It does not necessarily follow that to believe God exists means that one believes He is active in the world, that there is meaning behind the veil, that all is not chaos. To believe in God is often to encounter a God that is silent, hidden, seemingly impotent. Creeping beside a life of faith like a vine is doubt, the ever-nagging, ever-present feeling that while God may hear our prayers, He is either without will, power, or interest to care.
It is a doubt that, although the universe was created, it is no longer being attended to, a doubt that, whereas we may have been created, we aren't loved. God does not equal meaning simply by existing. Often, meaning must be wrested by the activity of faith, by believing that, despite the doubt, doubt is eventually dissolved by circumstance, love, and hope. And in fact, it is only through doubt that the miracles of faith can be made manifest.
This has been my faith, a faith of wrestling with a power I have chosen to rely on, "my refuge and my fortress." It is a faith in a God that is often terribly silent, so deeply hidden by the things of the world, that not to doubt would be disbelief.
My mother died at home, held by my father, while my sister and I held each other. We listened as her labored breathing gradually slowed, compelling her body to finally relax and compelling each of us to pray until the sound of her last breath, when there descended on us a moment of perfect and taut silence. And then, like the release of some tightly wound spring, I heard the sounds of our crying.
When I remember it, the space of that silence is filled with the sound of thunder. It is the voice of God I hear resounding toward me as I peered into the abyss, coming as close to the divine as I ever had, and I am filled with a profound faith. Sometimes.
It is often expressed in some academic and other learned circles that to believe in God is to commit intellectual suicide. For some people, a life of faith is to give up a life of inquiry, a life of curiosity, a life of critical thinking. Others often mistake faith for obedience, religiosity for a closing of the mind. And often rightly so. Who has not encountered the worst kind of bigotry and small-mindedness in the lives of the so-called devout?
And so to stake a claim for faith, I find people assume I am giving up an authentic life of tension and effort for one of simple answers and illusions. And once having given over, they think I am naïve and that the world cannot touch me. But the truth is, a life of faith means the world touches me more. In moments of prayer, in moments of great joy and great sorrow, in moments aching for religious feeling, the life of faith demands inspection, reflection, curiosity, and questioning.
Direct encounters with the divine come to very few, maybe once in a lifetime, sometimes never at all. Coming face to face with God is discouraged. Moses was told that no one could look upon God and live. After Jacob sees the angels ascend and descend the ladder, he exclaims, "How awful is this place." There are many, many stories of humans burned by contact with the gods. And so, too often, God hides His face and I am left wanting.
I thought I would not be able to take it, knowing my mother was inside it, that we would be staring right at it all through the service. And just as I felt the panic rise in my chest, suddenly I was no longer afraid. A sense of perfect peace swept over me, and it just made sense, perfectly, that she had died, that we all one day die, that God's will be done, the Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want.
The next day on the way home, I started to think about my parents, about the long life and love they shared, and something inside me emptied out, a trap door in my heart was released, and their love and the meaning of her life tumbled into the abyss, and when I looked down into it, God was not there. I turned to my wife, took her by the shoulders, and I blubbered like a madman, "How can there be any meaning when meaning is so easily swept away?" She held my face and said, "It's all just part of the larger fabric of life now, all woven in." And again, in an instant, I understood, and God was there.
There is shame in merely being human, being flesh and all the fleshy things that means. We are often reduced to base needs and desires, and finally to death, the least of all godly things, we think. And yet if God is not in the mud and the stink of being alive, He may as well not be anywhere at all. I clamber up the hill of my sins toward God, and yet all along He is the mountain I climb.
There are things in the world that point directly to God. I have seen a pair of bald eagles sitting on a frozen river together. When my wife trailed her veil five feet behind her as she walked toward me to marry me, I thought I never needed another moment to happen, ever. I have watched men and women who would sell their souls for certain pleasures and experiences have their souls given back to them. And I have seen autumn and ice storms and spring.
Each one alone is enough to convince me that God is active in the world. And yet, as I sit here now, I can easily encounter the nothingness, the void, and God is absent. And I must inquire, beg, wrestle with the angels of my doubt until God reveals the merest reflection of Himself. It might be a minute from now, or an hour. And I might have to wait even longer. My doubt must be as patient as my faith.