I read yesterday that another eminent intellectual, this one a former missionary, has lost his faith. He did not lose his value to the world; he's been spending the rest of his life in a spectacular career on the frontier of a demanding and necessary field of inquiry.
On the other hand, it wasn't necessary for him to lose his faith in order to achieve in the secular world. No honest field of inquiry is closed to persons of faith. The loss and the achievement both occurred; they may have been connected, or they may have been coincidental.
Occasions for losing faith are endless, but are not, even usually, intellectual crises. Many come down to this: "God did not live up to my expectations. He (or she, or it, or they) did not conform to what God, in my opinion, ought to be or to what he ought to do." Not that it is stated in such a precise way. It is more likely to be stated as "Why should I go to church if I don't get anything out of it," or "I just stopped thinking about it and sort of grew away from it." Almost never does it rise to the passion of Job's wife when she told her husband to curse God and die.
In some cases what is called "loss of faith" is no more than the recognition of the absence of faith. There was nothing substantial in the mind and heart for the person to lose! What is affirmed as belief by many who "believe in God" is closer to superstition than to intentional faith. Angry atheism is at least as old as Job's wife, but superstition— unconsidered and easy explanations thrown ad hoc at mysteries—is even older.
What is somewhat newer is the popular notion that in matters pertaining to God, personal opinion is triumphant. We don't want it to triumph in the operating room—at least not while I'm on the table!--but it triumphs when the subject is ultimate truth.
Faith, and its loss, deserve better.
- In the first place, losing your faith in God is about you, not about God. If you have decided there is no God, or at least no God worth trusting, your decision reflects only your opinion; if there is a God, he doesn't cease to exist on your say-so, any more than he comes into existence because you think he is a good idea.
- In the second place, losing your faith in God is not the loss of God but only of your connection to him. It doesn't even mean that the possibility of a connection has ceased to exist. How could we know that?
- In the third place, if there's a God anyway, apart from your what you think, you are still a part of his universe, even if you think he is not part of yours.
But what if you have lost faith and feel that you can't help it? That is the real sadness of the loss of faith; in the Bible it is not an intellectual problem but a personal one. We do not lose faith when we lose an argument, but when we lose hope.
Those who lose faith have lost a great treasure, and know it. They are in grief. If they feel relief instead of grief—"Oh good, I don't have to believe that any more" they either have no faith to lose, or they have confused it with dogma.
Christian faith is a living relationship with God, not only believed as truth but experienced as truth. Believers sometimes lose the experience, but it may return to those who continue to believe anyway, and do not lose hope.