The first time I remember seeing and experiencing an emotional barrier to faith in another person was about 5-6 years ago. I was having lunch with a good friend, and we were talking about our spiritual histories. She was not really sure where she stood on faith. She'd grown up in church, but she just wasn't sure about whether to follow. After a while, she told me that, if she did believe in God, it would definitely be a God who offered salvation to everyone--no matter what they believed. She couldn't tell me why she believed this or the reasoning behind the position. She could only express that she could not believe in a God who sends people to hell. She couldn't imagine such a horrible thing.
Some people would argue that she needed to be educated about the different positions that are out there and then taught why universalism is not true. In order to truly follow God, you have to believe in this monotheistic, wrath-oriented God who sent Jesus, right? I don't remember now exactly what I said, but I'm sure that I didn't take that approach. It didn't seem to me that she was really looking for answers to a logical question.
Instead, she seemed to be yearning to believe in a God who is good, who loves all people. So I empathized with her. And I told her about how much God does love all people. Maybe I said something about the victims of injustice and evil who need to know that justice will prevail in the end. How much better it would have been if I knew then what I have since learned--that maybe the best response of all would have been to share a story about God and his compassion and his love for people.
Over the past 10 years, I have been walking with people in everyday life. Though called to ministry and loving & serving people with a deep passion, I have found myself placed in a secular world, rubbing shoulders with people at all stages of a faith journey. What I have seen is that we are taught a lot in church about how to respond to a person's rational questions about God. We are taught apologetics to answer why one belief about God is better than others. But those things no longer answer the questions that are being asked.
There are a lot of books out there about talking to people about their questions about God - Lee Strobel's The Case for Christ, the newer Tim Keller book The Reason for God. But no one is talking about emotional barriers or how we can walk through those with people. That's a conversation that I would love to have here. Emotional barriers to faith is where it's at, my friends. That's where we're at.