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Losing Faith in a Secular World


There is a lovely saying from Rabindranath Tagore, the Indian poet and philosopher, ‘Faith is the bird that feels the light when the dawn is still dark.’ This of course indicates that, unlike science, there are no proofs on which faith can rely. People who believe, do so without any evidence on which to base their beliefs. “No one,” the author of the Fourth Gospel reminded us, “has ever seen God” (John 1:18).
The believer’s knowledge of God does not originate in laboratory tests, scientific observation or computer technology. And it certainly does not originate in common sense or everyday human experience. Insofar as a believer insists that he or she knows something about God, that knowledge is attributed to faith. Such a position can be easily undermined and sadly one cause of loss of faith can be the ridicule of an increasingly secular world.

Losing Faith and Hope

There is a positive thing about losing your faith and that is that you had it in the first place! It can also be said that most believers at some point in their life go through what has been aptly described as ‘the dark night of the soul’. It is sometimes the outcome when something cruel or unbearable happens. I am reminded of the late broadcaster, the much-loved Terry Wogan whose faith, already rocky, was lost after the death of his first child Vanessa. We need only to look at the Scriptures to see examples of people who lost hope and faith. The Psalms are full of similar thoughts. It is normal for faith to be challenged with time. We are intellectual, physical, emotional and spiritual creatures constantly evolving in each of these aspects of our being. Therefore a perceived loss of faith should not cause a person to be depressed or to think that they have in any way failed.

When trying to work through circumstances which have caused us to lose our faith we may feel that God is not listening to us. However God is present in all the circumstances of life and he never promised us an easy life; he did promise that He would be with us and give us grace and strength so that we could come through the difficult times. Many of us have learned the hard way that we cannot rely on human beings – we invariably let one another down. The evil circumstances of life are caused by the sinfulness of humankind, not by God

Where is He?

Elie Wiesel gives us a powerful example of this in his book Night. A prisoner of the Nazis in a death camp he and others are forced to watch the slow death by hanging of a young boy. This is the ‘punishment’ for another prisoner escaping. Behind him Elie hears someone whisper aloud, ‘Where is God? Where is He?’ Something within Wiesel answers: ‘Where is He? Here He is – He is hanging here on the gallows…’ The silent outburst within Wiesel is often taken to mean that God himself is to be found within the suffering. However that night Wiesel railed against a God who could remain silent in the face of this. His denigration of God’s silence is often used as an indication of a lack of religious faith. In fact for him silence is not a contradiction of God’s existence, but rather the deepest expression of that existence. He had to see God in a new way.

His love is unconditional

God does not lose faith in us, nor is His love conditional on the fact that we lose faith in Him. God calls everyone to Himself without exception. Thus the words ‘Before I formed you in the womb I knew you…’ I may not like what happens in my life but I can know that God has a plan for me and is working in my life to accomplish good, even when things seem really bleak. God wants us to reach out to Him in faith even when we have none; He wants us to trust Him even when it seems there is not much reason to do so.
Real faith implies a personal relationship with God and every relationship has to be worked at and nourished. The relationship may have broken-down but all is not lost. Unlike human relationships, with God we have someone who will always ‘take us back’. This is why, although it may seem pointless, it is better to keep praying, keep going to Church, and keep reading from scripture and the lives of the Saints. They provide anchors in the turbulent seas where once adrift it is easy to keep drifting.

The Light

Faith sometimes calls on us to suffer and endure with patience trials. Without a serious relationship to God and His Word nobody possesses the resources needed to “keep the faith” when the tides toss us backwards and forwards. Staying in the Community setting e.g. at Mass, if you are Catholic will keep you focused on the community dimension of the faith journey and help you learn from the trials and tribulations of others. We are all pilgrims on the same road home to God, but as has been wisely noted we are ‘wounded pilgrims’.

Personally at times of faith crisis I take comfort from Jesus’ lonely evening in Gethsemane when his own faith failed and he asked God to take the cup of suffering away from him. In spite of what lay ahead he kept on going. Even Jesus the son of God had doubts. The fact that he found it possible to endure the crucifixion gives me the courage to go on. The crucifixion was followed by the Resurrection, the light which follows the darkness.

Written by Marie-Therese Cryan

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