(I wrote this in 2018 as I processed the illness and then the death of my mother…)
I am not sure I would call what I have been living through, a crisis – that would make it sound like a moment when in fact I have been living in this space for a while. It is more like a journey of evolution where one faith ends and another is awakened. It is a painful process but also a liberating one. I have heard it referred to as a reconstruction of faith – like a breaking down and a rebuilding. Others have called it ‘the dark night of the soul’ where you face your soul’s deepest anguish and may come to the point of completely doubting if God even is…
No one chooses this, although it is something that seems to come to lots of people in their story of belief in God. For many this ‘crisis’ happens through trauma whether historic or recent, through bereavement, divorce, some health issue or some deep pain within your identity. It is provoked by anything that acts as a pin in the balloon which says ‘life will always be beautiful’. It goes even deeper, because of the questions that arise about the nature of God. Often our expectations of life are rooted in a certain belief about what God is like: ‘God is good and loves me, so I expect that life will always work out for me in the way I hope’. When that balloon bursts, it happens with an unimaginable agony.
I read someone say that the pain we experience in life is down to the fact that we believe in so many illusions. Oswald Chambers I think. A crisis unfolds when we discover that what we believed about ourselves or another, or life in general, is not the reality. In my previous faith, I was certain of many things and with it, came a great deal of spiritual pride. I was sure of who God was, what life and people were like, of how I should be judged, and inevitably therefore, how others should be. I could diagnose other people’s issues, hold them responsible and maintain my own standards. I cringe when I remember my former self.
I heard someone say the opposite of faith isn’t doubt, it’s certainty. I think they meant that true faith involves humility; the realisation that you do not know everything and so maybe it won’t work out as you think and hope. If you are certain, then you put God in a box – that becomes the end of the humble expectation that real faith involves. If you ever get to the point where you think you fully understand life or comprehend God, then you’re either deluded or you must be ignorant of a whole lot.
In this process of reconstruction, I have become awake to the reality of my pain and weaknesses and life’s troubles and struggle. It has made we weep, and left me with many questions and uncertainties, sometimes I have felt that I could not even trust the ground beneath my feet.
The truth is though, that I cannot escape God. It would be easy if I could just walk away and pretend that the last 30 years of life have meant nothing. At one low point I actually imagined how much of my life I would actually have to change if I did ‘chuck it all in’ – ‘it’ being faith in Jesus (no small feat for a theology lecturer). But the issue is the history I have built with God throughout my lifetime. I could look back and say I imagined it, I was mentally imbalanced or swept up in the euphoria of my upbringing. But there are moments that cannot be explained by that. I would then have to explain away the stories of moments we described as God’s action, in the lives of my family and friends and wider community, and the history of the world…that’s a huge task.
There is a story in the Bible of a man called Jacob who in a moment of crisis and great fear, wrestles with God and wins a very particular blessing as well as a new name. Our chaplain at work reminded me of this the last time I spoke to her. I am definitely a wrestler. It is not in my character to give up easily, and having a true faith stripped of illusions and false religion is worth fighting for. I believe that my mind was a gift from God, and not a barrier to my faith – it was made by Him. So I will continue to cry and shout, to wrestle and reason, to write my prayers when I cannot say them, to struggle through church and sometimes to not go, and then to go again. And in that, I have some hope that God is present and gently leading me to a greater truth and a clearer view of who he is and what life in Him is really about. Anybody with me?