I often hear from apostates like John Loftus that one day a trial will strike my life and I will renounce my faith. They argue that all devotion to God will be abandoned once I experience, supposedly, the lack of his goodness and therefore the lack of his existence. I surely hope that no formal argument is attempting to be made here. For, the livability of a worldview has no rendering on the rationality of the worldview. Furthermore, if we are going to take into account one principle of the Christian worldview (that God is good), we must take all of the principles of the worldview into account (for instance, that God’s goodness is Biblically defined). Of course, John Loftus cannot stand the internal critique, so he will attempt with all of his might to avoid this.
In any case, is there any warrant to such a statement (that trials attack faith) to begin with? Yes and no. If my “faith” is based solely on an emotional posture, then when my emotions change (say, when my life undergoes a crisis), I will abandon my “faith.” In other words, spurious, false faith is not protected from the attacks of suffering. No where is this promised in the New Testament.
However, the Bible teaches that God’s elect will persevere in faith (on the basis of his preservation), and that their trials will be a means of stretching and strengthening their faith:
James 1:2-4 Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.
Romans 5:1-5 Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.
And history is replete with evidence of this. John Loftus is terribly uninformed when he makes such a statement that altogether fails to take into consideration a church that has been suffering from the moment of its conception. Indeed, it is as Matthew Henry wrote long ago, “The state of the church in this world always is, but was then especially, an afflicted state; to be a Christian was certainly to be a sufferer.”
Has Mr. Loftus considered Haratio Spafford, composer of the hymn “It Is Well With My Soul”? This was a hymn that was written following two major traumas in Spafford’s life. The first was the great Chicago Fire of October 1871, which completely ruined him financially. Not long after, while crossing the Atlantic, all four of Spafford’s daughters died in a collision with another ship. Spafford’s wife Anna survived and sent him the now famous telegram, “Saved alone.” Several weeks later, as Spafford’s own ship passed near the spot where his daughters died, Spaffored penned,
When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou has taught me to say,
It is well, it is well, with my soul.
Or did Loftus never learn about the lives of the Puritans Ebenezar and Ralph Erskine? Ebenezar Erskine buried his first wife, who died at the age of of thirty-nine. His second wife he buried three years before his own death. In addition, he lost six of his fifteen children. Likewise, Ralph Erskine buried his first wife when she was thirty-two, along with nine of thirteen children. Joel Beeke writes that “the Erskines well understood that God has ‘only one Son without sin but none without affliction,’ as one Puritan put it. Their diaries, so typical of the Puritans, are filled with Christ-centered submission in the midst of affliction.” Consider this entry which Ebenezer penned when his first wife was on her deathbed and he had just buried several children:
I have had the rod of God laying upon my family by the great distress of a dear wife, on whom the Lord hath laid his hand, and on whom his hand doth still lie heavy. But O that I could proclaim the praises of his free grace, which has paid me a new and undeserved visit this day. He has been with me both in secret and public I found the sweet smells of the Rose of Sharon, and my soul was refreshed with a new sight of him in the excellency of his person as Immanuel, and in the sufficiency of his everlasting righteousness. My sinking hopes are revived by the sight of him. My bonds are loosed, and my burdens of affliction made light, when he appears…. “Here am I, let him do to me as seemeth good unto him.” If he call me to go down to the swellings of Jordan, why not, if it be his holy will? Only be with me, Lord, and let thy rod and staff comfort me, and then I shall not fear to go through the valley of trouble, yea, through the valley of the shadow of death.
Yes, I wonder what would happen if Ebenezer Erskin were alive today, and John Loftus approached him assuring him that he would abandon his faith as soon as crisis hit.