Keeping the faith

Two of my friends have lost their faith in the last three years.

‘Lost’ is a curious word to use here. They didn’t misplace it. It didn’t fall behind the couch. They’re not offering any rewards for it to be found.

I think plant metaphors are more apt here – for one of them, faith shrivelled up like a plant in the hot sun. Everything that used to make sense about it stopped making sense.  Her sense of God’s presence disappeared. She doubted every experience of God she’d ever had. The hypocricy and badness became apparent, began to be the very soil she felt her faith was planted in. (Other people’s hypocricy and badness, that is.)

For my other friend, faith kind of grew into something different. Perhaps from a tree going straight up in one direction to a vine spreading out over the garden?  I would have to say he still has faith, but not faith in Christianity. It’s a kind of humanism, that how he describes it. He believes in God still, and believes that it’s good to be good. But as for doctrines, a or a specific narrative about the people of God and God’s action in the world … well, he can’t believe in that.

It’s one of the things that eats away at my faith, these two friends who can’t believe any more. Because they’re smart people. And beautiful people. Their faith was real or realer than mine. And now they contend that what they had wasn’t real.

And I have to admit that (my) faith works at least partly by consensus. It needs others to hold that ball up in the air. A skeptic would say it requires a consensual hallucination. I know my doubts aren’t that much stronger than theirs. It’s just that I want to believe and they don’t.

Or it comes down to what I feel so sure is true: that Jesus was God’s Son and that God raised him from the dead as the herald and foundation of the kingdom. I hold onto this. I don’t believe the disciples were lying or mistaken. I don’t believe Jesus was lying or mistaken. Even when I find anything else hard to believe, I can believe that.

It’s hard for evangelicals who stop believing. It’s a good way to lose your friends, I think. It’s a ‘coming out’ process. My friends haven’t come out. I understand that. They still go to church, because it’s built into their lives. My fear is how many other people are the same as them. I wish there were more safe places for people to share their doubts. Inevitably I think most thinking people will have doubts. If there’s nothing to doubt, there’s nothing to believe. (I refused to sing a song in church yesterday with the line ‘not a doubt in my mind’.)

I don’t know what lies ahead for my friends. Or for me. I’m waiting and hoping that God would show me his presence more clearly. I know I used to feel it clearly, I used to believe without any hesitation. I trust that I’ll feel that again.

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3 thoughts on “Keeping the faith

  1. Hi Nathan,

    I appreciate your honesty – which is one of the reasons I like this blog so much. There’s a subtle exchange that goes on between personal and corporate faith – most of us need affirmation and a stake in consensus. I have more of a problem with institutions that become prickly and protective of their ‘certainties’.

    I suspect you and I have had similar experiences – over the years I’ve been priveleged to be a member of three Neo-Anabaptist communities but sad that it wasn’t possible to stay together. In 2004 I told the early part of the story in ‘The Mennonite’ under the title of ‘From Manchester to Mennonites’ (http://www.themennonite.org/pdf/magazine_pdf_87.pdf). When my wife of 24 years lost her faith in the aftermath of that experience it was a major contributory factor to the eventual breakdown of our marriage.

    Now I live in a small town in Oxfordshire and wrestle daily with my sense of isolation and the blank faces I get every time I mention ‘community’ or ‘peacemaking’ or ‘Anabaptism’. It’s enough to make me pine for a bit of ‘consensual hallucination’!

    Shalom,

    Phil

  2. I quite appreciated this post. I’m a Presbyterian, but I’m seeing more and more in myself and in others of my age (late 20s/early 30s) increasing seeds of doubt.

    It’s hard to put a finger on exactly what causes it, and what to do about it, except to keep working through it. But this post has, I think, most beautifully expressed what’s going on.

  3. Hey Matt, so glad you liked this post; it’s one of the most close to the bone I’ve written. I hope good things come out of the seeds of doubt – renewed faith? – amongst your friends, and not just badness.

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