“Tom was raised in a Christian home. He made a decision to become a Christian when he was twelve years old and was baptized in his Baptist church the next Sunday. He eventually became a leader in his youth group, sang in the church choir and suprised no one when he went to a Christian college, where he majored in biblical studies. During college Tom helped out in a local church youth group and seemed to have a special gift for working with teenagers. After graduating, he had several offers from churches and parachurch groups to help direct their youth ministries.
“In his new job Tom experienced tremendous success by all measurable standards. The kids loved him, the parents appreciated him, and his youth group grew in numbers as well as spiritual maturity. He married his college sweetheart, who was devoted to Tom and to the ministry that they shared. For ten years things seemed to be perfect.
“One day Tom stunned his supervisor by saying that he was resigning. The supervisor braced for the worst. He asked, ‘Why?’ when what he wanted to say was, ‘Have you sinned morally?’ Tom smiled knowingly and said, ‘No, it isn’t what you are thinking. It’s worse. I don’t know if I still believe everything I say. I’m no longer certain who God is, and I can’t pretend.’ After a series of long theological debates with the supervisor, late-night conversations with his wife and an extended leave of absense from his work, Tom left the ministry and enrolled in an MBA program. There was no crisis in his life that precipitated this loss of faith. He just stopped believing.
“After finishing his graduate training, Tom got a good job with a manufacturing plant and maintained loving commitments to his family. He was supportive of raising their children in a local congregation and continued to sit in worship with his wife, who became a leader in the church’s ministry. Every Sunday the congregation would stand and recite the Apostles’ Creed. Tom could never get through the opening line, ‘I believe in God.’
“He never got used to living without faith. If asked, he would say that he was searching for God or whatever it was that was at the bottom of his life. He was quite successful in his career but found little purpose or meaning in it. He did charitable work in the community, but it offered no hope for him or those he served. Many nights he would come home from work to read literature or philosophers or theologians or anyone who had an angle on the truth. For years the search continued, and he found nothing. Eventually he became emotionally and intellectually exhausted. He was tired of his doubts and tired of his search. As he explained to his wife, he had resigned himself to the fact that ‘there was nothing else out there.’
“A professional move took Tom and his family to a new community. Again he followed his wife to church. But this church was different. The preacher was a well-read, silver-haired pastor who had little need to rehearse worn-out Christian jargon from the pulpit. He spoke honestly about doubt and faith as if they were companions and not enemies. He easily quotes French existentalists but always ended his sermons with a passionate love for Jesus. Tom wondered what held this preacher together.
One Sunday morning the sermon text was from the sixth chapter of John. After Jesus had performed many miracles including the feeding of the five thousand and walking on water, a large crowd of disciples began to follow him. Then Jesus spoke some harder words about who he was and where he was heading. Most of the new followers began to complain because they could not understand him or his ‘difficult teachings.’ and so they left. Jesus turned to the Twelve and asked, “Do you also wish to go away?’ It was Peter who responded, “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life’ (John 6:67-68.) It was clear that the disciples did not understand those words any better than the crowd. They just knew there was nothing else.
“Tom sat in the pew and began to weep. So this is it, he thought. His great search had ended not with an illuminating discovery but with a tired whisper. Instead of the intellectual breakthrough to God that he had sought for years, he now knew he would return to the faith simply because there was no place else to go.
“Like Peter, Tom does not understand all of Jesus’ words. He has plenty of doubts but chooses to live as if the words of Jesus are true because he does believe this is the only Savior he has. Also, like Peter, Tom continues to follow this Savior he cannot fully understand. It has to be enough to simply follow.
“After the wise preacher retired, I followed in his pulpit. It has been my joy to inherit the pastoral care he began in the lives of many, including Tom’s family. Not long ago, Tom’s wife approached me at the end of worship with tears of her own and said, ‘Guess who said the Apostles’ Creed today.’
“I have breakfast with Tom from time to time. I very much enjoy our conversations because I like him a great deal and admire his integrity. I also get to watch how faith develops as a response to the silence of God.”