The Gamble of Faith

By Keith Miller | October 6, 2010

Dear Keith, I made a decision to give my life to Christ over ten years ago.  It felt so freeing—to be able to trust God with the struggles in my life.  But periodically I go through times of not being able to sleep, of going over my situation with a magnifying glass to see what I am doing wrong that is keeping my problems from clearing up.  And as an only child and single mom, I worry what will happen to my boy and my girl if I should get killed or get sick and die!  What happened to that freeing experience I had back at the beginning?  Sometimes (I’m ashamed to say) I wonder if God is even real!

Your question brings up something I have experienced at several points in my life since I surrendered my life to Christ by a roadside in Texas.  One occasion that comes to mind is a morning when I woke up restless and vaguely afraid…of what I wasn’t sure.  Then I remembered: in the mail the day before I had received a letter from a good friend.  He had just learned from his doctor that he had between two weeks and three months to live—a malignancy had reached his liver.  I was deeply shaken and grieved.  The vague anxieties I had felt earlier blossomed into concrete fears, and I began to imagine all kinds of bad things happening.

Over a year before I had decided to devote my time to writing professionally, without the support of a regular job.  But I had been doing so much public speaking and traveling that I worried about not getting any writing done and not being able to make a living for my family.  As the specters danced out of the shadowy corners into my conscious mind, I imagined my wife’s death and my great loneliness at her dying… the children had grown up and left home… I was a lonely old man.  Then, like a jack-in-the-box, out jumped the specter of my own death, and I was afraid.  I did not know in that instant whether I believed in Christ or even in God the Father.  I experienced the great emptiness of death, was horrified… and desperately wanted proof and certainty.

But as I saw these things and faced the panic they brought, I also understood again with razor-sharp clarity the deep human meaning of the gospel of Jesus Christ for me:

  • “Let not your hearts be troubled…” (John 14:1)
  • “I go to prepare a place for you…” (John 14:3)
  • “…be of good cheer, I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).

I saw that I could not capture faith once and for all time and put it in a box for safekeeping.  In the face of death and possible failure in my own life or in the lives of those I love, I could not even know for sure that “God is.”

“What am I going to do?”  I thought, trying not to give in to the wave of desperation I felt was about to break over me.  I had lived with faith for years, and it seemed to be crumbling all around me.  Then I knew.  All I could do to come to terms with my own death was to bet my life that Jesus Christ is “for real” and give Him my whole future.

I wish I could say that has been the only time in my life that I have gone through that cycle of doubt, panic, fear and re-commitment.  But the cycle has occurred in various ways again and again, until it has become evident to me that this Christian Way is not often entered through the lofty door of philosophical reasoning, but through a wager, a bet with fantastic stakes.  Because of what I have seen and heard in my own experience and in the lives of many others across the years, I have bet my life that God is, and that He is the kind of love that walked around in the life and actions of Jesus Christ.  I have wagered that He even loves me and wants me to be related as a child to Him.  And when out of great need, I have made this bet, I have stepped into a new dimension of life—life in which there is hope in history because God is at the end of the road for me and for all of us.

Now, although I still cannot know that God is real, I somehow do know. Even though I cannot prove it to you or even make the bet for you, I can say this: for me, these seem to be the only two alternatives—to live a worry-filled life of frantic hiding from myself and of psychological repression of thoughts about death and meaning, or to face death and life and make this strange gamble of faith that turns me outward toward other people and makes me want to be a loving person.  I can see no other way for me than following Christ.

“We all want to be certain, we all want proof, but the kind of proof that we tend to want—scientifically or philosophically demonstrable proof that would silence all doubts once and for all—would not in the long run, I think, answer the fearful depths of our need at all.  For what we need to know, of course, is not just that God exists, not just that beyond the steely brightness of the stars there is a cosmic intelligence of some kind that keeps the whole show going, but that there is a God right here in the thick of our day-by-day lives who may not be writing messages about Himself in the stars but who in one way or another is trying to get messages through our blindness as we move around down here knee-deep in the fragrant muck and misery and marvel of the world.  It is not objective proof of God’s existence that we want but, whether we use religious language for it or not, the experience of God’s presence.  That is the miracle that we are really after.  And that is also, I think, the miracle that we really get.” Frederick Buechner, The Magnificent Defeat

Lord, I do love You.  And I am very grateful that this relationship with You has been so often one of hope and a sense of expansion into a larger and more interesting journey.  But occasionally there are these times of dread and doubt which bring me to my knees in awe.  I see again that faith is a gift of grace, and that all the figuring and reasoning in the world cannot transport me across the void between us and You.  Thank You that in Christ You have provided the leap of faith, the fantastic wager of life.  In Jesus’ name, amen.

“I sought the Lord, and he answered me, and delivered me from all my fears.” Psalm 34:4

5 comments | Add One

  1. Beth Bishop - 10/6/2010 at 8:43 am

    One sentence that has been a big help to me. “Jesus, I choose to trust in You”.

  2. Jessica Lyon - 10/6/2010 at 8:53 am

    Beth – that’s good. “Jesus, I choose to trust in You.” Sometimes I don’t ‘feel’ his presence and I don’t know ‘why’ things happen and I struggle to get through my days… but if I can give Him one gift, it’s the gift of my trust and faith that He is in control and has a grand plan for my life. Awesome reminder. Thanks Beth!

  3. Randi Tindel - 10/6/2010 at 9:05 am

    Oh my Gosh Keith! I have recently rededicated my life to Christ. I have just had a rough patch where I am thinking these very same things. I feel REALLY BAD WHEN MY FAITH WAIVERS, BUT AT THE SAME TIME, I TELL GOD – “I AM SORRY GOD, BUT MY FAITH IS WAVERING, PLEASE FORGIVE ME FOR MY WAVERING FAITH.” Somehow God continues to bless me and give me a very abundant life. I was so floored when I saw this. Thanks so much for this precious gift!

  4. David - 10/6/2010 at 1:29 pm

    Thanks Keith, good stuff! I know that my wife, son and daughter exist but that kind of knowing and the intimate kind of knowing that results from being with them are two very different things. I spent a lot of time in nature as a young person and as a result I never really had a hard time believing that God existed. When I did wrestle with God it was usually about my conception of His nature, who He really was and if He really cared about and loved me. At times the experiential aspect of knowing God has been slower that I’d like but when I’m open to scripture and with the help of the spirit I can usually see a very clear picture of God’s nature in the life of Jesus and for that I am grateful.

  5. Sarah Wilcher - 10/6/2010 at 8:38 pm

    I can’t thank you enough for your honesty. Yes, this is me. I am not alone. Please know that these timely words are like water to me most times. I’m going to continue to bet on Jesus and lean into the life He has for me.

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