I have a confession to make.
For a couple of months now, I’ve been really angry at God. So angry that I often can’t even bring myself to pray. Sometimes I struggle to believe He’s there, He’s listening, He cares.
Why am I so angry, you might ask? Well, let’s just say that something I had prayed about for months and truly thought that God was going to provide…that something never happened. Even though God truly seemed to promise it to me in prayer consistently over the course of the year. I thought it was what He wanted, so it became what I wanted, and my heart became set on it, and I truly believed it would happen, just like we’re supposed to, because as Christians we’re told, “if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you” (Matthew 17:20) and “Whatever you ask for in prayer and faith, you will receive” (Matthew 21:22) and “If you ask anything of me in my name, I will do it” (John 14:14).
I had asked for it, I had prayed humbly, I had done my best to walk in the way of the Lord, and I had been faithful to the last hour, truly believing that God would give me the desire of my heart, the very thing which I thought He promised.
But then, it didn’t happen. Not even close. It was a no-go, an utter failure, the kind that leaves you feeling like the fool for believing it could’ve happened. And I got angry because I felt – and still feel – completely lied to by God, abandoned and betrayed and made a fool of. I had trusted so wholeheartedly in Him, only to be completely let down. Now what? I was having a crisis of faith.
Is God even real?
Why did He lie to me? He said if I prayed for it, He would make it happen.
Why did He constantly reassure me in prayer that it would happen, when He knew it really wouldn’t?
How could God be so mean as to fool me into false hope, only to rip the rug out from under me and have me fall flat on my face?
Struggling in this darkness for months, I could find no answers to these haunting questions. At last a friend pointed me to the writings of the saints. I opened up a daily reflections book called Mornings with Saint Therese, and this is what I found:
The very desires and intuitions of my inmost heart assured me that another and more lovely land awaited me, an abiding city. Then suddenly Jesus allowed pitch-black darkness to sweep over my soul for months. I am still waiting for it to end. It is a sunless tunnel where the voice of unbelievers mocks me out of the darkness: “You dream of light, of a fragrant land; you dream that their Creator will be yours forever. Hope on! And look forward to death! But it will give you, not what you hope for, but a still darker night, the night of annihilation.” He knows very well that although I haven’t the consolation of faith, I force myself to act as if I had. I have made more acts of faith in the last year than in the whole of my life. I sing very strongly in my heart: “After death life is immortal.” What darkness! But I dwell there in peace even though the veil of faith is no longer a veil; it is a wall, shutting out the stars. When I sing of heaven’s happiness, of what it is to possess God forever, I feel no joy; I simply sing of what I want to believe.
– St. Therese of Lisieux, 1896
This shook me awake. Feeling like God has abandoned you and falling into darkness is not something that only happens to “weak Christians”. And it doesn’t mean you’re becoming an atheist. It doesn’t make you a bad Christian to feel this way. Many of the holiest men and women, the strongest and most faithful Christians, have gone through this dark night of the soul. So the question then becomes, if even people like Mother Teresa, Therese of Lisieux, Bernadette of Lourdes, Padre Pio, and many many others can feel this “crisis of faith”, why would God do that to us?
Two reasons. And before I touch on them, we must change our thinking. Rather than thinking “how could God do this to me?”, think of it as something He allows you to encounter. He isn’t necessarily doing it to you, but He is allowing it to happen – a lot like in the book of Job, where God allows bad things to happen to test Job’s strength of faith. Will you love me even when you don’t feel I’m there? Even when I don’t give you everything you want? Even when I allow you to walk through the storm, will you still believe in My goodness? Will you hold fast to your faith through the most bitter of trials?
Because that’s what faith really is, isn’t it? What merit is there in believing something wholeheartedly when you feel its real presence and see proof of its existence? That’s why it’s easy for children to believe in Santa Claus – they see the half-eaten cookies and the presents under the tree on Christmas morning. Proof that he is real, he was there. But what happens when there aren’t any presents under the tree on Christmas morning? What happens when the cookies go untouched? Does that mean he’s forgotten you or abandoned you? Do you give up on believing because it didn’t happen? Does that mean Santa doesn’t exist?
Real faith is believing in what you do not see, you do not hear, you cannot touch or experience with bodily senses. It’s choosing to believe even when the doubt creeps in and overwhelms you. It’s choosing to believe even when everything around you is darkness, like you’re walking through a sunless tunnel and hear the voices of the mockers around you laughing, “Where is your God now?” It’s praying when you feel no consolation, it’s affirming your beliefs even when you may not necessarily believe them in your heart or mind, and its trusting in the Word of God even when you feel everything is a lie. “Faith” is belief not based on proof. It wouldn’t be “faith” if there was no darkness.
Faith is being sure of what we hope for. It is being certain of what we do not see. (Hebrews 11:1)
Even Jesus went through a crisis of faith. He was the Son of God, one with the Father, yet he too felt that darkness in his soul as he endured his Passion. In the agony of the garden, hanging on the cross, he felt the dark night of the soul:
He began to be troubled and distressed. Then he said to them, “My soul is sorrowful even to death.” (Mark 14:33-34)
He was in such agony and he prayed so fervently that his sweat became like drops of blood (Luke 22:44)
Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46)
If God spared not even His Son from such darkness, should we not count it as an honor to endure such a trial of faith? Through it, we are made like Christ, who endured his suffering with humility and obedience. Through it, we inherit eternal life. And let us never forget God’s response to our cries and the cries of Jesus:
Zion said, “The Lord has forsaken me; my Lord has forgotten me.” Can a mother forget her infant, be without tenderness for the child of her womb? Even should she forget, I will never forget you. See upon the palms of my hands I have engraved you (Isaiah 49:14-16)
God never abandons us. He never leaves us and never stops loving us. But He does allow us to feel like He isn’t there, like He doesn’t love us. Not because He wants us to suffer, but because He knows sometimes what’s best for us is to live in that darkness so that our faith may be tested and purified, like gold refined in fire (1 Peter 1:7). If you are struggling in the darkness, undergoing a crisis of faith, know that you are not alone, and you are not a “weak” Christian. Just keep fighting the good fight and persevering in faith. The darkness cannot last forever. Your Resurrection will come.