for sharing some of your background and story with the RZIM Connect community. God is so gracious and personal to all of us, and I love that he uses different expressions and denominations to teach us more about Him. The bible says that church is the body of Christ and that we make up the family of God. Just like in earthly families, children have different personalities and relate to their Fathers differently. It is so important that we continue to remain charitable to our brothers and sister in Christ from many different denominations and that we remain open to how we can learn and grow in our own faith as we learn from them as well. It sounds like God has brought you on an incredible journey, and how wonderful that there is always more to learn of Him!

Bless you,
Michelle

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Hi Michelle, I’ve been working on one problem for a while now. Honestly a part of the struggle I’ve had is just to pinpoint the real problem: a way to frame it properly. I believe it has two parts. I’ve always been a believer. I’ve always had faith in God. I know it’s built into me in the same way that my arms are attached to me. What I struggle with is understanding the problem of feeling like I am alone. I often don’t feel the presence of God in any way.

The first part of this that bothers me is: that’s despite that I believe that I have his Holy Spirit indwelling. How can I have his Holy Spirit and also feel completely alone? I feel like the relationship is one-sided. I wouldn’t ignore someone I love in the same way that I feel ignored. That’s honestly how I feel. I feel like in a lot of ways it’s not a great relationship. A lot of times, it’s something that I feel more than I can explain.

The second part that I want to understand is how I can help myself and help my brothers and sisters in Christ to learn how to cope with this problem and/or to fix it? I don’t really feel worthy to even speak to hardly any problem without knowing something about this.

Thank you just for reading this. I would hardly feel comfortable mentioning this to anyone.

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Hi Michelle,
I have been wondering about how a believer relates to God. I heard Ravi Zacharias describe it as a communion not union. I believe there is a difference between the two descriptions, but I need some help understanding these. I very often I hear it described as a union with God. How do you describe your own relationship with Him? Perhaps some deeper understanding will help me in building my own relationship with Him. Sometimes I feeI I don’t know how to properly relate to Him. Thanks for your consideration.

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Hey Michelle!

Thank you so much for taking time out of your busy schedule to answer our questions!

The question I have is what are the best way to get to the heart of the questioner? In other words, what are the best questions to ask someone to better understand what they are truly asking or to even to just be able to help open them up to their own assumptions?

And this might be the same answer to the previous question, but what are some of your favorite questions to ask someone you just meet in order to take the conversation past surface level and into a deeper convo?

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Hi Mark,

It’s so good to hear from you on behalf of your daughter. Wow, I can only imagine how hard that class must have been for your daughter and for you listening to her replay it later. I remember many times in both high school and later in university when I either felt ostracized or misrepresented by a teacher who taught with a clear anti-Christian bias. It never got any easier, and unfortunately in today’s current climate towards Christianity, these kinds of situations are becoming more frequent. A few decades ago Christianity was viewed as a traditional or old-fashioned belief system. Although in the Academy and government publicly people were starting to move away from Christian ethics and morality, still a person’s personal faith in Christ was seen as harmless or neutral in the public square. Today in our highly polarize and individual-shaped society, Christianity which makes ultimate truth claims about morality, ethics, identity and destiny is actually viewed as harmful and intolerant. Even though there is a myriad of problems with these claims, it’s important to remember that this is the accepted and even championed worldview that our students and professionals interact with on a daily basis. Speaking up in situations like these requires courage, discernment, wisdom and gentleness-a tall order for any of us!

As much as you possibly can, take time to empathize with your daughter. I wonder if there are any times you have felt the same way in public? Praise her for the wisdom she showed in not letting her anger and frustration feed the hostility in the room. Encourage her that these are hard questions and she is not alone in feeling disarmed by them, but good research has been done on this topic and there are good answers that satisfy both our heads and our hearts on these questions.

Your answer is exactly how Ravi often starts in response to these questions. He says we should never judge a philosophy by its abuses. Here are a few important things to consider in taking the conversation and your research further. The central message of the Bible is that the way of the cross is self-sacrifice as evidenced by God coming to us through Jesus Christ. We receive salvation and inherit eternal life when we choose to sacrifice our wills and ways and surrender to the Lordship of Christ. As Paul says, It is by grace we have been saved through faith, lest any many should both. This is also a clear indication that salvation can never be attained, passed on or forced by violence or warfare. God himself never forces us to accept his ways, he humbly offers us his love and salvation through self-sacrifice. On these grounds alone, we can see that the violence of the crusades was way out of line with what the Bible teaches.

It’s also important to remember that in the reformation, our own Christian history, the crusades and other corruption of the church was specifically called out and challenged. So within our own Christian history, we have named the crusades specifically as wrong. The fact that in Christian history we are willing and ready to scrutinize past and present actions and teaching in the light of what the Bible has always taught is a huge strength. Many other worldviews, Atheism specifically, are happy to call out the flaws and failures of past Christians, but will not take into account the moral atrocities done by atheistic regimes. Here are a few links where Ravi has spoken on these topics. https://www.rzim.org/listen/just-a-thought/in-the-name-of-atheism-1 and https://www.rzim.org/listen/just-a-thought/crimes-in-the-name-of-religion-part-1. We also have a recent thread on this subject right here in RZIM Connect, you may want to join the discussion on. Here is the link: How do we answer to nonbelievers the history of the Crusades and the repercussions on the Platinum Rule of Christ?

Another helpful line of thought is to consider how much good Christianity has brought to society both in history and in the present. The earliest hospitals, orphanages, and Universities were all started because of the Christian worldview. William Wilberforce was able to end slavery in the United Kingdom because of his Christian beliefs. Today, it is Christian organizations that on the forefront of fighting against human trafficking, there are currently more slaves than ever before many of them are women and children forced into sexual slavery. Not too long ago, Bethinking.org, a site that was originally started by Tom Price, one of our RZIM speakers, ran a review of a book called The Evil That Men Do: Faith, Injustice and the Church by Marcus K. Paul. The book is now on my reading list! Paul gives a history of the church, responds to common questions and critiques about violence done in the name of Christianity and then spends a great deal of time showing the glory of the church through to the present time. Here is the link for some further reading. https://www.bethinking.org/is-religion-harmful/the-evil-that-men-do-review.

In the meantime, keep talking to your daughter about how the class is going. Share with her some of these resources if you find them helpful and continue to invite her to talk about questions she finds difficult to answer about the faith. Also, every summer at the Zacharias institute we run a week called Refresh. It is designed specifically to help upperclassmen high school and early college students go deeper in their faith, engage with tough questions, and equip them to feel ready for these situations in life, particularly in the academy. You can visit the event section of the Zacharias Institute, through our main webpage RZIM.org, to find out when the next Refresh week will happen in 2020.

Thanks again for your question,
Michelle

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Hi Eric,

Thank you so much for your honesty. It takes a lot of courage for us to be real and vulnerable about where we are at in our personal walk with Christ, I commend you for that. I also want to encourage you, with the fact that you are not alone in this struggle. Throughout human history people have struggled with the silence of God. There are prominent characters and chapters in scripture that speak of similar feelings to what you have described. It’s so important that we take time to talk about this in christian community because, as you say it can be such a hard thing to explain or feel comfortable speaking about that too many brothers and sisters in Christ end up struggling on their own.

One of the first things that I think we need to be aware of, is that some of our struggles with hearing, sensing or feeling the presence of God can be attributed to either comparison with other’s stories or unhelpful language that the Christian community uses to describe or define closeness with God.

This summer I was with a few of our other speakers at a conference called Creation Fest. At the end of a seminar a woman came to speak to me and @Alycia_Wood. She was thinking of giving up her faith because she could not hear God speak to her and she because she could not feel God. We spoke to her at length, without going into any of her personal story, it was clear that many of her expectations about the nearness of God and hearing God’s voice came from listening to other people’s experiences or from common phrases used in preaching that can be helpful to describe God’s love and desire for relationship, but can also set unhelpful expectations for all of us at times.

It is true that the Bible tells us that God loves us as a father, that he is a friend that sticks closer than a brother, that he desires that we draw near to him with faith, and when we call to Him he will answer. This is why there is so much good biblical teaching on the discipline of learning to hear and recognize God’s voice and what is on offer to us as believers through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, our comforter. However, we also need to recognize and teach the parts of scripture that speak of the silence of God, times when we feel like we are in a spiritual desert, or even that we have been forsaken.

I grew up in a church tradition where there was a lot of practice with the gifts of the Holy Spirit. The people who I looked up to the most seemed to have a directly line to God, they heard his voice, felt his presence in ways that were at times physically overwhelming, they had amazing dreams and saw many miraculous things. I am still in touch with many of these bible believing and God-fearing men and women today. For as much as I could see or judge, all of what they described or saw was real and authenticated not only in their lives but also in the lives of others who encountered Jesus Christ through them. Although I had the blessing of witnessing so much of this first hand, in many different countries and in various church traditions, I often struggled with the fact that I did not have the same experiences in my relationship with Christ. I spent many hours begging God to show up for me the way that I believed that He could and in the way that I had witnessed in these close friends and mentors. Yet, in truth I never felt that he actually did.

You are not alone in this struggle. Many hero’s of the faith who have gone before and many brothers and sisters in Christ today are absolutely confident of who God is and that they belong to Him and yet yearn for a more tangible sense of His presence. The best thing that I have found to comfort my soul and others in this time is to turn to the places in scripture that puts words to what I cannot. The scripture not only validates our struggle in this area, but it gives us the words to pray and promises to hang on to in the dry or silent seasons. Job, David and even Jesus himself all struggled with feeling unheard, abandoned or forsaken by God. I encourage you to do a study on the silence of God, there are many good resources on line where you can search the bible for themes or verses. Here are just a few of the verses that I have found helpful.

Psalm 28:1 To You, O LORD, I call; My rock, do not be deaf to me, For if You are silent to me, I will become like those who go down to the pit.

Psalm 83:1 O God, do not remain quiet; Do not be silent and, O God, do not be still.

Job 13:15 Though he slay me, I will hope in him; yet I will argue my ways to his face.

The truth is that we have the witness of Jesus’ live, death, and resurrection as historical evidence that is proof enough that there is a God, He is real, He loves us more than we could ever imagine, and that He is alive today and at work today. Even if we never hear or sense him the way we would like to, we can hold onto the the historical witness of God in Christ, and cling to His words He has given us in the Bible. Also remember to keep speaking to Him, even in the silence. Just because we cannot sense His presence or hear His voice, it does not mean that our all powerful God cannot hear us, isn’t listening, or is not near. He has promised to never leave us or forsake us and we can stand on His promises because He has proven himself faithful in Christ Jesus.

In My Utmost for His Highest, Oswald Chambers also encourages us to think differently about the silence of God in our lives. He says, “when you cannot hear God, you will find that He has trusted you in the most intimate way possible — with absolute silence, not a silence of despair, but one of pleasure, because He saw that you could withstand an even bigger revelation.”

Do not be discouraged Eric, you are not alone. God is with you, He is for you and not against you, and you are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses who chose believe even when they did not see or receive the promises they hoped for. They are cheering you on from eternity and we, your brother and sisters in Christ, are standing with you at this time.

Grace and Peace,
Michelle

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