I’ve been thinking a lot lately about faith, specifically about what a trial of faith might consist of. I don’t know that I’ve ever really had a trial of faith. I’ve experienced no great tragedy (knock on wood) and, while I’m excellent at self-sabotage and self-pity, I’ve had no real obstacles to overcome. My father has always been kind to me, so I’ve never had any trouble imagining a loving Heavenly Father who wants the best for us. I’ve never really had cause or need to question my faith in any significant sense. I worry that this has made me lazy.
First, let me be clear: I don’t want to fetishize trials or struggles with this post. As I’ve hopefully made clear through the years of blogging, I don’t particularly want to experience hardship; it looks like a lot of effort. Even that dumb joke trivializes the exquisite pain, suffering, doubt, sorrow, despair, loneliness, and wretched anger that many people (if not most people) must live through. Some don’t survive. I’ve no doubt that claims to have never really had to deal with anything hard are a form of humblebrag, but in my instance it surprises, humbles, and frightens me. I don’t imagine that I’ll escape something horrible; if I wanted to keep myself up nights it would be incredibly easy to imagine things happening to myself or, much, much worse, to my loved ones. If I wanted to inhabit that mind, I doubt I’d get out of bed in the morning. And yet, some people do.
So, with that caveat, I’ve been thinking a bit about what it really would mean to lose my faith. I wonder because I’m not a terribly good Mormon. So, arguably, I wouldn’t experience a huge life change if my faith faltered. I’m in Bavaria, so I’d probably try beer, and coffee is incredibly tempting, but other than that I don’t imagine my life changing all that much (let’s assume my family would be cool with it, for the sake of argument). So, if I am only so-so at commandment-keeping and general Mormonism, what does Mormonism give me? Why cling to it at all?
I think that what Mormonism gives me most is meaning. Understanding myself as a child of God, of a loving God, gives me a sense of the universe and the purpose of life that calms me and grants me a sort of bizarre serenity. As bad as things might get, I have the feeling that they will work out. There is a quote out there that I saw today on facebook from President Hinckley. He said, “In my ninety-plus years, I have learned a secret. I have learned that when good men and good women face challenges with optimism, things will always work out! Truly, things always work out! Despite how difficult circumstances may look at the moment, those who have faith and move forward with a happy spirit will find that things always work out.” (Don’t ask me the source; I found it on goodreads). This is nice and comforting, but I also wonder if, like I said above, it is making me spiritually lazy (to go along with the physical and emotional laziness). I’m like a welfare queen, relying on the good Lord to make up for my errors as I wend my witless way through life.
Perhaps what a trial of faith is meant to do is to rob you of this laziness. Not that you have to be lazy to get a trial (generally, as I understand it, you just win the trial lottery), but that we shouldn’t be this sort of lazy. An assurance that God will make everything work is a comfort, but when that comfort is gone, torn away by the combination of something horrible and prayers about it that go unanswered, we don’t stop living. Our lives go on when our faith does not. In this new-found void, we must make our own meaning.
I’ve always been impressed by those people who create their own meaning. Existentialists, whom I usually find too gratingly superior to really understand existence, at least have this right. We must determine what our lives mean; there is no-one, not even God, who can do that for us. The loss of faith puts this into stark perspective; when you realize that no-one will show up at the end to give you a gold star or a demerit for the work you did, then you must decide for yourself how hard you are going to try to live. Voltaire, at the end of Candide, encourages us all to tend our gardens, but isn’t that as nihilistic a pursuit as any other goal in that book? The person that we must ultimately satisfy is ourselves; I worry that, in our efforts to please God, we forget that we are not here to please him, but rather to become like him. Creating meaning from the unfashioned void, that is what God does.
Please don’t misunderstand me; I’m not saying that we shouldn’t praise the Lord, nor that we should just seek our own bliss. I just wonder what sort of faith we might have if we made having faith a conscious decision, not based in our memories of a happy home, tradition, upbringing, or any one of the hundred thousand earthly influences that lead us to choose one thing over another. What if the choice to believe was an act of agency, of will, in its way contrary to our earthly understanding, but a necessary step to becoming a being who can create organization, being, meaning, and joy from chaos and random chance? Do you think that the shift to becoming one with the Father could require us to endure all things as Christ did, including a moment or more of wondering why he has forsaken us? Hypocrite and faltering Saint that I am, I still wonder if I too might someday be counted worthy to suffer shame for His name. Lord, in those hypothetically dire straits, help Thou mine unbelief.