A crisis of faith can make you or break you.
Consider Charles and William. Two close friends. Young, yet already powerful preachers. Touring together in the 1940s, holding evangelistic crusades around the globe. Both on a course to become household names in 20th Century Christendom.
Charles was an evangelistic visionary at a young age, and by age 30 the bright young preacher had helped to found Youth for Christ International. In 1945, he hired another budding young preacher three years his junior, William Franklin Graham, Jr., better known as Billy, as its first full-time evangelist. Many thought the talented Chuck Templeton, however, had the best chance of becoming America’s next great evangelist.
Templeton was well on his way in the 1950s, hosting a weekly religious TV show on CBS. Then, however, came a long, dark season of doubts, culminating in an announcement in 1957 that stunned the evangelical community. Templeton declared he was now an agnostic. Questions such as the problem of evil and suffering had caused him to reject the Christian faith. He went on to write a book with one of the saddest titles I have ever heard: Farewell to God.
Graham? What many don’t know is that he had his own crisis of faith, well into his career as an evangelist. The surprising story is told in Billy Graham: God’s Ambassador:
In the late 1940s, Billy attended a conference in California only weeks before his largest crusade to date was to start. Some young theologians were also there, who were expressing their doubts about the authority of the Bible. “Suddenly, I wondered if the Bible could be trusted completely.”
Billy began to study the subject intensively, turning to the Scriptures themselves for guidance. “The Apostle Paul,” Billy said, “had written to Timothy saying, ‘All Scripture is given by inspiration of God.’ Jesus Himself had said, ‘Heaven and earth shall pass away but my Word shall not pass away.’ I thought also of Christ’s own attitude. He loved the Scriptures, quoted from them constantly, and never once intimated that they might be false.”
Billy then recalled the moment that changed him forever. “That night, I walked out in the moonlight, my heart heavy and burdened. I dropped to my knees and opened my Bible on a tree stump. If the issue were not settled soon, I knew I could not go on. ‘Oh God,’ I prayed, ‘there are many things in this Book I do not understand. But God, I am going to accept this Book as Your Word by faith. I’m going to allow my faith to go beyond my intellect and believe that this is Your Inspired Word.’ From that moment on I have never doubted God’s Word. When I quote the Bible, I believe I am quoting the very Word of God and there’s an extra power in it. One month later, we began the Los Angeles crusade.
The 1949 Los Angeles revival meetings became a turning point in Billy’s ministry. Billy preached with a new confidence and fervor. Planned for three weeks, the city-wide meetings in L.A. continued night after night for eight weeks and catapulted Billy into the national spotlight.
Christian history is replete with such stories of a crisis of faith. Augustine was prompted by a voice to “take up and read,” and as he opened a Bible that fell open to Romans, he was gloriously transformed, converted.
Questioning his faith at age 34, John Wesley felt his heart “strangely warmed,” and he trusted Christ.
My own Mother, daughter of a Baptist preacher, lifelong church attender, and one of the most selfless and Christ-like people I have ever known, had a crisis of faith. In her mid 60s, she called me out of the blue one evening to let me know she had just been saved. Hallelujah!
Did these crises come at the point of salvation or after salvation? It makes little difference in the end. The important part is the condition of the soul after the crisis. For Graham, Augustine, Wesley, and my Mother, they emerged strong in the faith.
I remember going through such a crisis of faith in my own life a number of years after I believe I was saved. I recall telling myself, “I’ve got to decide if I really believe this or not.” I had read the Bible. I knew what was in there. I knew it contained “far-fetched” stories like ax heads floating and dead men rising. I had to determine once and for all whether or not I believed this. I took inventory of the informants:
Human reason was little help. I knew my mind was finite. If there’s a God Who created all this, His mind goes way beyond mine. I’m never going to wrap my finite brain around an infinite being. Human reason is an inadequate resource for understanding God because it is not an authority. If I want to know how to spell a word, I go to the authority—the dictionary. Uninformed by God, human reason has no authority. It seems like it’s good enough. But that’s because its source is itself. It’s like a teen who thinks he knows it all. He doesn’t know enough to know he doesn’t know!
Science was of limited help. It has definite limits. Science depends on the observable; it cannot prove or disprove historic events. It also cannot prove or disprove anything in the spiritual realm which is invisible and outside the perception of the senses. Science relies on information perceived by the five senses. They’re great as far as they go, but not capable of fully perceiving God.
So, the determination of whether or not I believed in God and the Bible had to be informed by something else—a sixth sense.
Faith is our sixth sense. It’s a unique sense that can perceive things within the spiritual realm in a supremely real way. Man is a tri-part being, made in the image of the Triune God. We are physical-mental-spiritual. There are senses informing each dimension—six total. We cannot fully interact with the universe/God by ignoring any one of these six senses. It takes all six senses to fully experience the universe—and God.
Trying to say science is superior to faith or that faith is superior to science is pointless. It’s like arguing that hearing is superior to sight. Or that sight is superior to taste. Or that touch is superior to smell. It depends on what attribute you’re experiencing at the moment. If I’m in a dark room, sight does me little good, but I definitely want touch and hearing. If I’m in a fine restaurant, I definitely want taste and smell. If I’m in church, I want faith and hearing. If I’m watching a sunrise, I want sight and faith. In reality, you can employ all six senses to fully experience and enjoy any given moment.
It’s so silly and sad for science and religion to be at odds with each other. All science, properly interpreted, supports the Bible. Science and religion are not in competition or contradiction; they are simply different perspectives for experiencing the universe. Science experiences it through the five physical/mental senses. Religion experiences it through a sixth, spiritual sense: faith. All six senses point to God….
For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. (Romans 1:20)
For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things have been created through Him and for Him. (Colossians 1:16)
At the top of this post is a photo of a pole with a snake on top of it. It’s part of a 19th century grave monument in the beautiful Lexington Cemetery. You’ll also often see the snake on a pole used as a symbol in medicine for healing. But the snake on the pole has a very special meaning to me.
You may recall the story in Numbers 21:4–9 where the hungry, thirsty Israelites were wandering around in the wilderness whining to Moses about how much better they had it as slaves in Egypt. That’s the five senses for you! Basically, the Israelites were losing faith in God’s ability to get them to the Promised Land. The Lord disciplined them by sending venomous snakes that bit them, and many died. Then they turned back to God and asked Moses to pray for them. He did, and God told him to make a bronze snake and put it on a pole. “Then when anyone was bitten by a snake and looked at the bronze snake, they lived” (Numbers 21:9).
This story was instrumental in my salvation by helping me finally understand how simple faith is. I had been making it far too complicated. Faith is not something you must muster up within yourself. Faith is as simple as sight. It’s simply another sense.
Now faith is the reality of what is hoped for, the proof of what is not seen. (Hebrews 11:1)
When it comes to spiritual matters, faith is the only sense we have.
For we walk by faith, not by sight. (2 Corinthians 5:7)
While we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:18)
The Bible says it’s so simple, even a child can have it—just like sight, hearing, touch, smell, and taste. And yet faith is so far-sighted, it can see into the future. It’s the original “ESP”—extrasensory perception. It can see the invisible. It can see in the dark. Faith is like night-vision goggles. And it can help you read the Bible—and see God—in a whole new light.
They say losing one sense makes the other senses more acute. For example, a blind man may have extra sensitive hearing or sense of touch. Perhaps that’s because there are fewer senses competing.
I believe that in the spiritual world it helps sometimes to block out the five senses. Maybe that’s why we close our eyes and find a quiet place to pray. Sometimes, we have to block out our senses to perceive God. We might have to ignore the raging sea under our feet to focus on God. We might have to hold our nose when a man dead three days comes out of the grave. We might have to ignore our trembling knees when we hear God speaking from a burning bush.
And sometimes we simply believe—to “faith” (faith is a verb in the original language of the New Testament)—what we can’t experience through the five senses. We have to “faith” that God can part a sea—though we’ve never seen it happen. That a universe can come into existence when God speaks—though we’ve never heard Him. And that His hand still bears a nail scar—though we’ve never touched it.
To some, seeing is believing. To me, believing is seeing. Sometimes it takes a blind man to see that. “One thing I do know: I was blind, and now I can see!” (John 9:25). Crisis over. Oh, faith. Faith! What a beautiful sight!