Sunday, August 18, 2013

Some thoughts on Faith Crisis

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Real Intent asked the question about whether faith crisis is a problem de jour, a fad coming out of the everything-posted-online movement, or a necessary step in our spiritual development.

Others had better articulated answers to that than I, but having been through a few faith crises myself, I do have a lot of compassion for members and nonmembers who go through faith crisis.  Having come through so far, I think I have learned a few things that I can share in order to cast some light on the matter.  Perhaps what I share can give hope to some poor soul who is struggling

First, the crisis of faith can be seen as a crucible in which one has to decide which propositions one has previously taken unquestioned are worth really trusting one’s existence to.   Sometimes we base our faith on foundations that are not as solid as Christ and having those foundations shaken a bit can help us find our true foundation.

Is my faith based in the church’s positive image?  What if the church is smeared in the media?  
Do I have faith because my life is going according to my plan?  What if something happens outside my control that totally diverts my life plan?
Do I trust because I’m safe and secure?  What if I’m suddenly in danger because of my beliefs?
Do I have faith because I believe church history demonstrates the goodness of the church?  What if I find some unsavory things in church history?
Do I have faith because church doctrine can explain everything?  What if I find things that doctrine can’t explain?
There are all kinds of ways to phrase these questions, but asking a question like one of these that is tailored to the crisis can help us determine where the unsteadiness is coming from.

Second, the crisis of faith isn’t something that is fixed with platitudes or browbeating from others.  People struggling in this kind of thing have to be treated with the same care as though it were a physical illness, with gentleness, with understanding for their weakness, with reassurances that they will pull through, with prayers and fasting, etc.  When you’re in it, you have to feed your faith with study and prayer and keep going through the motions even when it is difficult.  It feels like a bottomless pit sometimes that you throw everything in it that you can to try to fill it up, and it can get discouraging when the hole isn’t filled up immediately, but you have to be patient and keep reading and studying, keep trying..  Sooner or later you find something that helps.  You may not even understand fully why it helps as it does.   During one of my faith crises, I happened to be at my husband’s parents’ home and I voraciously read their church books in hopes of finding something, anything that could help me.  I found it, though I still can’t explain why it helped, so I’m refraining from repeating it here, lest it be considered another mere platitude.

What looks like a crisis of faith may be experimentation with a skeptical perspective.  For instance, reading the scriptures so many times, one has to seek new ways of looking at them in order to keep learning, and a skeptical perspective is just one way of many different ways.  People who study literature will have learned about Marxist, feminist, historical, psychological, racial, and other perspectives as ways to read a text, but skepticism is yet another.  People experiment with this perspective to see if there is something useful to be learned while using it.   It is useful to the extent that it allows a person to see through overly simplistic explanations or misrepresentation of the truth.  But when applied too broadly, one becomes conscious that one is losing more than one is gaining.  That is where the crisis can happen, when one discovers that a perspective has become a habit of thought that is no longer useful or when one finds oneself questioning values that were previously held sacred.  I don’t know if you can “come back” to faith if that means never being skeptical again.  However, it IS possible to learn to move through skepticism to a deeper faith, though it can be hard.  It requires much deeper inquiry and study to find solid footing again.  It is done with many conscious decisions throughout the day—hearing and believing, then being skeptical, then making the decision to believe again and act on that belief in the face of some uncertainty.   

We live in an era when information is so plentiful that it is incredibly easy to find information that challenges our beliefs and our faith.  Are we willing to put in the work to find information that will build our faith?  Are we willing to share what builds our faith so that others may benefit? 

These are my experiences, so I don’t know that I can speak for other kinds of faith crisis, but I’ll end with this--crisis need not be a final destination.  With study and inquiry it can be temporary.

2 comments:

Reid Litchfield said...

Great post. Glad you seem to have worked through your crisis.

Michaela Stephens said...

Thanks, Reid.