I am coming up on three years since I returned from Iraq and experienced my crisis in faith and belief that for nearly two years left me as a practical agnostic. During that time when it was hard for me to even believe that God existed and if he did exist even cared about me or others I was forced to wrestle with faith and belief from the perspective of a doubter. This was not comfortable from me because from an early age I had a real faith in God and in Jesus. Likewise I have always been one that tried to think through the implications of faith and belief but because I am a historian and theologian tended to look at things from the perspective of a historian or theologian trying to convince others of the truth using Scriptures, the Creeds, the Councils and what great theologians and Church leaders taught to convince people of that. I was rather good at the art of polemics which I think was one of the reasons some of my seminary classmates asked me why I was in seminary and not in law school. That was not a compliment in my seminary.
Now I do not want to discredit the importance of history and theology or the roles of historians and theologians in the church. Far from it, I still rely on that knowledge and seek to understand both better. In fact for me faith and life is connected with both and since coming back I have worked to better integrate these subjects into my spiritual life so that they are not simply something that I do but a part of who I am.
That being said as I dug my way out of my PTSD and anxiety ridden life, I felt alienated from God and God’s people. In fact I felt abandoned by them I struggled to believe again. It seems to be my experience that Christians especially clergy seem to treat doubters and those in spiritual as if they are radioactive. The only ones that seemed to understand were those going through similar trials and the first person who asked me how I was doing with God was not a pastor, chaplain or bishop but a psychotherapist. It was that therapist who made it one of his goals to help me be able to reconnect with God and was not threatened by the anger, frustration and alienation that I felt from God and the Church.
Eventually faith began to return but it was in the simple performance of the Sacrament of the Sick and Dying in the hospital that I worked where faith began to return. I have written about that in a number of articles linked here so I will not rehash those details.
However there is a quote that I used to lead off one article that I will mention from the German Pastor, Theologian and Martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer:
“Many people are looking for an ear that will listen. They do not find it among Christians, because these Christians are talking where they should be listening. But he who can no longer listen to his brother will soon be no longer listening to God, either; he will be doing nothing but prattle in the presence of God, too. This is the beginning of the death of the spiritual life, and in the end there will be nothing left but spiritual chatter and clerical condescension arrayed in pious words… never really speaking to others.”
Since I know that there are pastors, chaplains and other Christians out there who are experiencing a crisis in faith I just want to say that you are not alone and that there is life after the abyss. I have faith again in God, working on that faith with God’s people and I believe again but I also doubt and have questions.
Faith and belief for me now is more in caring for God’s people and trying not cause further alienation to people who already struggle with faith, life, depression, anxiety and those that are often marginalized by the Church to include those not of the Christian faith, men and women that have experienced the trauma of war or crimes committed against them, abuse of all kinds as well as people of more “liberal” political beliefs and Gays and Lesbians. Somehow I think the community of faith is enriched by those on the fringe of the “Christian” world and that God still cares even when Christians don’t.
Please know that while I am still in the process of recovering faith and reordering my spiritual life to make it less rote and more authentic that I believe that God cares for everyone. One of my favorite scriptural passages 2nd Corinthians 5:18 is included in the Lake George Benediction which I will close this article with:
“As you leave this place always remember the Gospel: God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself counting men’s sins not against them. God loves you, God is not mad at you and God will never leave you or forsake you. May Almighty God bless you, the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.”