Apparently, despite having attended church all his life and even avidly studying his Bible for many years....he has recently, and without much warning, decided that he no longer believes anything. Not a single speck of what he used to believe. He has been writing e-mails to all of his friends and family members, desperate to convince them of their religious folly. He has become an atheist evangelist--his own self-description.
The only reason he gives for his sudden change of heart is the existence of so much suffering in the world.
There wasn't much for me to say to my friend. I said I was sorry and hoped that, maybe after some time had passed, her father would become slightly less gung-ho in his approach. What could I say to her? As a Christian, it's a devastating and bewildering blow to her and to the image she had of her father.
One of the things her father told her was that he was happier than he had ever been. He didn't worry about things anymore. I understood what he meant, and wondered if it might have something to do with his attraction to atheism in the first place. If God is out of the equation, the world can still be an evil, awful place, but at least we wouldn't be pressed to find some noble, God-inspired reason for it.
When DH and I were first married, I had a certain narrative in my head about our relationship and how God had brought us together. I truly believed that there were very specific reasons that we had found each other. These reasons were quite spiritualized and heady. They made me feel as if I was on the right track with my life and that I knew exactly what it meant to know God's will.
Fast forward a couple years. I realized that I had been dead wrong. The story in my head did not match up with reality. This is not an indictment of DH, or me, or our marriage. We are quite happy and usually work through our marital issues in a relatively healthy way. However, when trouble hit us early in our marriage, it was a double blow to me. Not only was I having to struggle with the normal marital strains of the newly married, but I also had to come to terms with how off I had been in assigning specific meanings to our relationship.
It shook me to the core to realize that I could be so wrong about ideas of which I had been so certain. I began to question every decision associated with any trace of certainty similar to what I had experienced. Unsettling emotions washed over me.
The intersection of arbitrary expectations and reality lay at the crux of my crisis. I had constructed an unsustainable scenario from my assumptions about God and what it meant to follow Him.
As I continued talking with my friend, I wondered whether her father had experienced a similar disappointment. When we are told that there is always a "reason for everything" that happens in life, we're put in the position of finding a reason for the most awful things. Inevitably, all our reasons regress back to God:
God has decided to cause or allow A, B, or C in our lives. A, B, or C in our lives causes a lot of pain and doesn't seem to have any bright side or purpose to it. We declare that it has a purpose, we just don't know what it is.
After several years of trying to console ourselves that there is a purpose to A, B, or C, we begin to suspect that it really is purposeless.
Our disillusionment isn't based on the terrible things that happen, it's based on the idea that terrible things shouldn't happen. When they do happen, we have to resolve the dissonance caused by our misplaced expectations.
I have changed the way I look at my life. I try to never fall back into assuming that there is a specific reason for circumstances in my life. Instead, I try and think about how God would want me to respond to the circumstances I encounter...whatever they might be.
It's a subtle difference, but it has an enormous effect on how I see God, the world and myself. Releasing the need to determine the cause and meaning of every misfortune in life is freeing.
I'm curious if my friend's father had considered altering his view of God, rather than rejecting Him outright.