Have you ever been mad at God? If we’re truly honest, whether we’ve admitted it or not, there have probably been times where we felt God abandoned us. This issue has led many to discount their faith in God because of His perceived failure to act on the behalf of suffering man. On the contrary, if God exists, then He must not care and should be regarded as immoral.
In my last blog post, I recounted C.S. Lewis’ first religious experience as he prayed for his mother’s healing, his disappointment when his mother died, and other events that resulted in his loss of faith and subsequent atheism. In part two, I will now connect his experience with some traumatic events that shook my own faith, highlight the lessons I learned in the process, and how insights gained from reading Lewis have enhanced my faith walk and will hopefully enhance yours too.
I can relate to C. S. Lewis. I have had my share of disillusionment with God and Christianity. I was raised Christian in the Church of Nigeria, Anglican Communion. I got saved at the age of thirteen but grappled with hypocrisy in my life and that of other Christians. The more I read the Bible, the more I noticed a pattern of what seemed to be a discrepancy between contemporary Christianity and the promises of God’s blessings. The God of the Bible answered prayers but this present God, it seemed, did not. After ten years of this struggle, I concluded that this discrepancy was the fault of Christians who were not faithful to their beliefs. If they were, I thought, God will do His own part. I was forced to change this conclusion several years later when I felt that I had done what I should and God did not answer prayers for my needs. I had surrendered all—my ambition to become a medical doctor or genetic engineer—and became a missionary at the age of twenty-three. I prayed and hoped for God’s continuous sustenance and was sincere in my desire to experience the new covenant reality, but it seemed that God had abandoned me. My breaking point came between 2000 and 2003 when I was forced by Islamic militant attacks to shut down our mission station in Jos, Nigeria. Within this period, my father died, I suffered ministry burnout, was on the verge of losing my marriage and was financially broke. All these antithetical events were happening to me while I was actively pursuing and serving God the best I could. I prayed and fasted intensely for three years, but the more I prayed, the more I sunk into oblivion. At that time in 2003, I could resonate with Lewis: “all settled happiness, all that was tranquil and reliable, disappeared from my life.”1 I was losing everything, and my trust in God went down the drain. I became depressed and angry at God.
Lewis returned to his faith in God and matured in it, and his views about God progressively changed. Lewis acknowledges in retrospect that his childhood loss of faith was unwarranted. He reasoned that his religious experience was incidental. He did not previously have a lifestyle of prayer but employed it as soon as his mother’s case was pronounced hopeless. His faith was generated by the best of his will power and not trust in God. His attitude towards God was that of utility—he viewed God as a magician—good to be used and discarded when needed. In the final analysis, he writes: “I think the truth is that the belief into which I had hypnotized myself was itself too irreligious for its failure to cause any religious revolution.”2 As Lewis’ faith developed, he came to realize the absurdity of sinful and finite humanity nursing bitterness against the infinite benevolent Creator of the universe.
Lewis eventually concluded that the presence of evil implies rather than denies the existence of objective reality and goodness. Lewis spent some time, according to Jerry Root, “trying to understand the significance of the existence of evil in the universe, and his understanding ripens as he looks at objective reality.”3 His clearer understanding of God resolved his looming struggle with the problem of pain and evil.
Lewis came to believe that although our wounds are deeper than our convictions, we should not let our trauma or feelings, in general, determine reality and faith. This new understanding is reflected in the following in a letter to a new Christian convert:
“It is quite right that you should feel that ‘something terrific’ has happened to you…Accept these sensations with thankfulness as birthday cards from God, but remember that they are only greetings, not the real gift. I mean that it is not the sensations that are the real thing. Don’t depend on them. Otherwise, when they go, and you are once more emotionally flat (as you certainly will be quite soon), you might think that the real thing had gone too. But it won’t. It will be there when you can’t feel it. May even be most operative when you can feel it least.4”
Our trauma is always transient, but God and His promises are eternal. Lewis advises that Christians should not let the vicissitudes of life determine their faith in God. The Christian faith should not be dependent on our feelings but on God’s faithfulness and Holy Scripture.
Although it has been seven years since God healed my brokenness and restored me back to ministry, I have learned some valuable lessons through the life of C. S. Lewis and his faith development. In my experience, I had generated by sheer will power a “faithless” faith, a zeal without knowledge and passion without wisdom. I had applied all the principles of prayer and faith, and in my own thinking, God had disappointed me. How ignorant and irreverent. Lewis’ faith development and his solution to the problem of pain and grief have deepened my view of God as an infinitely benevolent Creator of the universe who has orchestrated life for His own good pleasure. I have also realized the absurdity of my deluded self-righteousness in judging the holy God unfaithful. I will no longer detest suffering, nor will I allow the undulating nature of life to influence my faith in God. I will cease to let my faith be determined by my feelings and will always be dependent on God’s faithfulness and Holy Scripture. So, help me God.
1 Ibid., 21.
3 Root, Jerry. C. S. Lewis and a Problem of Evil: An Investigation of a Pervasive Theme (Princeton Theological Monograph Series Book 96) (Kindle Locations 1446-1448). Pickwick Publications, an Imprint of Wipf and Stock Publishers. Kindle Edition.
4 Lyle Dorsett, Study Guide – Learning from the Spiritual Pilgrimage of C.S. Lewis – page 8; http://www.cslewisinstitute.org/Study_Guide_Learning_from_the_Spiritual_Pilgrimage_of_CS_Lewis_page8.