Faith and Life: A Meditation for those that Doubt

Padre Steve gets a little advice from Molly

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.

A Sea of Contradictions: My Life and Faith since returning from Iraq

Faith Journey’s: Why I am Still a Christian

God in the Empty Places…Padre Steve Remembers the Beginnings of Padre Steve’s World

Doubt and Faith: My Crisis in Faith and Why I am Still a Christian an Advent Meditation

Raw Edges: Are there other Chaplains out there Like Me?

The Church Maintained in Love: Maintaining Integrity and Preserving Relationships When Asked to Leave a Church

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.”

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

18 Comments

Filed under christian life, faith, Pastoral Care, philosophy, Religion

18 responses to “Faith and Life: A Meditation for those that Doubt

  1. John Erickson

    I think you should have a little bit of doubt. I have too often seen that blind, absolute faith leads to extremism in its’ worst form. I feel that doubt, that the need occasionally (NOT frequently – that’s a whole other topic) to reaffirm your faith, to answer the questions, tends to make faith stronger. And Padre, I wish I could get a couple dozen ministers of varying faiths to read your comments about listening. I’ve had a number of friends with their own issues, who lost their faith because people in their churches were talking AT them, rather than TO them.
    And a personal note, Padre. More Molly pictures! She’s beautiful! 🙂 Maybe even a Molly story or two?

    • padresteve

      I think I do have a Molly story as well as one about our long gone Weiner dogs on the site. Molly is not only beautiful but extremely smart, scary smart but thankfully sweet. We had a Wire Hair Dachshund named Frieda who was the Dog from Hell we are sure that God has in charge of Purgatory.

      I like what you say about faith, I am a big fan of the Anglican Triad of Scripture, Tradition and Reason for that very reason.

      • John Erickson

        I know who Frieda’s protector is. We had an Australian Cattle Dog we named Zingo. (Yes, as in Zingo the dingo. Creative, aren’t we?) When he was a pup, we took him to a sci-fi convention we were working. He kept slipping out of the room and visiting other rooms, eating all the soap. He once climbed about 15′ up a tree, until he realised dogs don’t climb trees. (A perfect cartoon re-enactment!) His crowning achievement? He damaged a police car. My wife was walking him in an empty lot with a berm by the road – Zingo was on the other side of the berm. A cop pulled up and got out to check if everything was OK – there’d been some hooliganism in the area. Zingo heard a “stranger” with my wife, charged to her defence, slid on some ice, and hit the car so hard he dented in the side from the back door to the taillights. Zingo was fine, the car needed new sheetmetal, and the cop never heard the end of it from his buddies! 😀 He’ll guard Frieda well! 🙂

  2. afrankangle

    I haven’t gone through a faith crisis of any kind, but I appreciate your words – especially since you are reaching out to others who are in a spot where you have been. That’s in itself is an example of the love God wants us to show in others. Carry on.

    • padresteve

      That was part of what I set out to do when I found how difficult faith was after Iraq I knew there were others like me. I have lost count of the young men and women including Chaplains that I know that have a similar experience and after having been shut out elsewhere that have ended up in my office. They are amazed that I can express my doubts and that is is okay. They are amazed that a Chaplain can feel the same things that they do. I guess the perception is that ministers and Priests don’t experience such times. But then I understand when I look at what are the hot selling books and “teaching” programs sold at “Jesus junk” stores (stores that used to be called Christian bookstores) 😉

      • afrankangle

        The fact that you’ve “lost count” of those with similar experiences is another reinforcement to carry on.

  3. JamieT

    Appreciate this article. Thank you for your honesty.

  4. fida

    hope u will find the real God…

  5. Larry C.

    I have not looked at your site for about six months due to a host of things going in on my own personal and professional life. Plus the email account I receive your postings at I rarely use anymore. That being said, I want to congratulate you for your honesty and struggles about faith. I relate. I started out as an “on-fire” charismatic, was endorsed by a religious right full gospel group for the Army chaplaincy, and by the end of my liberal seminary experience, the whole proverbial house of charismatic theological cards had collasped (You can read my story on Ex-Christian.net under the title of: “My Evangelical Disaster” and “The Dangers of Biblical Counseling”). I started out as a hyper fundamentalist, ended up an agnostic, and now feel like I have settled into the comfortable category of “Jeffersonian Deist (vs. a “strict Deist” who believes that God is there, but is totally absent from the present world. . . .Jefferson’s deism was of an interesting sort: a huge skeptic regarding established religion, scriptures and “orthodox doctrines,” he nevertheless did subscribe to the idea that God does, at times, visit us as persons and as a nation. . . I guess you could also call him ‘Desit lite’ — not quite the fundamentalist Deist as Thomas Paine was). The more I read Jefferson’s comments about “faith,” the more I realize, ‘That’s where I’m at.’

    I still do volunteer chaplaincy work with a liberal Catholic social justice group (even though I am not catholic in any form). No one has ever asked me what I actually believe and I don’t think they even care. Their thing is are you doing the works of Jesus: caring for the poor, the hungry, the hurting and “the least of these my brethren.” This groups “faith” is so different from my years in charismania when talking about one’s faith and making bold, absolute assertions about what “God” was doing, going to do, etc., were the big things. I see it all now as hubris parading as faith. I doubt; I pray; I act “as if”. In all I do, I try to show compassion for others.

    I don’t know IF “God” is doing anything, but I kind of believe that sometimes HE/SHE/IT does break into our planet and shifts things around. . . and often God may not be there. I’ve come to accept that in the end, there are no absolute promises that anyone has made about anything. . . . and I’m OK with that now.

    Much blessings and success as you travel on this pilgram’s way.

    • padresteve

      Thank you much Larry. Blessings back at you,

      Peace
      Padre Steve+

    • padresteve

      Larry
      I read your posts and found them interesting. I can share honor stories like yours.
      Which Endorsing body were you with and when did you go to Chaplain school as a Chaplain Candidate?
      Blessings,
      Steve+

      • Larry C.

        I was with The Chaplaincy of Full Gospel Churches. I think I went for 13 weeks to the Chaplain School in the summer of 1988 when it was still at Ft. Momnouth, NJ.

      • padresteve

        Larry, I hope to chat with you on Facebook soon. Blessings, Steve+

      • John Erickson

        Larry, may I ask if you have a blog or written collection of your stories online (other than your responses here with the Padre)? I don’t want to seem intrusive – I would just like to hear some of what you have seen. While I’ve studied the military for most of my life, I’ve only been looking at things from the human factor for about 15 years now, and I haven’t run across military ministers until I found Padre Steve a few months ago. Anything you’re willing to share would be deeply appreciated. Thank you, and Take Care.

  6. Larry C.

    Hi John,
    I’ve written some more pieces on my blog (though I haven’t kept up on it lately) at: http://larryfinallylearns.blogspot.com
    My title for the blog is: The Life and Times Of An Ex-“Cult” Chasing Evangelist
    Hope you enjoy it.

    • John Erickson

      Larry- Thanks for the link. I have just barely begun to scratch the surface of your writings, but I already see things we agree on, and I’m sure your writings will continue to be both interesting and enlightening (and occasionally humourous – I ran across the “Stuff Happens” list 😀 ). If I get some time in the next few days, I’ll fire a comment off with some of my background. (I’d write sooner, but we have a wood furnace, and it’s gonna be COLD up here in the wilds of SE Ohio!) Thank you for sharing.

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