I often feel as though I live in two different worlds. At home I live in the lovely community of greater Newberg. It seems everyone is middle class; it seems everyone is Christian. At work I am a mental health therapist in Salem. I work mostly with people on Oregon Health Plan. Most people think of themselves as living in poverty. Many people describe themselves as not Christian. When I had a chance to write about “a day in the life,” I felt I wanted to write to my Christian friends what I wish they knew about my non-Christian friends.
Most people I work with grew up in Oregon and all have been exposed to the Christian message. Many describe themselves as “having lost” their faith, and each person tells an interesting story about that. But it seems to me there are two primary reasons people lost their faith. And both of them are reasons Christians can do something about.
First are all the people who have felt deeply hurt by someone who loudly proclaimed they were Christian. Physically hurt; emotionally hurt. I know people who were brutally beaten while their assailant quoted scripture! Sadly, for many people the word Christian is synonymous with judgmental. We have wandered far from “they will know we are Christians by our love.”
Then there are those who tell me they have lost their faith because God did not hear them, didn’t answer their prayer—sincere, good prayers. Praying for a sick child to live, praying that God would save them from the horror ahead every night. People sincerely pray, sincerely believe God will answer their prayer and then feel abandoned when it does not happen. A big part of this problem is what we Christians teach others about God and prayer.
I have been a Christian a long time and know that Christians have struggled with “the problem of evil” for centuries. I often encounter the problem: This truly horrible thing happened. Either God was not powerful enough to stop it, or God did not care enough to stop it. Either way, this is not a God I can believe in. I benefited from reading St. Augustine and C.S.Lewis address the problem of evil, a problem resolved through understanding that God chose to create us with free will. I have read Rabbi Kushner’s When Bad Things Happen to Good People. Other theologians explain that this world is not designed to be paradise. This world is designed with pain and suffering. Paradise is designed to be paradise. I have been comforted by Phillip Yancey’s Disappointment with God. Yet none of these answers fit into an easy sound bite.
I want to urge you, as I urge myself, to understand that people can “lose their faith” for a valid reason—not a theologically valid reason, but an experientially valid reason. When we encounter folks who say this, I hope we can address it with compassion, to first address the “logs” in our own eyes before focusing on the splitter in the eyes of other. Let us try to talk with people about their pain; not jump to quick solutions. As St. Francis of Assisi would say, let us seek to understand more than we seek to be understood.