Finding a New Faith, Part 1: Losing Faith

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Introduction

This three-part series focuses on how my experiences with spiritual trauma have shaped my faith. Over the course of my life, I have both lost and rediscovered my Faith in God. This first post focuses on how I lost the faith of my childhood when I couldn’t reconcile my life experiences with the faith stories told in church. The second post in the series will focus on how spiritual trauma shaped my understanding of God and the people of God. The third post will explore what a Faith that acknowledges spiritual trauma looks like for me.

Faith in God the All-Powerful

“God the Omnipotent! King, who ordainest
Thunder Thy clarion, the lightning Thy sword;
Show forth Thy pity on high where Thou reignest;
Give to us peace in our time, O Lord.

“God the Omnipotent”, Henry F. Chorley, 1842

When I was young I was a happy participant in the Christian church. I sang in the youth choir, participated in the youth groups that my parents helped to lead, and once or twice a year I went on a retreat at the nearby Lutheran church camp with other kids from my church. I respected my pastors, and I thought about being a pastor one day. I had a strong belief that Jesus had died for our sins, that Jesus loved all of us and was a mediating force between us and God, and that God could solve all problems and ease all pains.

Fear and Trembling: Losing Faith in Mercy

My belief in God the All-Powerful was tinged with a sense of fear and awe, as I was taught to believe that God’s judgment was only held at bay by faith in Jesus–that Jesus was required to die for our sins so that we wouldn’t go to Hell.

Throughout my childhood experiences of abuse and medical trauma I believed that God could deliver Mercy to me, if only I could find a way to be worthy. When God’s Mercy failed to deliver a peaceful end to my pain, I began to pray for God to kill me. I had lost hope that God would end the abuse, and only hoped for death to end my pain.  When God didn’t answer my prayers for death I got angry with God, while at the same time worrying about being judged for my anger.

Losing Faith in God

An Inconsistent God

In the midst of my anger I began to lose faith in God. At best God seemed inconsistent, promising much but failing to deliver. At worst, when I listened to those who spoke of God’s will, or of those who spoke of adversity as a test of faith, it seemed like God was a malicious Parent who had stacked the deck against me. I could not believe in a God who could allow a child to be abused as a test of faith. I could not believe in a God who would tell Abraham to kill Isaac as a test of Faith, and I identified strongly with the fear that Isaac must have felt. I could not believe in a God who would set up a system of judgment that would require the death of God’s own Child to save the rest of us from God’s wrath.

Suicide as a Means of Control

As I lost faith in God and lost hope in humanity, my only solace became the thought that if my life became truly unlivable I could end it. Suicidal thinking and self harm became my primary coping mechanisms, along with bulimia and other addictions. I felt the illusion of control in being able to control the pain I inflicted on myself, and was comforted by it despite knowing it was an illusion.

The Continuing Journey

The second post in this series will focus on how spiritual trauma shaped my understanding of God and the people of God. The third post will explore what a Faith that acknowledges spiritual trauma looks like for me.

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Matt Hartfield

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