In the wake of a local teen’s sudden death last week, there has been much talk in the community about faith. We live in an especially conservative, predominantly Christian part of California, so it’s not all that surprising that most of the people impacted by this tragedy, directly or indirectly, are Christians, or that they are turning to their faith to cope.
A few days after he died, I ran into a friend at the store. She and I have forged a somewhat tentative friendship – tentative because her Christian faith is so much a part of her, and my unbelief flies in the face of that. It’s hard to find common ground when one of us knows the other is praying for her soul, and the other knows that the beliefs she holds dear are thought of as delusional. We’re both moms, so that’s our common ground, but even in that there are wide differences in how we each approach it based on our spiritual status.
Anyway, she is close friends with the mother of the boy who died. When we ran into each other at the store, she said that the family is coping as well as could be expected, and are definitely being buoyed by their faith. She then relayed to me how – understanding that I don’t believe – faith has carried her through some very difficult times in her life. She told me how there have been some particular instances during which she was filled with peace when she didn’t think she should have had peace, and that was evidence to her of God’s presence, and it affirmed her faith.
As she was telling me this, I was reminded of another friend of mine whose little boy died in a tragic accident a number of years ago. She was a devout Christian, and she counted on one of the promises of Christian faith that God would walk with her through the difficult times and offer her comfort and peace – only to find that in her darkest hours, she didn’t feel the comfort or peace of God’s presence at all. She wrote about it here.
I think back on my own life and the many dark times I’ve gone through – times of loss, of suffering. I was a believer through most of it – it’s only been the last five or six years that I’ve let go of the faith I carried around with me from the time I was a child. My faith never lent me peace or comfort. In my darkest hours, I didn’t feel God’s presence – I felt utterly alone. In my darkest hours, my faith led to more tormented thoughts than anything (Why was God allowing a man to beat the crap out of me and emotionally torture me? Could my dad possibly go to heaven if he wasn’t a believer?)
So how do the believers reconcile this? Why do some believers feel God’s presence and the peace and comfort that goes with that, and other believers – just as pure (or unpure) of heart and soul – don’t when they should? Are they doing faith wrong? Are they just not as favored by God?
I can’t deny that the peace and comfort that those select believers feel when they need to feel it is very real to them. But it also can’t be denied that not everyone – not even every faithful person – enjoys that benefit of faith.
These are just some of the reasons I don’t believe.