A couple weeks ago I read a post from a blogger who’s going through a difficult period in her faith. She feels completely alone, as if God has forgotten about her. She’s even started to think that God doesn’t even exist, thus rendering her life and everything else meaningless. She called this a “dark night of the soul”.
I call that a Tuesday.
Sometimes I think that those of us who came to faith from atheism have a unique perspective on periods of doubt since it’s our default position. For me, the feeling that life is ultimately meaningless and that there is no Higher Power is my starting point for each day. And the feeling often lasts all day, sometimes even weeks. I get lots of practice with this whole doubt thing.
When you come to know God, the initiative lies on His side. If He does not show Himself, nothing you can do will enable you to find Him. And, in fact, He shows much more of Himself to some people than to others — not because He has favourites, but because it is impossible for Him to show Himself to a man whose whole mind and character are in the wrong condition. Just as sunlight, though it has no favourites, cannot be reflected in a dusty mirror as clearly as in a clean one.
Lately when I experience doubt I first ask myself if I have really dusted off my mirror (to use Lewis’ analogy). Am I really surprised that I don’t feel in touch with God when the closest thing I’ve said to a prayer in the past 24 hours was blurting out the Lord’s name when Robert Best got kicked off Project Runway? When I’ve spent all week focused on me, me, me — what annoys me, how I don’t feel like doing this or that, who’s pissed me off today, how totally inconvenient the line at the grocery store was? I often find that my mirror is not just dusty, it’s caked in soot.
It’s been striking to me how closely my doubts are intertwined with my sins: when I spend the day living as if my to-do list consisted only of the seven deadly sins is when I find I experience the most doubts. And, usually, as soon as I take a step back and try to live according to Christian teaching, following the Ten Commandments and whatnot, I find that my doubts dissipate. For example, when I go through the Herculean effort of forgiving someone who has slighted me it seems like the process itself lifts the fog from around me and allows me to feel the warm sunshine of God’s presence.
And on the unusual occasions when even that doesn’t help, I turn to God. I remind myself that I’m not involved in some cosmic game of hide-and-seek where God is constantly trying to escape me. If he exists, he wants me to know him. So I say a prayer asking for my faith to be strengthened.
I’ve found that this process has given me great peace in times of doubt. I make sure I’m living and thinking in a way that would make me open to seeing God if he tried to reveal himself to me (since, as I once realized, nothing would convince me if I’m not really open to it); and then I turn it over to God. The ball’s in his court. If he doesn’t exist then nothing will happen and…well, I have bigger things to worry about. But if he does exist then I’ll get help — it might not be immediate and it might not be a grand chorus of angels descending from the heavens, but I will receive that which I need. If he exists, he’ll help me. And, so far, he always has.