How many are my foes! Many are they that rise up against me. They would swallow me up, for there are many that fight against me. These are not the foes I expected to encounter—foolish and conceited sophistries, men who hate God, a culture arming itself against all that is good. Those foes assail from without, but the deadly foes I face spring up from within.
Fearfulness and trembling are come upon me, and horror hath overwhelmed me. I am feeble and sorely broken. I am groaning by reason of the disquietude of my heart. My strength fails me. But these doubts—mine enemies—are lively and strong. I sink deep in their mire, where there is no standing. I am come into deep waters, where the floods overflow me.
I am weary of my crying. My throat is dry.
My soul refuses to be comforted.
* * *
Doubt—suffocating, encumbering doubt—had never been a reality for me. There had been moments when doubts had brushed up against my faith gently and unobtrusively, like a stranger’s coat tails on a crowded street, but it had always been in passing and easily dismissed. I had begun to think that I was the sort of person whose faith was simply unassailable, and that I would never be confronted with the sort of soul-crippling, faith-derailing doubt I have heard described by others.
How naïve I was to assume myself impervious to this kind of attack. Reading the Psalms should have taught me that even a man after God’s own heart is at times forced into battle with the fearful gorgon, Doubt.
The darkness came one evening after a conversation with a friend who had many profound questions about faith and God that I could not answer, and this question assailed me: What if Christianity is simply one way among thousands whereby that people delude themselves?
This question tackled me with such force that I came close to feeling physically ill. It asserted itself upon my consciousness as true in a way that I was helpless to deny. I sensed that a crucial lifeline had been cut and that, somehow, God just wasn’t there anymore. I prayed that he would restore my faith, but it felt like I was talking to no one. I desperately wanted faith—to believe that God was there—but the faculty had left me.
“How fitting,” I grimly mused, “that this darkness should come during Lent.”
The next morning—Sunday morning—halfway through my drive to church, I asked myself, “Why am I going to church when I don’t even know if I believe there’s a God anymore?” That Sunday was exhausting—going to church and my job under the weight of something that actually merits the name “existential crisis.” Left to myself, I was lost without recall.
After the initial force of the assault wore off, I was again confronted with the significance of the season in which I found myself: Lent—this patch of gloom in the brilliance of the Christian year. Although it still seemed remote, I was inevitably looking towards Holy Week, because the liturgical calendar—structured as it is around the narrative of Christ’s life—forces anyone who is aware of its rhythms to acknowledge this story. Though I had not been able to see it at first, the doubt that had crippled me was attacking this very story and asserting that it was merely a fabrication, sculpted by the kind of minds that are masters of self-justification.
Holy Week is the juxtaposition of Christianity’s darkest and brightest hours. I thought of the doubt and despair that must have gripped those who had pinned all their hopes on Christ as they watched him die that most undignified of deaths. This was their Messiah, whom they had believed with all their hearts—and here he was, dying like a base criminal. These men and women inhabited history’s darkest hour. How could that darkness not have been suffocating to faith? They had lost their God, just as I was losing mine. The crisis of faith remains the same as it ever was.
I pondered the story of the Incarnation and its culmination in the passion week, struck by the absurdity of it all. It is utterly preposterous to think that the Almighty God could, let alone would, submit to die at the hands of his own creations. Impossible! This is no merely human tale—it reeks of transcendence.
This thought succoured my emaciated soul, and I felt my faith slowly reviving. I threw myself into the rhythms of this season, hoping that living out this story would make it real to me again. Seeking to exorcise this doubt, I remembered the words of Jesus, “This kind come not out but by prayer and fasting.” The wisdom of this world tells me it is foolish to seek life in this season of fasting and penitence, but the wisdom from above is foolishness to men, and the life that I find here amidst the darkness is that which comes from hope for the coming day of celebration. This Lent certainly has been my darkest, but I eagerly await that brightest of days, when there will be no more hope, no more faith—a promise I have from him who is the Firstborn from the dead.