Q. A recent posting on CNN's Belief Blog discusses how people can lose faith when faced with traumatic events. The article relates former First Lady Laura Bush's experience after being involved in a fatal car accident in 1963. Bush missed a stop sign and hit a car driven by a friend, killing him. In a 2010 interview with Larry King, Bush said she remembered saying, “Please, God, please, God, you know, let him be OK,” and told King, “And you know, it was like no one heard.” She says she lost her faith in God for many years after the accident.
Andy Frost, head of evangelical group Share Jesus International, recently published a book called “Losing Faith” about people turning away from God. He cites four reasons why people lose faith: People don't “feel” God all the time; their church has hurt or let them down in some way; they begin to doubt the nature of God when it comes to human suffering; and they feel their beliefs don't stand up to scrutiny.
Have you ever had cause to stop and question your faith in God?
Have you ever had cause to stop and question your faith in God? Yes. Of course. Every day, pretty much. The reasons for the questions change, but the questioning never does.
And I’m OK with that. In the Episcopal Church we don’t view faith as a commodity — as something you have or don’t have, something you can definitively get or lose. Our understanding of faith is far more fluid, dynamic, and messy than that. It’s more of a sliding scale, an evolution, an organic process with cycles, seasons, ebbs and tides, peaks and valleys.
And questioning is a living part of that faith, at least as much as certainty is; questioning is expected, even valued for its own sake.
For me personally — maybe weirdly, I’m not sure — of the four causes for doubt that Andy Frost lists, the only one I don’t wrestle with on a regular basis is the one about human suffering. I know that’s the big one for a lot of people; but for me, it’s not. I don’t believe that God causes things to happen in human life, at least not in any direct, wish-granting kind of way, so that question isn’t a crisis for me.
The other three questions plague me all the time, though: not feeling God’s presence, doubting the relevance of church, and being frustrated with the inadequacy of theological doctrines. Barely a day goes by that I don’t wrestle with one of those.
Luckily, the God I’m in love with loves to wrestle:
“Jacob was left alone; and a man wrestled with him until daybreak.... Then [the man] said, ‘Let me go, for the day is breaking.’ But Jacob said, ‘I will not let you go, unless you bless me.’ ....Then Jacob asked him, ‘Please tell me your name.’ But he said, ‘Why is it that you ask my name?’ And there he blessed him. So Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, ‘For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life is preserved.’” (Genesis 32:24-30).
Yes. I question God every day.
Then we have coffee.
The Rev. Amy Pringle
St. George’s Episcopal Church
La Cañada Flintridge
How we respond or react to a traumatizing event in our lives is a matter of choice. It is different for each individual.
For me, what would be called a traumatizing event has only served to turn me in the direction of a deeper faith in God, the one power and the one presence.
Over my years as a spiritual leader, I have been inspired by numerous, humble, quiet, loving people who have survived incredible grief and great obstacles. They have been forged through the fire of life experiences with deeper faith, trust and commitment to God. They have also been transformed into a new level of compassion, understanding and love for anyone else who is experiencing a life-changing event.
These sweet souls are my heroes. I pray that you, dear reader, can be inspired by a person of faith in your life.
The Rev. Jeri Linn
Unity Church of the Valley
Like everyone else who has followed the Lord for any period of time, I have had (and still do have) times when God allows circumstances I just don’t understand. Some of my earnest prayers have not been answered, at least not the way I’d like.
I don’t hear the Lord’s voice as clearly as I’d like. I have my, “Why me, why here, why now, why this?” questions. Yet in it all, my question has been more, “Where are you?” than, “Are you there?” I suppose that’s the hallmark of true faith. Even if we wonder about his existence, we still come back to him.
Of those who follow him, Jesus promised: “This is the will of him who sent me, that of all that he has given me I lose nothing, but raise it up on the last day…I give eternal life to them, and they shall never perish; and no one shall snatch them out of my hand” (John 6:39, 10:28).
Jesus’ sheep may wander and struggle, but we don’t up and leave for good. He knows what we’re going through, he sympathizes with us, he limits the pressures and temptations and he will never lose even one of us.
Right now I’m reading through the book of Job, a wonderful book for people who are struggling with their faith. Job challenges the idea that if we’re good, only good things will happen to us. Job rightly observes that sometimes the wicked are comfortable and the righteous are distressed. But in the end, though Job never got a full explanation of why he suffered so much, God restored him and blessed him even more than he had been blessed before. I’m confident that God will likewise bless all who struggle now but still follow him.
Pastor Jon Barta
Valley Baptist Church
Have I stopped and questioned my faith in God? Yes. Does that mean that I lost my faith? No.
Along life’s way, I have experienced a mother killed in an automobile accident, a sister and brother-in-law who died within months of being diagnosed with cancer, a nephew who died of drugs and a cousin who, as a doctor, diagnosed the inoperable brain tumor that he ultimately died of. These events have helped me better understand God’s plans for us and have allowed me to find strength in him.
So what is faith? It is not to have a perfect knowledge; it is a hope for things that are true but not seen. It can be likened to a small seed that is planted within you. If nourished and cultivated, that seed will grow into a mighty oak. To do this, it takes, among other things, doing good continually, serving others, daily prayer, scripture reading, and receiving a witness of the Holy Spirit. Without such efforts, the seed of faith will ultimately perish and die.
At the close of his public ministry, Jesus’ disciples asked him about the destruction of the Temple, his second coming and the end of the world. In response, Jesus shared important truths, both directly and through parables, about the trials and tribulations that lay ahead, not only for his disciples, but also for us in this day and age. See Matthew 24 and 25. He imparted to them a clear message that those individuals who are prepared, serve others and endure to the end will be saved.
During this life we will be confronted with trials and tribulations. Regardless of the cause for our trials and tribulations, faith in our lord and savior Jesus Christ and his atoning sacrifice is the iron rod for us to hold onto that provides us with strength and guides us through this life. As Jesus counseled his disciples, to confront what comes, one needs to be prepared spiritually.
Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
Yes. I grew up in a small Indiana town, was active in my church's youth group, and was fairly religious in high school. But when I went to college, I ran into a buzz-saw of events and people who seemed intent on destroying my faith. There were lots of factors involved: I missed the security of home with my parents and younger brothers, college was hard compared to high school and I was just another high school honor student having to work very hard just to get average grades. Also, I wasn't nearly as good an athlete as I thought I was, and my first “identity crisis” involved realizing for the first time that I was not, first and foremost, an athlete.
Add to all this upheaval the fact that a girl I had a huge crush on dumped me, and I felt very alone. The “leap of faith” talked about by the Danish theologian and philosopher Soren Kierkegaard became a very important concept for me. I really felt “the dark night of the soul” one night, and I can remember praying, “O God, if you are even there....” So, Yes, I doubted the existence of God, and my doubting was not a pleasant experience. But as I look back on those days, they almost had to happen. My faith needed to mature, and the angst that I felt made me re-examine what I believed. I came out on the other side of this experience with a stronger faith. I was not left unscarred; how can one go through such an experience without having changed in some way? In Genesis, when Jacob wrestles all night with God or God's representative (Genesis 32: 24-32), Jacob walks with a limp the rest of his life because of that struggle.
I suppose the next question is, have I doubted the existence of God while being a minister? The honest answer is, not often. Usually I feel so blessed to be a minister in this church and at this point in the wonderful life that I have had and continue to have that — as one of our hymns says — I'm “lost in wonder, love, and praise.”
The Rev. Skip Lindeman
La Cañada Congregational Church
La Cañada Flintridge
Growing up in a home where my father was an alcoholic challenged my faith, time and again. Providing for a family of nine children must have been overwhelming to him and because of his frustration, our home was filled with anger and drama. However, my mother had great faith, and together we prayed through every situation.
We attended the local Congregational Church, where as a child, and even into my teenage years, I found solace in the word of God and spiritual music. This is not to say my faith hasn't waned at times; however, in retrospect, when I review my life, my prayers have been answered — not always in my time, but in God's time. Faith in the invisible isn't an easy quest — particularly for those who have hit emotional rock-bottom. Hebrews 11:1 helps us with this: “Faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” In other words, “Let go and let God.” As I repeat over and over to our congregants and those I counsel, this is when we intensify our spiritual practices of prayer and meditation and count our blessings.
My favorite Bible story is about Job's faith. When he lost his worldly possessions and suffered physical pain, he lamented, “The thing I feared has come upon me.” Throughout the process, he rants at God. He cannot believe such bad fortune could befall him, a God-loving man. Suffering was a faith-demonstrating opportunity for Job that resulted in the restoration of what he had lost. God's got your back — whether you know it or not. From Luke 12:32: “Fear not little flock, for it is the father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom.”
The Rev. Beverly Craig
La Crescenta Church of Religious Science
It is surprising that Laura Bush casts herself as the victim of a trauma causing her to question her faith. As I heard the story, it was an intersection near her home, so she would have been quite aware of the stop sign; but she sped through it and killed a friend.
I can't say what caused me as a teen to question, and then reject, a personal belief in any supernatural being(s). Independent thinking was certainly OK, even encouraged, in our home. Yet it never once crossed my mind that mere atheism was any cause to deny myself the warm and intelligent company of Luther League youth activities, church choir, or frequent gatherings to share scrumptious hot dishes and salads, which in the Midwest can contain more marshmallows than fruits or vegetables.
Around that time I did send up a mental plea that I would fill out my new dress by Confirmation Sunday. But our question poses a loss of faith triggered by severe trial, and while it can be emotionally painful for teenage girls, flat-chestedness just doesn't measure up.
By random (or was it?) chance, I've just finished and highly recommend “The Mapmaker's Wife,” a book in which physical ordeals figure prominently. The author mentions evidence of the reverse of our topic, that faith aids survival in life-threatening situations.
Many survivors report having turned to “prayer.” I use quotation marks because religious beliefs are not necessarily present; in common are a sense of purpose, hope, and a strong desire to make it through for loved ones. Feel free to call it help from God if you're so inclined, but it could be that expressing our deepest hopes and fears at a moment of great need releases an extra burst of energy, or boosts the survival instinct.
There is no doubt that when people experience extreme hardship in life, many are prompted to re-examine their core spiritual beliefs.
Some individuals find their faith is irrevocably shaken, while others emerge with an even deeper religious commitment. I grew up with grandparents who had lost virtually their entire families at the hands of the Nazis during the Holocaust, so I witnessed first-hand how differently people react to tragic situations.
My maternal grandfather’s six siblings, his parents, and numerous aunts, uncles, nieces and nephews were all machine-gunned to death in the forest outside his Polish shtetl. My grandfather conveyed to me that the experience actually strengthened his religious resolve, and he led a deeply spiritual life up until his passing. On the other hand, the response of my Hungarian paternal grandmother to the suffering of the Holocaust was entirely different. Her entire family — except for one brother — all perished in the ovens of Auschwitz.
I vividly recall her stories of the horrifying transports in the cattle cars and can still hear her crying and mourning her tragic loss. She remained a bitter person all her life and felt angry at God for the injustice her family suffered.
In the end, I think both of these responses are valid. There is no way I can truly understand what my grandparents went through, and I am certainly in no position to pass judgment. Jewish teachings advise that when someone faces a serious crisis, has been let down by life or witnesses extreme human suffering, it is only natural to question God.
We are all created with mortal feelings, and there is no way we can suppress them — nor are we expected to.
When we see someone who is suffering or in pain, we should not try to rationalize the situation but rather we should roll up our sleeves and offer to assist in any way possible. To me, moments of crisis are when we are called upon to step forward and take action to help others. And when the negative experience is our own, it is important to recognize that after the initial pain and suffering has diminished, all of life’s moments —- both positive and negative — can be used and harnessed as learning opportunities. I believe that everything that happens holds the potential to make us stronger and better human beings.
Rabbi Simcha Backman
Chabad Jewish Center
I would assume that we have all at some point stopped to wonder just how and why, or if, God is intervening in the course of human history. I have prayed many times for healing for beloved parishioners. Sometimes these prayers are answered, and sometimes they are not.
I am reminded that Jesus reveals no specific healing formula. The circumstances, words, and depth of expressed faith varies among Biblical healings, which leaves us convinced of God’s desire for our wholeness without us having ultimate control over the process.
I have prayed for maturity and wisdom for world leaders by whose decisions people live and die, and watched with despair as violence increases and the fabric of normal life is rent beyond repair. “How long, oh lord?” is not a new prayer. It is one which echoes through the centuries. It’s the kind of prayer that hugs tightly to the face of the cliff so that I won’t fall into the abyss of nothingness. It’s the kind of prayer that puts me in the great story of God’s rescue of the world while not guaranteeing that the battle of good vs. evil, wholeness vs. brokenness, healing vs. sickness will come to a resolution in the moment I cry out, for who am I to stake such a claim on God’s intentions?
And yet, each individual “yes” to God’s intentions transforms the world at least a little bit. One “yes” is someone who stops taunting God and starts breathing God. A bunch of authentic “yeses” make up a church that does not wound its members or neighbors. A movement of “yeses” takes on the causes of human suffering. Try it and see.
The Rev. Paige Eaves
Crescenta Valley United Methodist Church