Three Pigs and the Faith

This post is by Syler Thomas.

One March afternoon, when I was in the process of figuring out what to write about in my new book Game Plan: Practical Wisdom for the College Experience (co-written by Nic Gibson), I got a call from a former student of mine, a freshman. She was in the middle of a Spring Break trip where the whole point was to share her faith with strangers on the beach in Florida. Her call was somewhat frantic: “I don’t know if I really believe this Christianity stuff, and I’m supposed to be telling people about Jesus. What do I do?” It was then that I knew we needed a chapter on doubt.

I write in chapter 4 (you can read a longer excerpt of the chapter here.)

that “it is not a question of if, but when doubts will come.”

The important part is how we respond. I compare a college student’s faith in the midst of doubting to the three little pigs’ houses.

“The first house you build is made out of straw. It’s a functioning house, but all it takes is a little huffin’ and puffin’ and it comes down. This is the point where many young Christians walk away. They say: Look, if this God thing was real, my house would still be standing. The other alternative is to say: you know, the house of faith that I was building was adequate for a time, but it’s not strong enough anymore. I need to build a stronger house, with a firmer foundation and better materials. And so you build again, this time out of sticks. It’s a better house, but it might take four or five puffs to bring it down.

You are once again at a pivotal time, and you can either leave the house destroyed or build another one, this time out of bricks. You learn from your mistakes, and the newer understanding of God that you find each time your previous house gets blown to the ground brings the wisdom to build a better house the next time.”

We can talk about different ways that doubt can seep in:

through poor decisions,
as a result of experiencing suffering,
and through intellectual challenges.

What do you think of the three pigs analogy? Have you experienced this? What doubts did you face in college? How did you (or choose not to) rebuild your house of faith?

 

About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than fifty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.

  • http://www.franconiabaptist.org Aaron Kraft

    I think you have a good analogy. My own experience is similar. I grew up in a Christian home where I learned the basics of faith. While I believe that my faith was genuine it didn’t reach the sticks or bricks stage until some testing in and after college.

    I think that my faith has been greatly strengthened by a deeper understanding of God’s word. The more I have learned the stronger footing I feel like I am standing on. That doesn’t mean that there is never doubt, but the Holy Spirit seems to bring the right Scripture to mind when I have taken the time to hide it in my heart.

    -Aaron

  • Chris

    I like the analogy, but to take it a step further, I wonder if we should anticipate the problems of the straw house and learn how to build the other two before the wolf comes, which is why they get blown away in the first place, i.e. learning from the experiences of others in community rather than being on our own and having to learn everything the hard way. It takes intentional work on the parts of others – parents, friends, grandparents, mentors, etc. in the church to make this a reality. This isn’t to say doubt never comes, but to say that the house should still remain standing (at least, in some form) by the time it’s passed …

  • James Morgan

    If someone can explain to me why God allows so many natural disasters that take so many innocent lives and why he permits three million children to die of starvation each year, maybe I could believe again. If he can’t prevent these tragedies, he is not all powerful. If he can but doesn’t prevent them, he is not merciful and just. If he is oblivious of them, he is not all knowing. If you tell me it is a mystery, you are telling me to believe in a just and merciful God simply because you say he exists.

  • Luke

    Isn’t 1 Corinthians 10-15 almost exactly that analogy?

  • Patrick

    I was confronted as a young father with the “Jesus is just Mithra repackaged” idea. Sort of an early Dan Brown/Bauer/Ehrman view. I had been a believer since childhood and never done any research, had 0 doubts. That gave me a good setback although I never lost my faith, just had serious doubts. My faith had not advanced beyond the day I first believed obviously.

    Eventually God led me into info about eyewitnesses to the resurrection, their martyrdom(especially James since it is recorded in secular history by Josephus), various extra Biblical corroborations about Gospel account events, the historical social paradigm around Christ which leads a reasonable person to understand this is exactly NOT how you would successfully invent a new false religion and there is a small book that is simply awesome for these purposes:

    “The Destruction of Jerusalem” written in 1803.

    I think every Christian parent should own it and when their kid’s are old enough, make it available. It’s as close to a road to Damascus event as we’ll get I think. 70 AD is so much more significant and explanatory than I ever remotely imagined.

    Those things pulled me out of my doubting Thomas phase. Since then ,like Aaron above, inquiring of Christ offers more and more assurance.

  • AHH

    Not a bad analogy. Like Chris @2, I wish the church could do a better job of forming young faith that is not so straw-y in the first place.

    RJS had a post about the “house of cards” that common Evangelical approaches to Scripture can become — we need to stop giving our youth a simplistic magic-book view of Scripture that ultimately does not match the Bible we actually have. Similarly with giving them a sturdier faith that does not require much of science to be false in order for Christianity to be true. And a sturdier faith that does not imply that following Jesus means leaving suffering behind (I think the church typically does better at that one than at the others I mentioned).

    And, a great gift would be to build into youth a sturdier faith that is not afraid of doubt, that sees doubt as a natural part of growth rather than automatically seeing it as sin and a sign that one’s house is collapsing.

    My house-collapse time in college came in part after many in the group where I had come to Christ in High School, including the youth minister who had “led me to the Lord”, veered off into cult-like directions. If they were off in spiritual left field, what did that mean for the validity of my faith?
    So I would add “disillusionment with Christians” to your list of doubt-producers.
    Rebuilding involved coming to a faith that was more Christ-centered and recognizing that it was OK and inevitable for the church (including me) to be flawed as we follow Jesus in our stumbling ways.

  • EricG

    I had a negative reaction to the analogy in one respect: it can be read as suggesting that doubt is only a maturity issue, when in reality very mature people of faith experience profound doubt — Mother Theresa, St. John of the Cross’s Dark Night of the Soul, etc. It isn’t always people who lack maturity or a foundation who experience doubt.

    On the other hand, what I like about the analogy is that it suggests, accurately, that a crisis of doubt can cause you to reexamine the roots of your faith, and weed out parts that aren’t healthy.

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    There is a huge range of reasons, and I think the 3 pigs will work for some, but not me nor my kids nor my wife.

    The whole “certainty” idea is the devil if you ask me. The brick house will die in an earthquake, there is no such thing as certainty except for a few.

    James Morgan, excellent questions. I guess it is obvious that you need to come to grips with that before you can believe again, huh? I simply decided that I will believe and changed the question from one of “if believe” to “believe in what”.

  • Patrick

    James,

    I would say your # 2 option is not overly thoughtful.
    If God prevented all evil or the bottom line results of evil before He ends this paradigm, He would not be God and we would be a robots.

    I guess you could argue He shouldn’t have made anything animate except robots. I myself prefer the death and sin I’ve seen in my life and know exists worse elsewhere with the attendant promises of a future forever where the problems here are nothing as opposed to God creating mentally inept robots.

  • Pat Pope

    I like the analogy. My house was definitely made of straw and huffin’ and puffin’ was in the form of someone who showed me what I thought was the love that I didn’t feel I got at home. No conscious doubts of God’s faith; just me wanting to follow my desires more than I wanted to stay true. Ironically, what brought me back was being dissatisfied with a relationship I was in and having my mother go into the hospital for minor surgery. I confided in a co-worker who was a Christian and she prayed with me at a National Day of Prayer event and that is how and when I re-dedicated my life to Lord about 10 years after walking away.

  • ScottW

    The “three pigs” anallogy is okay for what it is but the presuppositions behind it don’t quite sit with me. 1) The implicit understanding that faith is primarilyut intellectual which flows from a mistaken view that one’s faith is in the Bible. The trustworthiness of Scripture is grounded in the faithfulness of God, not the other way around. The God of the Bible is not a principle but is living and active in the Church and in human beings. This is why spiritual disciplines are so important. The knowledge of the true and living God is manifested in the fullness of our humanity–it’s a matter of our identity, not simply cognitive.

    2) This leads to another point. As St. Paul tells us: we, as Christians, have to grow in grace and in faith and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. Rather than viewing these matters as negative challenges, they should be viewed more as reminders that this is journey with Christ in which we have to grow into to attain maturity. A major problem is that we can identify a particular doctrine as the Faith and make it an idol (just as the apostles did with their understanding of messiahship which they foisted on their understanding of Jesus, and which was subsequently destroyed). The cross and resurrection was a intellectual and spiritual crisis for the apostles which they had to wrestle with. Sooner or later we all will have to press on to wrestle with the true and living God, which is more than just assent to Scripture and doctrines. This is why we should orient our young people to the riches of the breadth and depth of the Christian tradition, with its saints who have wrestled with all these matters and more.

  • phil_style

    I like the analogy, but I wonder, what if the brick-house gets destroyed too? what then? A steel house? what if that comes down?
    How many of these faith crisis can a person take?


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