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“Ask a Priest: If God Is Testing Me so Much, What Is the Point?”
Q: I think I’m losing my faith. I no longer feel that God is there and can’t tell if he’s abandoned me entirely or if he was merely a figment of my imagination to begin with. I’ve had seven years of stalled luck. When others have had the opportunity to get their lives started, I ended up right back in my childhood bedroom. I have tried for years to land a job and have worked very hard in trying to accomplish that. The last position I formally interviewed for, I had come within a hair’s distance of getting it, only to have the executive director shelve it entirely and say they were going to hold off on hiring. Now, I feel hopeless. My family’s situation is no better as they have had trouble over the last 10 years with finances. We were good people and genuinely tried our best to be good to others. If this is a test, what’s the point? To break us entirely of happiness and spirit? I can assure you we’ve all reached rock bottom. It just doesn’t seem like something a God who truly loved us would allow. Furthermore, if he actually existed and loved us, then why would he create a hell and send suicides, gays and non-believers there? How is that love? And how does that fit in with free will? Saying to someone: I will give you the choice to either love me or go to hell, is not really giving them a choice, is it? That’s not love. That is petty and abusive. I have lost faith in politicians, formal religion and my country. God is all I had left to cling to, and now I feel I’m losing faith in him as well. Nothing anyone says seems to ignite any more feelings in me. Whenever I go to church, I feel like I’m just going through the motions. I truly wish I could be like my Muslim friends and have such strong faith in God. Almost all Catholics I know have abandoned the Church, and the new pope we have, while a media darling, has chased away the few remaining conservative Catholics I knew who now view him with suspicion as a Marxist. I don’t know what to do. Do you think another religion like Islam is the way to go, or should I explore life as an atheist for a while and see if I regain faith organically? Is there even a way to get faith back? I have asked God to give me a sign, but there have been none. I have asked for some sort of peace, but there’s been none. I just feel lost. -M.
Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC
A: I am sorry to hear that your faith has been so shaken by the difficulties you and your family have faced over these years.
At the start, permit me to state something that might seem to go against intuition: God loves you and your family even more than you do, and he only wants the best for you. Moreover, the fact that we have difficulty detecting his presence or understanding his ways of working is probably good evidence that he really does exist.
God doesn’t always act the way we think he should act. Nor does he send us easy signs of his presence. God is God, and he acts as he wills. He doesn’t fit easily into the box that we want to put him. As the Lord proclaims through a prophet, “My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways” (Isaiah 55:8).
Paradoxically, signs of God’s presence are already abundant in your life. You mention that your family “were good people.” I hope they still are good people. Just the fact that you have a good family is itself a sign of God’s favor. And without trying to minimize the real difficulties you are facing, it is good to remember that God’s display of love cannot be measured in terms of material well-being. The Blessed Virgin Mary lived poor. John the Baptist lived poor. Mother Teresa lived poor. It wouldn’t occur to us to think that God didn’t love them. He often gives spiritual riches, not material riches, to those whom he loves. I mention all this to try to give you a sense that you shouldn’t think you are abandoned because God has allowed crosses in your life.
Crosses are instruments that enable us to grow in holiness. Often those crosses are situations that push us to detach from the world, in the sense of relying more on God and allowing ourselves to live at his pace.
He has a time and place for answering our prayers. He might already be answering your prayers – not in the way you expect, but in a way that can help you detach from putting too much hope in the things of this world. This is where God can be extremely mysterious, because he seems to bring us to the edge of endurance. He even did it with his own Son, in his passion and death on a cross.
As for hell: God didn’t create hell, per se. Hell is a consequence of people having rejected God. Hell is the state of someone who turned against God and died in mortal sin. God doesn’t get any pleasure in seeing souls lost. In fact, he “wills everyone to be saved and to come to knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:4). We all have the choice to love God or reject him; there is nothing unfair about living with the consequences of our choice.
The God of Christianity is the God who revealed himself as fully as he wanted in the person of his Son, Jesus Christ. This is the Jesus who suffered and died for you and me, for our redemption. Rather than look into other religions (or even atheism), you would do better to see your Catholic faith as your relationship with Jesus – what he has revealed to you through his Church, and how you respond to his love for you. Nowadays many Catholics don’t have a sense of this relationship with Christ as being at the heart of their faith. That is why they might focus too much on the human dimensions of the Church; they are swayed by what they think of this Pope or that bishop or that politician over there.
Try to go deeper into your understanding of Christ. Read the Gospels. Focus on how he lived (poor, humble, rejected) and on whom he especially loved (the poor, the blind, the lame). It might help to look for a regular confessor or spiritual director who could accompany you in these times.
Stay close to the Blessed Virgin Mary, too. She knows how mysteriously God can act, but she knows how much he loves you.
I hope some of this helps. Count on being included in one of my Mass intentions.