There are many ways to talk about faith or alternatively, lack of faith. There are many reasonable ways to approach the questions “Is There A God” and “What Evidence Is There For God,” but I don’t want to talk reason here. Rather, I want to offer up an emotional account of my life without Him. I want to explain why I, at least, am better off alone.
I did not start off not believing in God. I was born into a semi-religious family and was a believer throughout my early life. Instead, I started becoming a God-less heathen in the time following my confirmation, where the religious discussions raised more questions then they answered. By the time I had to confirm my faith, I was confused. I had taken an online test to see what religion I should follow and my result was New Age Spiritualism, not First Presbyterianism. I was pretty sure I loved God, but I didn’t really understand Him. I didn’t understand why he would allow innocent people to suffer; I didn’t understand a lot of things. This shouldn’t be a big problem, I was told, because no one really understands God, right? He works in mysterious ways. It was a problem for me, though. Unlike many of my peers, I could make peace with neither questions nor answers.
When people who believe in God find out that I don’t, they sometimes feel sorry for me. My parents worry for me. My father was raised Catholic and strongly believes he would have been lost many times if it were not for his faith. His love for God pulled him out of his darkest moments. Meanwhile, my mother’s belief in God calms her mind. Both my parents worry that I am without a major source of comfort and strength. Sometimes my father hints that my morality itself may be up for question. There is a song he likes to listen to by Bob Dylan called Property of Jesus, in which the chorus goes, “You got something better/You’ve got a heart of stone.” When my dad puts on this song, I gamely sing along, changing the “You” to “I.” However, the whole thing also frustrates me and makes me angry. I don’t have a heart of stone.
There have been moments when I have missed having God in my life. Moments in which the world seemed particularly bleak and unfriendly, moments in which I did not know what to do with myself, moments in which I desperately needed guidance, moments in which I wished there could be some deeper meaning to the pain I saw around me. In these moments, I was often profoundly upset and wished that I could be guaranteed a light at the end of the tunnel. (And the presence of God certainly is a light at the end of a tunnel.) I remember lying in bed crying over some heartbreak and wishing God would show up and lead me back to wholeness. Spoiler: for whatever reason, the light did not shine down on me. My prayers to God went right to voicemail and He never returned. Thus, with neither my ex-boyfriend nor God calling back, I was forced to go it alone.
In a related story, one summer my family and I foolishly decided to climb a sandstone cliff in the middle of the desert. As we were climbing, bits of the rock started breaking off. We were suddenly in real danger. I clutched at a small ledge; my father slid down the rockface to get at me, bloodying his knees to help pull me up. Next, we slowly and painfully inched our way to safety. Throughout this event, I repeated two phrases: “God help me” and “This is nothing, I can do it.” Interestingly, when I invoked God, I felt panicked. I felt like I was waiting to be saved. Yet, when I assured myself of my ability, I was able to face the situation.
It takes a lot of faith and strength to go on without God. You have to recognize that the world is essentially chaos and that sometimes bad things happen for no reason, but that this doesn’t mean that you should behave any worse. If you find yourself beaten down, incarcerated, or worse (perhaps you stood up to bullies, perhaps you stood up to a corrupt regime), you must be content with having acted, end of story. You must follow your values inherently, without thought to reward. And the world with all its cracks and flaws has to be enough. That is, there has to enough within this world (or within you) for you to love, because there is nothing else. This can be inspiring.
Moreover, recognizing the essential chaos of the world can be liberating. It used to be that whenever something bad (or good) happened to me that I would try to contextualize it within the context of some divine plan. Maybe that driver crashed into me, because God was protecting me from some bigger disaster. Maybe that boy didn’t call me back because I wasn’t nice enough to my brother. I was constantly trying to decode a message, much to my confusion. Without God, when I am faced with a situation, I simply try to figure out the best way to react. This doesn’t mean that I am less introspective or that I’m less likely to learn from life events. I can still draw conclusions about the nature of the world or how to behave better in the future; however, I am no longer tying to determine if I am being “punished,” or “rewarded,” or “directed.”
For some people, God is a pillar of strength. For me, the absence of God has allowed me to embrace life around me and rely on myself. By shutting out the confusion and the questions that used to plague me, His absence even brings comfort to my heart of stone.