In the Dark, Faith

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I am awake in the middle of the night, alone in a hotel room. I have a day of unknowns ahead of me. I find myself probing the dark with darting eyes, asking, God, are you real? Are you really there?

Nothing has changed since earlier today–yesterday, actually–when I was sharing freely with a friend some of our reasons for confidence in God. Nothing except it was light then with a friend, and dark now alone.

Somewhere I will not take time to locate now, C. S. Lewis spoke of this, and he was right: faith is continuing to believe in the dark what we knew to be true in the light.

I had reason to believe earlier. The facts are still the same. I choose still to believe. Faith is (among other things) retaining confidence in what reason knows to be true, when emotion's distractions threaten to overwhelm reason.

Great faith, I suppose, would be having one's emotions so guided by what one knows to be true, that such distractions do not even arise in the mind. Perhaps someday I'll know what it's like to have great faith.

 

22 Responses

  1. I applaud your openness about these difficulties. As an atheist, though, I gotta say that you can cut the Gordian Knot. Just drop the God presupposition, and lots of difficulties just fall away.

    I’m just sayin’.

  2. Thanks for the short yet succinct post! At times the agony of going through things alone, thinking about tomorrow but never knowing what is going to happen.

    We try our best to do things our way, to strive to control our circumstances. However, we forget that the Lord calls us to rest in Him. I know it’s very painful or sometimes so unreal. Wondering if He is really there. What is it to trust in the Lord? How do we trust in Him when at times He seems so far away and silent?

    Trust in the Lord and do good; dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture. Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him and he will do this: He will make your righteousness shine like the dawn, the justice of your cause like the noonday sun.
    *Psalm 37:3–6

  3. Billy Squibs says:

    That’s an honest post.

    Lewis said quite a bit on this subject, I think. Or maybe he said a little but it was quite profound. He had one quote in particular about moods taking hold of him. I’m afraid I can’t think of it now and don’t have time to do a search.

    While the following quote is not the one I’m looking for I think it succinctly covers the same ground.

    “Faith is the art of holding on to things in spite of your changing moods and circumstances”

  4. keijo says:

    We living right now very drkness time in the spirit and so much sorrow for lacking the light and hope in cool feel without love from nothing and and the people are so hungry after God and his the word and they are so tired for all those who not satisfy theys life ,but the lord is answer éven that darkness time and he will send his servant to help and be encourage tthe people to not give up ,thanks and bles and pray,keijo sweden

  5. Claude Belobersycky says:

    Yup, sucks when that happens! 🙂
    I think people who are passionate thinkers and readers of the bible are prone to those types of moments more so than those who are not.
    I often find myself crying out to God,”Lord help me to think biblically!”,when I am in the midst of those moments.

  6. oisin says:

    You need to face this fear, otherwise it will just bubble up through the cracks for the rest of your life. Trust yourself to have the strength and courage to do so.

  7. Tom Gilson says:

    Thanks, oisin; I think that what I wrote here was an expression of my doing that — except my trust is in Jesus Christ, not in myself.

  8. Oisin says:

    It was an expression of powerful inner strength and humility, very true, publicly expressing and dealing with vulnerability is something I admire a lot and wish I saw more of.

    Why do these feelings of doubt arise? What is it that triggers them, brings them to the surface, and why are they not easily banished like shadows when a light is switched on?

    Sharing fears and worries seems to me to be a matter of utmost importance, which is why I ask, as I think it lends strength to the others in a community.

  9. Leslie (formerly of the blogs The Insomniac, Alice the Camel) says:

    Great faith, I suppose, would be having one’s emotions so guided by what one knows to be true, that such distractions do not even arise in the mind.

    This was a thought I pondered many years. Particularly back when my health was at its most precarious. And then I realized I was underestimating the reality of what I call the ‘interloper’ who tries to mix in the midst of me and God (John 10:10). My emotions may be solidly fixed on what I know to be true, but as long as the interloper makes conscientious efforts to distract me, the distractions will arrive uninvited. Their arrival isn’t a sign of lesser faith. Thank goodness we do not hold the truth. The Truth holds us. And from that perch we can resist that interloper and he must flee.

    Still read your blog after all these years, Tom! Best wishes, Leslie in Canada.

  10. As a former Christian (now agnostic), I know exactly what you speak of. But I have since come to sympathize with Bob Seidensticker: just drop the God presupposition and most of your worries and dilemmas will melt away.

    Not to say that you will feel great about everything, rather, the dilemmas and horrors of life just become more ACCEPTABLE.

    Take this simply as a vague analogy of the KIND of worry inherent in any THINKING believer of a “loving” God. Tsunamis or earthquakes that summarily exterminate untold hundreds of thousands of people can be much more easily accepted WITHOUT Him…..after all, without plate tectonics, we wouldn’t be here!

    Now any thinking believer would have to ask, why the hell would a “loving” God put us on a rock so predisposed to violence?

    I proffer the INVERSE of your faith commitment. As in, faith is (among other things) retaining confidence in what EMOTION knows to be true, when REASON’S distractions threaten to overwhelm EMOTION.

  11. Tom Gilson says:

    Bob Seidensticker and Kurt Schaal,

    I’m not sure I understand what you’re advising. Or rather, I’m not sure you understand it. You see, when moments like these arise, for me to “cut the Gordian knot” and give up belief in God would be to say, “Okay, God, even though I know you’re real, I don’t feel it right now, so I’m going to give up believing you’re real.”

    If you read the OP, that’s one implication of the point I was making. To give up belief because of feelings would be to abandon rationality.

    Kurt, if I gave up belief in God, my worries and dilemmas would multiply—existential worries and dilemmas, and rational/logical dilemmas. Naturalistic atheism (which I take to be the chief alternative, the worldview you might likely advise) just isn’t rational enough to be believable—as I and several friends have discussed at length. (Plate tectonics are in there.)

    You can proffer all you want about what faith is; the problem is, you’re wrong. Your definition is simply false. I don’t know where you got it from, but it wasn’t from anyone who experiences, practices, or makes any kind of serious study of faith.

  12. Referring to your words, “Or rather, I’m not sure you understand it”…..comes across condescending, deliberate or not.

    Why am I suspicious this is condescension? Because it is followed by, “Okay, God, even though I KNOW you’re real”…..Your KNOW God is real? YOUR God?

    This philosophical inquiry has confounded the smartest of us for centuries without resolution…..for good reason. NOBODY KNOWS!

    On your second point, I understand what you’re saying. Because of different perspectives, I am less bothered by the cold and cruel realities of life WITHOUT God, whereas YOU are less bothered by the cold and cruel realities of life WITH God. O.K., I’m fine with that. Neither is right nor wrong…..just different sides of the coin.

    Just to give a little background on my own experience, I ultimately abandoned belief IN CHRISTIANITY (not because of feelings) but because of what I interpreted as a paucity of evidence for something as specific and absolute as CHRISTIANITY.

    I just want to make sure, in no uncertain terms, that I was NOT suggesting you cut the “Gordian knot” simply because you don’t like the fact that children are abused or molested.

    I’m just saying that upon realizing the unlikelihood of MY God, it was thus much easier to acknowledge the “seeming” coldness and cruelty of the universe.

  13. Oisin says:

    @ Kurt:
    Using capital letters to emphasize words makes it look like you are shouting at the person you are talking to, bad habit to be in.

    @Tom:
    Why do moments like these arise in the first place? I don’t have moments of doubt about evolution, I don’t doubt the existence of neutron stars, I don’t have a crisis of faith over the germ theory of disease. What is it that causes someone who knows that God exists (as opposed to someone who thinks, believes or is sure that God exists) to doubt that, and to have experiences like this?

  14. Tom Gilson says:

    Oisin, the cause of these moments lies in the fact that God is much more existentially important to me than neutron stars and etc., so he’s on my mind in both my good and bad moments. If you’re having an extremely busy period of life and a lot of challenges with, say, a new job and new responsibilities, do you lie on your bed with the light out and say to yourself, “It’s times like these I really need to know I can count on the germ theory of disease carrying me through”? Obviously not; none of us does (unless we need healing from an infectious disease). Those of us who believe in God do think that way about God, though.

    Besides that existential factor there is an acknowledged partial hiddenness to God. He requires us to come to him by faith, not by direct sight. I think those two things are what make the difference.

  15. Oisin says:

    I used those comparisons because I don’t really understand how you can doubt something that you have full reason to know is the truth.

    What kind of doubt is this? Is it a feeling that maybe the bible isn’t true, or you don’t need God to explain the existence of minds, or is it just doubt that He is really there listening to and answering prayers?

  16. Crude says:

    I used those comparisons because I don’t really understand how you can doubt something that you have full reason to know is the truth.

    It sounds like you’re regarding human individuals as perfect logic machines for which, if you have knowledge X, then feeling or sense Y is just not possible. But that just seems bizarre to me. Senses or feelings aren’t necessarily produced by reason – isn’t this something atheists love to point out in other contexts?

    As for Bob and Kurt earlier,

    . Just drop the God presupposition,

    What’s this ‘presupposition’ talk? Last I checked, Tom believed in God on the basis of a variety of arguments and evidence. Now, you can argue that the arguments and evidence are incorrect for such and such reason (Bob, you’ve never been very good at this), but on that basis alone it’s clear that calling God a ‘presupposition’ is flat out wrong. Don’t you feel a little ashamed of yourselves for engaging in this kind of game, just because you sensed a moment of doubt?

    Also, regarding quotes like this:

    You need to face this fear, otherwise it will just bubble up through the cracks for the rest of your life. Trust yourself to have the strength and courage to do so.

    Quite a confident statement. What is the intellectual basis for saying such a thing? Is this the result of a scientific study I’m not aware of?

    Or do you not subscribe to the common admonition to not believe things without suitable reason and evidence – particularly scientific?

  17. Oisin says:

    Crude:

    I’m asking what does produce the doubt, I’m not presupposing the answer, your comment shed no light whatsoever.

    Avoiding a fear isn’t the same as overcoming it, that’s all I’m saying. I find it telling that no-one will explain exactly why such doubts arise, I suspect they have not explored the feelings of doubt enough because that would be the equivalent of consciously allowing one’s faith to waver, something which isn’t allowed in religious circles.

  18. Crude says:

    Oison,

    I’m asking what does produce the doubt, I’m not presupposing the answer, your comment shed no light whatsoever.

    What I quoted was not a question. It was a pretty firm declaration: You need to face this fear, otherwise it will just bubble up through the cracks for the rest of your life. Trust yourself to have the strength and courage to do so.

    I’d like to know on what basis you make this claim. Or do you now withdraw it?

    Avoiding a fear isn’t the same as overcoming it, that’s all I’m saying. I find it telling that no-one will explain exactly why such doubts arise, I suspect they have not explored the feelings of doubt enough because that would be the equivalent of consciously allowing one’s faith to waver, something which isn’t allowed in religious circles.

    What ‘religious circles’ do not allow ‘exploring feelings of doubt’? It certainly isn’t one I’m familiar with.

    And I actually did explain, in part, how such doubts can arise. What do you find wrong with my explanation?

  19. Oisin says:

    I was referring to why someone would doubt something they had full reason to know, a question still going unanswered. You said it was not necessarily based on reason, then what?

    I do not retract it, if you do not face your fears they will not go away. That is an opinion, open to critique, I don’t mind because the question of it’s empiricism is a red herring in this discussion.

    As for doubt, the Bible does talk about it a fair bit:

    Matthew 21:21

    Then Jesus told them, “I tell you the truth, if you have faith and don’t doubt, you can do things like this and much more. You can even say to this mountain, ‘May you be lifted up and thrown into the sea,’ and it will happen

    Matthew 14:31

    Jesus immediately reached out and grabbed him. “You have so little faith,” Jesus said. “Why did you doubt me?”

    Luke 24:38

    “Why are you frightened?” he asked. “Why are your hearts filled with doubt?”

    James 1:6

    But when you ask him, be sure that your faith is in God alone. Do not waver, for a person with divided loyalty is as unsettled as a wave of the sea that is blown and tossed by the wind.

    Proverbs 3:5-8

    Trust in the Lord with all your heart;

    do not depend on your own understanding.

    Seek his will in all you do,

    and he will show you which path to take.

    Don’t be impressed with your own wisdom.

    Instead, fear the Lord and turn away from evil.

    Then you will have healing for your body

    and strength for your bones.

    At this point it seems that you don’t have interest in honest discussion of this topic and merely seek to silence me by being sceptical of my every sentence instead of the overall meaning. I gain nothing from that kind of discussion.

  20. Crude says:

    I was referring to why someone would doubt something they had full reason to know, a question still going unanswered. You said it was not necessarily based on reason, then what?

    Once it’s not based on reason, what does it matter? Why do some people get the feeling that they’re being looked at, when they’re alone in a room? It’s as if you never had a strange or sullen feeling before.

    I do not retract it, if you do not face your fears they will not go away. That is an opinion, open to critique, I don’t mind because the question of it’s empiricism is a red herring in this discussion.

    Alright. So you believe things even with insufficient evidence, based on intuition. So long as you admit that you accept that, I’m quite fine with you failing to retract.

    As for doubt, the Bible does talk about it a fair bit:

    Who denied that the Bible talks about doubt? What you claimed is that religions ‘do not allow exploring feelings of doubt’. Not a single one of your quotes supports your point on that front – and it’s trivial to find religions that accept that people will doubt, and don’t particularly mind if said people investigate and explore their doubts.

    At this point it seems that you don’t have interest in honest discussion of this topic and merely seek to silence me by being sceptical of my every sentence instead of the overall meaning. I gain nothing from that kind of discussion.

    Silence you? Then why am I asking questions? I am pointing out flaws in your reasoning and in your statements. Would you prefer I don’t do this?

  21. Oisin says:

    “Don’t doubt” “don’t trust in your own understanding” “you have so little faith”

    I’m gonna leave it there Crude, there’s no give and take here.

  22. Tom Gilson says:

    Oisin,

    I think I was pretty clear in the OP what kind of doubt this was. I think I was pretty clear in #14 how that doubt could come. I think it’s completely obvious I wasn’t avoiding the fear: I didn’t have to state it publicly after all!

    I’m sorry it’s not making sense to you.