Crisis of Faith

by: Dr. Rami Nader

 

It is always exciting and encouraging to be around someone who has just become a Christian. They seem to be so full of passion for God and so keen to find ways of serving and actively developing their faith. In many ways, it becomes contagious and a source of encouragement for others. Not only are these the people who attend church regularly, they actively seek ways to participate in the church and become a blessing to others. I observed this first hand on a number of occasions when I was a youth group leader at St. Simon's church in North Vancouver. To see young people filled with passion and enthusiasm for God is such an inspiring thing.

Unfortunately, I have also observed what happens when the initial thrill and excitement of a newly found faith disappears and people experience what I will call a "crisis of faith". The crisis of faith is when the tremendous joy of salvation begins to fade and living out faith seems to become more of a chore than a blessing. Daily prayer times and scripture reading become relegated to something that is done when the priorities of the day are taken care of. Living out faith becomes ever increasingly difficult because of all of the other demands of life. The person in a crisis of faith goes to church simply because that is what he has always done. Eventually, the monotony of warming a pew becomes too much and the person stops going altogether.

James 4:8 states, "Come near to God and he will come near to you." It is a call for us to approach God, rather than expecting Him always to be approaching us. The original passion of a young Christian is demonstrated by time spent daily in prayer, praise and service. And with all of that, they experience God as never before. But when the prayer, praise and service become less frequent, overtaken by the demands of life, God seems more distant. This is when you hear complaints like, "I don't get anything out of church anymore" or "I don't feel fed spiritually". This becomes the crisis of faith. The person stops growing in their faith because they do not feel close to God and they do not feel close to God, because their faith has stopped growing.

There is a psychological approach to treatment called cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), used to treat a variety of emotional problems including anxiety and depression. Essentially, the core feature of CBT is the relationship between our behaviours (what we do), our thoughts (what we think) and our emotions (how we feel). How you feel depends on how you think and what you do. Applying CBT to the crisis of faith, if a person is not playing an active role in developing their faith and think that they will have a closer relationship with God by passively waiting for it to happen, they will be disappointed and discouraged when a sense of closeness to God does not occur. This disappointment and discouragement then makes it less likely that the person will spend time in prayer and devotions, which can then lead to further thoughts that God is distant and the cycle spirals.

Fortunately, just as this cycle can work in negative ways to sap faith and connection with God, it can work in positive ways to help grow your faith. By changing behaviour (e.g., spending time in prayer, reading the Bible regularly, being an active member of your church), this can help influence the way you think about your faith (e.g., what role am I playing in growing my faith). Ultimately, this will begin to impact on your feelings and sense of closeness to God. In order for any relationship to grow and develop, you have to be an active participant. If you are experiencing a sense of separation from God, the first step should be to take an honest look at what you have been doing to develop your relationship with God and make changes accordingly. God has promised that he will be faithful to that "Come near to God and he will come near to you".

(Article appeared in the Spiritually Speaking Column of the North Shore News on February 9, 2007)