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Spiritual Shock and Disbelief

During the spiritual reaction phase, people may question their beliefs about God, their relationship with Him, and His role in their suffering. While coping with their loss, they feel as if their trust in God has been struck head-on by a devastating force.

Then, too, disbelief may not descend during the initial stages of a grievous trial. It can strike at any time during or even after the crisis when people cannot accept that a painful loss is permanent and unchangeable in spite of their prayers and the prayers of others.

Cindy shared her experience of struggling with spiritual shock and disbelief after her painful losses. “I was fired from two jobs in a short period of time. I lost the first job after working at a small company for five years. I was shocked because I had a very good relationship with the clients. I knew Hal, the owner, could be a corrupt and vindictive person. He bragged about keeping a former employee from getting another job. I was afraid he’d do the same to me, but I found a temporary job that turned permanent.

“Then I lost that job after a few months because I was unwilling to work sixty to seventy hours a week for forty hours of pay. I was shocked that God would allow this to happen to me again.

“The job I now have is exactly what I’d prayed for, and the Lord continues to confirm that in many ways. It’s been two years since I was fired the first time, but I still struggle spiritually with disbelief and feelings of insecurity.”

Here are some ways we can experience spiritual shock and disbelief: We may not realize our true condition because we may possess God-given peace. This peace and shock are an anesthetic that numbs the intensity of the pain, which may last for several days or weeks or months before we are assaulted by the full impact of a loss.

On the other hand, we may be in such spiritual turmoil that we have no sense of peace at all. Anxiety so overcomes us that we’re unable to trust the Lord. We may not believe that God has allowed us to be stricken by a painful loss. Initially, disbelief can be an insulation that allows us to gradually face our loss. Acute spiritual sorrow would be intolerable without this buffer. Disbelief offers us temporary relief from grim reality.

We may feel as if God has abandoned and forsaken us. We beg God to answer the questions that haunt us, as David pleaded, “My God, my God! Why have you forsaken me? Why do you remain so distant? Why do you ignore my cries for help?” (Ps. 22:1 nlt).

On the cross Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matt. 27:46). “God as Father did not forsake him; . . . but God as Judge had to be separated from him if he was to experience spiritual death in the place of sinful men.”3 Jesus felt forsaken of His Father as He bore the weight of our sins. We can find comfort that Jesus knows the depth of our grief when we feel forsaken by God.

When people are in spiritual shock, they may have difficulty praying, serving, and worshiping the Lord. They may have a shortened attention span and cannot concentrate when they try to pray, read, or listen to a sermon. They start reading the Bible but become so distracted by their concerns that they don’t remember anything they read. They feel so dazed and numb they can’t pray, and if they do pray, they don’t know what to ask for. How can they pray when nothing makes sense?

They may feel empty when they attend church and come away without remembering anything about the service. They may find it nearly impossible to attend church and/or continue in Christian service. During a worship service when a hymn or a point in the message reminds them of their heartache, they can be overcome with grief. Their own personal and spiritual needs can so overwhelm them that they are unable to comfort others who are hurting.

On the other hand, the stress of the situation may keep people from recognizing when the Lord has answered and intervened. When an angel delivered Peter from prison, he went to the house where Christians were praying for him. Rhoda came to the outer door and recognized Peter’s voice. She was so overjoyed and shocked that she didn’t let him in but ran to tell the believers. But they didn’t believe her. “‘You’re out of your mind,’ they told her. When she kept insisting that it was so, they said, ‘It must be his angel’” (Acts 12:15).

Scripture Reading: Job 2:11-13

11 Now when Job's three friends heard of all this evil that had come upon him, they came each from his own place, Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite, and Zophar the Naamathite. They made an appointment together to come to show him sympathy and comfort him. 12 And when they saw him from a distance, they did not recognize him. And they raised their voices and wept, and they tore their robes and sprinkled dust on their heads toward heaven. 13 And they sat with him on the ground seven days and seven nights, and no one spoke a word to him, for they saw that his suffering was very great.

Practicing the Spiritual Life

  • How did Job’s friends react when they saw him, and why were they so shocked?

  • When you’ve been in shock, what gave you the most comfort, and why?

O Silent One, “the troubles of my heart have multiplied; free me from my anguish.” “I said to myself, ‘I will watch what I do and not sin in what I say.’” “But as I stood there in silence—not even speaking of good things—the turmoil within me grew to the bursting point.” “I am silent before you; I won’t say a word.” Through Your tender mercy, O God, by which You, the Dayspring from on high, have visited me, give light to me as I sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide my feet into the way of peace. Then my heart will sing to You and not be silent. O Lord my God, I will give You thanks forever. (Ps. 25:17; Ps. 39:1a-2, 9a nlt not paraphrased; Luke 1:78-79 nkjv; Ps. 30:12 paraphrased)

Next: Seven, Finding Comfort in Spiritual Shock