For many years, I thought I believed that God was an all-powerful, good, and loving Father.
How very, very wrong I was.
Or at least, that wasn't what I actually believed.
It was a series of many dark, seemingly endless tragedies that stretched on for two years that showed me very quickly what I really believed.
My brother was committed to a mental hospital. My younger sister was kicked out of the house in a traumatic way. I had just had a baby who never slept for months due to a health condition, racking my body with exhaustion. My grandmother died. That same sister’s mental health spiralled into severe depression, until she, too, was admitted to a mental hospital. My health crashed first with severe mononucleosis, followed by a series of random infections, until I became chronically fatigued and completely bedridden, which lasted over an entire year. And then in a great crescendo as if in a tragedy written by some genius playwright, that same sister killed herself while my health was at an all-time low.
This was all within a span of two years.
And even just writing these words, it’s as if it grossly hollows out what these catastrophic experiences were: overwhelming, utter soul-crushing, darkness. It took my heart and body to the brink of despair again and again and looking out over its black chasm before me, I fell headlong. And it felt like I kept falling for a very, very long time.
My belief in God as a good Father who would care for me was already feeling frail when these events began. But it was after my sister’s suicide that it was as if my faith and trust in God, my shaky beliefs in His goodness, combusted and crumbled into a pile of ash.
How quickly I began to see that I really believed that God was like a distant schoolteacher. If I did all the right things, got all the right answers, prayed the right ways, then I would somehow be spared anything painful. After all, as North American Christianity a-la-Prosperity Gospel would have us believe, “I can do all things through Him who gives me strength,” and “hope never disappoints.” These kinds of Scriptures were painted as platitudes that were like a rusty support beam I thought was true faith — when in reality, it was me clinging onto a false sense of security. These were never promises of being spared from bad things happening but rather promises that God will be with us at all times.
For a year, I laid in bed, physically surviving, but with a dead heart, feeling betrayed by a God I thought had punished me for doing “all the right things.”
Things eventually changed when I found what brought me physical healing (that’s another long story) — but the deeper and more painful work would be grieving my sister and the God I thought I knew.
For months after recovering, I threw myself into therapy with a trauma specialist, uncovering the overwhelming pile of traumatic experiences that had built up over the last few years. I had experienced hard things before this — but none that had shaken me to my core, had crushed what I thought was faith in God, or who I thought Him to be.
I’m still working through this (very large) corner of my heart (that feels like it’s taken up the entire real estate of my soul). I haven’t “arrived,” I haven’t found answers, and the suffering that I experienced still doesn’t make any sense to me. Maybe it never will this side of heaven.
But the dust has settled a little. Now, I can see what remains in the pile of rubble of what I previously saw as my faith.
And as it clears, I see a few things — I see that real faith does not require understanding. It does not require knowing God in His entirety. In reality, it can feel like you’re groping about in endless darkness. And going on anyway.
Sometimes it feels like holding onto a cloud, wisps of air that slip away from my fingers. But it’s faith nonetheless: simply going on. On better days, my fingers find the solidity of His truth: that the Resurrection was real. I know Jesus died. I know He did it because He loves me. I know He did it for my sister, too, and that He caught her in His open arms on the Cross. I know that everything I have lost will someday be restored. Because that’s what He does.
Even if I can’t feel God’s love for me, His presence, or His care — I am still held by those same arms that caught my sister. And maybe instead of punishing me for doing all the right things like a mean teacher, maybe He was loving me tenderly through these tragedies, catching me in the only ways I could at that time: through the constant care of other people.
Because He is truly God, as love and goodness, even my confusion, my doubting, my inability to see in my walk of faith — it’s no match for His eternal love. It will always overpower what I feel or experience. The same faith that feels like a wisp of cloud guided the Israelites out of Egypt to the Promised Land. So I’ll just try to follow it, too. And I know that’s all He asks.