Ten months ago I found myself lying in the dirt trying to comprehend what just happened. I was running only a few seconds before. The next second, a sudden, invisible force—something like a Cobra Kai sweeping my leg—threw me to the ground. Instant pain and a rush of sickness swept over my body as I realized my left achilles had just snapped like a broken piano wire. Everything began to feel near out-of-body as something was happening to me that I had no control over. I sat there, looking at myself, thinking, There is no way this just happened.
I don’t want this.
I don’t need this.
I don’t have time for this.
I didn’t know what would happen next (other than a trip to the ER). The one thing I did know was that nothing was going to be the same—at least not for a long, long, long time.
Deconstruction is like that, isn’t it?
Like a sudden, invisible, and unwanted force that collides deep inside of your soul; the faith inside of you that once felt so strong begins to pull apart, and you know that nothing will ever be the same again. And honestly, you may have felt it creeping in for months or even years as you consider what led you to this place. Looking back, I realized that all of the minor pain in my achilles for the months prior had been my body trying to tell me, warn me, that something was off. However, if you have experienced deconstruction, or when you do experience it, you know when that moment finally hits in full, something inside of you just snaps and you know there is no going back.
When an achilles ruptures you go to the ER.
You get surgery.
You go through rehab.
But when deconstruction hits . . . What do you do?
For me, it all came crumbling down in 2008 as I was working at a church just outside Chicago. A series of events collided together and left me reeling in my faith, my work, and my life. I was struggling with some of what I was reading in the Bible. Things like Joshua’s conquest of the Canaanite people started to feel more like genocide to me rather than a grand mission of inheriting the Promised Land. I was deeply missing a dear friend back in Cincinnati who I would normally process life with on the regular. The biggest piece of it all, though, was that the church I was working in had become a crushing and breaking experience for me as a twenty-something working under an abusive leader.
The author and Holy Post podcaster Skye Jethani once said that deconstruction is mostly “a phenomenon born out of toxic church experiences.”1 I knew that line to my core. It was a visceral reality where the beauty of what I read in Scripture did not match the ugliness I was experiencing in the church. My faith began to unravel and I began to question what, if any of it, was true. Everything I grew up with was suddenly called into question.
Where was the goodness of God in all of this? It’s not like I expected the church or the leaders to be perfect, but I thought God would step in and do something. Something big. Something supernatural. Something God-like. Anything. But nothing changed. It all left me disoriented, confused, lost, betrayed, and feeling very alone. In many ways, I knew what I believed, but I didn’t know why I believed it anymore. I thought the only choice I had was to walk away from it all.
Do you know that?
Have you felt that?
There is surgery for a shattered achilles, but what exists for a deconstructed, dismantled, and disillusioned faith?
I have found solace and hope in a story so important it is recorded in all four of the Gospels. And you need to know, there are not many of those in the Gospels. So this is one of those big deal stories. Allow me to set the scene: It is the evening of Simon Peter’s own faith deconstruction. It all began at the Last Supper as Jesus gathered around a Passover table with his disciples in an upper room tucked into some unnoticed corner of Jerusalem. As the dinner came to a close, after Jesus had broken the unleavened bread, and after he offered the Passover cup, he turned to Peter and said:
“‘Simon, Simon, look out. Satan has asked to sift you like wheat. But I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And you, when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.’ ‘Lord,’ he told him, ‘I’m ready to go with you both to prison and to death.'”Luke 22:31-33 CSB
I love this moment.
Simon Peter—full of faith—tells Jesus that I am going with you wherever you go, be it prison or be it death. And, as we will soon see, he really and truly was willing to do just that. But Jesus, knowing something Peter does not yet know, simply responds:
“‘I tell you, Peter,’ he said, ‘the rooster will not crow today until you deny three times that you know me.'”Luke 22:34 CSB
In other words . . . Peter, your faith is about to be so sifted and so shattered that you will deny me, not once, but three times before this night is over. I can imagine Peter sitting back and thinking to himself how ridiculous it all sounded. He was ready to die for Jesus. There was no way he would deny him. But Peter had no way to know what was about to come.
We never do.
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You see, the story he knew, the Jesus he knew, the Messiah stories of his childhood were all about to implode, and his faith would blow up right along with it. Peter, like any good first-century Jew, was expecting Jesus to throw off these pauper-teacher robes he had been wearing and step into his true Messianic-King robes at any given moment. He knew the revolution was just about to begin and he would be right there with Jesus for that moment—or at least he would die trying.
Together, they would go full David-versus-Goliath mode, drive out the Romans, restore the temple, set the world right again, and take their place with Jesus as the rightful rulers of Israel. That is why, by the way, they are arguing at the dinner table about who would be the greatest in the kingdom of God when Jesus finally came into power. You really should go back and reread the dinner conversation. Fascinating stuff.
As the dinner ended, the disciples left that upper room, crossed over the valley, and made the hike up the Mount of Olives to camp in the Garden called Gethsemane. As soon as they drifted off to sleep they were awakened by the sound of the betrayer Judas, along with men from the Chief Priest, and soldiers of the temple guard who had come to arrest Jesus and put an end to him and his rabid band of disciples.
As the guards closed in to take Jesus, the Gospel of John says:
“Then Simon Peter, who had a sword, drew it, struck the high priest’s servant, and cut off his right ear. (The servant’s name was Malchus.)
At that, Jesus said to Peter, ‘Put your sword away! Am I not to drink the cup the Father has given me?’ Then the company of soldiers, the commander, and the Jewish officials arrested Jesus and tied him up.”John 18:10-12 CSB
Do you see what happened?
Peter, truly, is willing to go to death for Jesus. Packing heat, he whipped out the sword he had been carrying for such a time as this, rushed into the fray of the temple Guard and the crowd who had come to arrest Jesus, reared back the sharpened blade and sliced downward with all the force he could gather into the first man he faced.
He swung and he missed—mostly.
I hope you understand that Peter was not aiming for Malchus’ ear. He was trying to take his entire stinkin’ head off. The problem was he’s a horrid swordsman. Remember, after all, he was just a simple fisherman from Galilee. Swordplay was not his forté. But what happened next shaped the moment where Peter’s faith would rupture and he would become a man torn apart.
No sooner had that ear hit the ground than Jesus rebuked Peter and told him to put away his sword and give up the fight. He then walked over to Malchus and miraculously restored the ear of the one who had come to take him. Then, in a moment almost unthinkable, Jesus allowed himself to be arrested and led away to die.
Did you know the very next words the Gospels record from Peter’s mouth are his denial?
Peter positioned himself just outside of the place they had taken Jesus. Huddled near a charcoal fire, he tried to stay warm as he is noticed by a little servant girl who said:
“‘You aren’t one of this man’s disciples too, are you?’
‘I am not,’ he said.”John 18.17 CSB
“I am not”—I used to think of these words as a moment of fear. But how can that be? He was not afraid. He had just whipped out his sword and dove headfirst into battle with the temple Guard. He was truly willing to go to prison and to death for his Master.
You have to see this.
Peter was not afraid.
He was angry.
Peter felt betrayed, disoriented, confused. After all that time preparing for the revolution that would change everything. Jesus simply gave up. The moment arrived and instead of taking his rightful place as the true King with Peter by his side, Jesus simply rolled over and gave up. He told Peter to put away his sword, and with it, all his hopes and dreams of revolution. It was all a sham, a lie, and if Jesus wasn’t going to fight for them then he wasn’t going to fight either.
If this is not a moment of deconstruction I do not know what is. I hope you do not see and hear Peter’s denials of Jesus as fearful replies from a man afraid of being caught by a little girl. They need to be heard for what they are—the angry rejections of the one who gave up on him and everyone else who had given their lives to follow him.
The moment of sifting Jesus told Peter about at the dinner table had now arrived in full. But do you remember the prayer of Jesus? It was that Peter’s faith would not fail.
Look, the moment of sifting is going to come at some point. Maybe you will call it deconstruction, or doubt, or—for an even older phrase—the dark night of the soul. It has been called many things by many people over the years. But when that moment finally comes, I want you to know you can move into it knowing that God is still in it with you. He is not unaware of what you are going through. And I do not think it is too much to say the prayer of Jesus is for you.
In these moments, he is leading you, like he did with Peter, away from a shallow faith, or a misplaced faith. He is taking you from bad expectations, or false idols of hope and into something greater than you knew before. Can you see it? I know it might be hard to glimpse this reality, but I want you to know this. Deconstruction is not hitting so that your faith would fail, but so that your faith would be strengthened.
Deconstruction needs to happen so reconstruction can begin.
I want to give you something to hold onto in those moments when everything falls apart. It was what I hung onto in my darkest moments and in the ongoing moments of doubt and deconstruction that continue to come: Jesus wants me. And you need to know this: he wants you too. He will pursue you into that dark night of the soul and find you just like he found Peter walking along the shores of Galilee all those years ago. And there, in that gentle and lowly place, Jesus asks Peter three times, “Do you love me?” (John 20 CSB).
Those words, like some act of divine surgery, cut through all the pain and doubt and disillusionment and straight into the heart of the problem. All three of those questions were like an incision back into all three of Peter’s denials. Each one an opening for the gospel to come flooding back in. Each one an invitation, to Peter and to us, into a love story and back into a relationship far beyond our small-minded understanding of who Jesus is and what he has come to do.
Yes, there is a revolution underway, but it is far bigger than anything we can ask or imagine. Yes, he is a King, but a King unlike any other king who has ever come before. And yes, we may not have it all figured out or understand why everything happens the way it does, but at the heart of our story is a God who invites us into a relationship with himself. He continually invites you and I back into a faith placed, not in our expectation of the Messiah, but in the actual Messiah himself.
When we come to these moments of deconstruction, we need to understand they are good and holy moments as we allow them to fully work in us all that God has in mind. He is using them to grow us and grow our faith. These moments of deconstruction—moments when our faith ruptures—are followed by nothing short of a divine surgery performed in our innermost being. “Will you love me?” he asks.
And like all surgeries, it will leave a scar.
One that will tell a story
One that will be a reminder.
Jesus, the one who has loved you and given himself for you is the one who calls you back into that place of love and relationship. If you are willing to be led through that moment you will come out the other side stronger, deeper, and more secure than ever before. And, like the one who has loved you, you will have the scars to prove it.
Editor’s Note: This article is just a taste of what is explored in the six-week devotional, The Story Circle, from Hosanna Revival. Joshua helps us rediscover the wonder that is the biblical story and who we are within that story.
1 Skye Jethani, Episode 512: Christian Self-Defense & Church-Based Deconstruction with Mike Erre & Lina AbuJamra, The Holy Post Podcast, podcast audio, June 8, 2022, https://www.holypost.com/post/episode-512-christian-self-defense-church-based-deconstruction-with-mike-erre-lina-abujamra.
Photo credit: Michael Marcagi
Joshua serves as teaching pastor of Red Door, a church community planted in Cincinnati, OH. He is a passionate teacher, avid reader, and brilliant maker of blueberry pancakes. His wife, Tiffany, and daughters, Story and Emmy, are his joy and the ones his heart loves.
Joshua is also the author of The Story Circle, a devotional book from Hosanna Revival.