I alluded briefly to my existential nightmare in The Wonder of It All, and The Agnostic Wife wrote a post about the anger she felt as she dealt with her existential crisis. The stages of grief are no different for the death of faith than they are the death of a loved one, the death of a marriage, the loss of a friend.
The reasons why should be blatantly clear, but alas I fear they are not. Because we go through these various stages we are assumed to be turning our backs on God because we are angry or disappointed or disillusioned. That’s generally not the case at all. Anger, disappointment, and depression are all responses to the loss; precisely the opposite of what is typically thought by Christians to be the case.
When faith is lost this is what happens: denial. At first there’s shock and disbelief that what you’ve believed for so long could even possibly be false. What? How can this be? Once the notion settles in that, indeed, that could be the case there’s anger; anger at oneself for having been deceived, feeling foolish that more thought and reason didn’t go into the decision to believe a given proposition to begin with. There’s anger at those who did the deceiving. How can they live with themselves?!? After the anger wears off there’s bargaining. You don’t want to have been deceived. You don’t want to be wrong. God has been such a part of who you are you don’t want to let him go. So you bargain, like a soldier in a foxhole. I’ll do anything you ask, God, if you’ll just show yourself to me. You go on a fact finding mission, looking for evidence. Soon you realize that your religion is so much more convoluted and hazy and absolutely not absolute than you ever dreamed it was. Confused, disappointed, disillusioned depression sets in. You wonder how long that black cloud will follow you around. What is the meaning to life? What is the point to existence? Why even get out of bed in the morning? Slowly you realize that life does go on. You begin to accept the uncertainty. You begin to accept the possibility that God is not at all that you once thought he might be.
How long and how strong the individual held their given beliefs and their individual personality will determine how long and how strong their reaction and their stent in each phase. For instance, I was in denial for the longest time. I tried my dead-level best to hang on to a young earth and the flood, looking desperately for evidence for both. Anger at others didn’t last very long, though anger at myself is still rearing it’s ugly head from time to time. I wonder how I could have been so ignorant. I didn’t bargain for very long because if my beliefs and my faith taught me anything it’s that there is no bargaining with God. I settled in to depression rather nicely. The sky was falling right on my head, slowly killing me sending me to the certain fate of hell. But then slowly, with the help of The Tour Guide, my family, my friends and my new found iFriends I began to realize that life does go on, the grass does turn to green again and the sun rises and sets with the same beauty as before.
The reason the grief is so palpable is because, as S.W. Atwell puts it so eloquently, in a very real sense something or someone has died. Something inside of you, a part of you is gone. You’ll never get it back. It may be replaced with a new something, but that piece is forever changed. I’m not saying that’s a bad thing. In fact I’m finding it to be liberating and freeing. But it will never be the same again. One thing that I have learned is that grief is necessary and grief can be good.
What about you? If you lost your faith did you find yourself going through the five stages of grief?
*Blame the artwork on Michael Mock for unleashing me on Gimp 2.0. :~) I owe him a big thank you for helping me create an awesome website!