When I was younger, I remember getting the idea (whether or not it was actually verbally taught to me that way) that if I kept God’s commandments, life would go fairly smoothly, according to plan, and that I’d have little trouble. I’m quite certain that in some way, some church leader or other said to me, “If you get married in the temple, everything will work out great,” and other such generalizations, when what they likely meant was, “If you keep the commandments, you’ll have the comfort and peace you need to get through all of life’s struggles.” But that’s not how I interpreted whatever it was they did say. I do not fault them. But twenty+ years ago, gospel generalizations were exceedingly common, and they are still more common than they should be today.

Now, realistically, if I’d taken the time to listen to my parents (who I’m fairly certain never taught me any such generalizations), paid closer attention to the examples all around me, measured what I’d heard to my experiences in reading the stories in the scriptures, I would never have allowed such a ridiculous notion to take root in my brain. Does not the story of Job clearly illustrate that the most righteous often suffer the most trial and struggles? To say nothing of Christ. Yet, somehow I failed to grasp the incongruous nature of something I was beginning to believe (and expect) versus what I was actually being exposed to. I was creating a belief framework that wasn’t accurate.

Despite the evidence all around me, I think my youth and youthful blindness allowed me to create an expectation for life and religion based on very cursory, and certainly not realistic, sentiments.

Common Faulty Religious Beliefs and Expectations

Many other such false expectations/beliefs plague many a religious soul. Though we are taught the scriptures and read them, in part, we somehow also fail to miss the fact that everyone the Lord calls to help Him is flawed, often has to repent, and often makes mistakes. We get the idea that God’s people, or at least minimally the leadership, are flawless and know and understand everything. We may also get the idea that since God has all the answers He will give them to us (and to church leadership) without any effort or seeking on our part (or their part). We believe, incorrectly, that we are entitled to all of God’s knowledge simply because He has it.

We may get the idea that the people that go to church and sit so neatly dressed in the pews never have problems. We may assume that those who seem to be most spiritually and doctrinally in tune have never made grave mistakes. We may form the incorrect notion that at a certain age doctrinal wisdom and ease of keeping the commandments will simply happen to us. We may form the silly idea that after a certain amount of time or trials that we will arrive spiritually and not have to work at it anymore. We may assume that studying the scriptures is something we have done (past tense) and that moving forward we will retain all the power and doctrine it once imparted to us. We may think that serving a mission will ensure we never fall away from the truth. We may assume that getting married in the temple will ensure we never divorce. We may think…and expect…many incorrect and false things that never have been true and never will be. But, for a time, we feel they are.

Coping Frameworks

When we have an expectation we then often naturally form a psychological coping framework. This framework is a system of relating to our environment that we lean upon. We use it to make sense of our world. It defines how we relate to our family, friends, acquaintances, members, non-members, kids, co-workers, etc. It defines how we approach, plan, and execute our lives. We expect things to happen a certain way or to exist in a specific way. And thus we define our lives around these expectations (whether false or true).

The foundation of our coping framework is the expectation or belief. This foundation may or may not be solid (or true). If our expectation or belief is untrue, and ultimately weak or unstable, then it will eventually crumble. It cannot stand because it is not true.

For example, when we get married we make the assumption that our spouse has committed to us and therefore will remain faithful to us. We may expect some troubles, but that covenant and commitment creates a safety net around our fears. We stop worrying that we may lose someone. We begin to form even more specified frameworks around the larger one. We begin to develop natural ways of communicating with our committed spouse. We learn how to compromise and live with this other individual. We develop a framework for juggling work, hobbies, and other pursuits in relation to this larger marriage framework. And, we base our framework on a fixed picture of our life. It does not usually have a lot of room for change. When changes happen, we have to break down pieces of our coping frameworks and replace them with new ones.

Imagine now that your spouse cheats on you and/or asks for an unexpected divorce when you thought everything was reasonably okay, or at least workable. This causes a complete demolition of your main coping framework. Your belief that marriage would ensure a commitment, that you wouldn’t lose this person from your life, has been completely demolished (from the foundation). Nothing in your life is left standing (or at least that’s how it feels), because you developed all of your other coping frameworks on top of and around this main one. It changes how you relate to your friends and family. It changes how you relate to romantic relationships. It changes (or has the potential to change) every other framework, because it is such a fundamental one.

When a framework is demolished, we lose the ability to trust ourselves, our environment, and others. Everything we thought we once knew (about ourselves, love, relationships, marriage, and this other person) is thrown into question. “Did he/she ever love me?” “Am I lovable?” “What did I do to make them stop loving me?” “Where did I go wrong?” “Is love a real thing?” “Is what I thought was love actually something else?”

The list of questions is endless. The reality is that very little has actually changed, but because our foundational expectations have been thrown out the window…expectations built upon false ideas…we begin to think everything is false. We begin to doubt everything because something we thought was true, or expected to be true, has ended up to not be true. This, is how a crisis of faith begins. Our false expectations and beliefs are NOT sufficient to withstand the drastic change because they were never correct to begin with.

When our foundational expectations and beliefs are true, drastic changes will certainly impact us deeply, and we’ll have struggles; but rarely does it result in a crisis of faith because our entire framework has not crumbled. Only some pieces of it waver, but not the solid, strong, bottom foundation.

Asian man and woman playing wood jenga game.

Crisis of Faith

A crisis of faith happens when something we thought was true appears to not be true for a time, or fails to be true, thus throwing into question our coping frameworks. And religious frameworks are incredibly foundational to personal identity, morality, goals, etc. When they seem to falter, we lose trust in past true experiences. We lose trust in our ability to tell what is true and what is false. We lose trust in others who may have influenced our beliefs, and so forth. We may often get angry at, denounce, or lose trust in God.

Religion, which is such a powerful, fundamental feeling and belief system, is particularly prone to what we call crises of faith. But, it usually has little to do with the actual religion itself and its doctrines, and far more with our incorrect perceptions, beliefs, and expectations formed in previous years or passed onto us incorrectly by other church-goers whom we have trusted. The doctrine itself is usually not the actual culprit. Sadly, it’s us. We have formed an incorrect expectation or belief in our minds and when it proves incorrect, and our coping framework crumbles, we no longer know what to do. We no longer know how to cope or relate to our world.

Crises of faith can also be caused by our own actions, or by mortality and mortal weakness itself. We stray morally and end up in a situation we never saw ourselves in. Our framework hadn’t planned for it. A natural disaster wipes out our home or brings death into our family. Another person(s) who we have had absolute trust and vulnerability with betrays us. We may begin to struggle with desires and inclinations that we never planned on having that have crumbled our spiritual/life “plans.” Suddenly, life is turned on its head and we, in spiritual vertigo, can’t seem to find right-side-up.

How to Get Through a Crisis of Faith

I wouldn’t have said this twenty years ago. But, now, I can. A crisis of faith is a good thing. Yes, a good thing. Why? Because it gives us a chance to correct our fundamental beliefs and expectations. It helps us to fix what is actually preventing us from spiritual progression. If we never come to a crisis, then we will never have the impetus to learn what we need to get straightened out so that we can become more like God and to understand His plan better. If we never came to a crisis, then we could never create a solid foundation upon which to endure all that life throws at us. We would simply continue to struggle, suffer, and drop into despair. We need such a crisis to fix our foundation.

We need not feel sheepish, ashamed, or even guilty at having a crisis of faith. We should own our crisis. “Hey, I’m in a crisis of faith right now!” We need to tell God about it. Not because He doesn’t already know, but because when we approach Him with it, He can comfort us, give us peace, and help us to feel loved even as we are still trying to put ourselves back together.

Once we own our crisis, we need to figure out what fundamental expectations/beliefs we have that have been turned on their head. What did we believe about God that has proven temporarily, or most certainly, to be untrue—or minimally that we have failed to understand correctly? What did we believe about members of the church that has proven temporarily, or certainly, to be untrue—or that we have failed to understand correctly? Church leadership? A certain prophet? The scriptures? Our family? A particular person in our lives? Temple covenants? Our weakness? Etc. ( I certainly cannot list them all.)

Remember, the crisis of faith serves a purpose. Its purpose is for you to correct, ultimately change, and strengthen your coping framework. Its purpose is to help you find the truth that you’re missing that’s ultimately preventing you from becoming like God, from spiritually progressing. It is a necessary piece of your spiritual journey. It is a spiritual mountain you have to climb before you can press onward.

After you identify the expectation/beliefs that have contributed to this crumbling of your critical coping framework, you can at last begin the healing process—the process of putting yourself back together—and creating a solid, firm, foundation. Seeking God, and using His process of finding truth, you can begin to re-evaluate your expectations and beliefs. You can heal what has previously alluded you and weakened your coping frameworks. You can assess the truth you’ve always known that’s still true and replace what you falsely believed with the correct knowledge. Truth is light and light chases away darkness (Doctrine and Covenants 50:23-25). I know it’s cliché, but the truth will set you free.

Don’t Abandon Anything Until You Know What to Abandon

Now, when we’re afraid and our life appears to be in complete disarray, there is a tendency to want to abandon everything and rebuild from scratch. With few exceptions, this is an incredibly unwise thing to do. If it’s only the plumbing infrastructure on your house that needs revamping, it makes little sense to take a wrecking ball to the entire edifice. The mental, emotional, spiritual, and mental cost does not heal the crisis damage, and will likely only make it worse. If it’s only one relationship that needs salvation or pruning, it makes little sense to burn the bridges all around you to everyone else. If it’s only one truth that you twisted, it makes little sense to discard all truth, simply because you’re afraid an in panic. Rash actions nearly always create more pain than peace.

Spiritual suicide is hardly more practical than physical suicide. To metaphorically slit your wrists and spiritually die in a dramatic display will no more help you than actual death. And trust me, I know how it feels to wish you could die—literally. But, the reality is, that feeling passes. You feel like you want to die only because you’ve put your trust and faith in false doctrines and you feel stupid, foolish. None of us like to feel the fool. But remember, your life is in shambles not because you’ve failed, but because at last you’ve come to a crossroads and a loving God wants you to build with a solid foundation.

You don’t need to divorce everything in your life in order to rebuild anew. You need to visit each piece of your life and belief systems, one at a time, and carefully educate yourself on where the incorrect expectations and beliefs are. Many of our false religious beliefs/expectations are interconnected with other very true ones. We must carefully extract the “spiritual tumors” from the very good spiritual tissue.

The reality is that most of what we feel to be true and have focused our life on is true. We need to realize that. If a few misunderstandings and false beliefs led us to places and problems we now feel ridiculous about or concerned about, we shouldn’t beat ourselves up. We should be grateful that this crossroads has finally come. We finally get to set ourselves straight and have a greater capacity to have joy, happiness, and peace in the future ahead of us.

So, here are the steps to getting through your crisis of faith:

  1. Own your crisis of faith
  2. Take your crisis of faith to God
  3. Remember the purpose of a crisis of faith is to replace false beliefs/expectations with true ones
  4. Identify the false beliefs/expectations that led to your crisis of faith
  5. Don’t abandon anything until you have carefully found the “spiritual tumors” and know what to let go
  6. Use God’s process for truth seeking to replace your false beliefs/expectations with true ones

Conclusion

God is the same, yesterday, today, and forever (Mormon 9:9). His truths never change. His doctrines never change. The only change is in us, or in the way we hear, learn, or interpret His truths. Others may unwittingly lead us astray. We may fail to give heed and to truly listen or observe truth. In the end, it matters very little where the inconsistencies, misbeliefs, and incorrect expectations originated. What truly matters, in the end, is if we use our crisis of faith to build a coping framework whose foundations are unshakeable. We do that by building upon true doctrine, true beliefs, and accurate expectations.

A crisis of faith is a good thing. It’s the beginning of a new day, a stronger foundation, and a life full of peace and joy.

 

Doctrine: Faith is the certainty of things hoped for, the body of facts and information witnessing of things not yet seen. Whether we feel atheistic or theistic, doubtful or faithful, it has to do entirely with our relationship with God—whether we doubt His existence or not. Thus, atheism is all about what we know and understand about God, or what we don’t know and understand about God.

What is atheism? Atheism isn’t a disbelief in or a denial of gods, it is a lack of belief in a god, or gods (atheists.org). I would venture to drag that out further to say that atheism is a strong doubt in the existence of a god, or gods. An agnostic is also a type of atheist because they have a lack of belief in, or they strongly doubt, our ability to know a god, or gods. So, to an agnostic, even if there is a god, they don’t believe we are capable of coming to know that god or interacting with that god.

However, whether you call it a lack of belief or a strong doubt, it is almost certain that all of us struggle with levels of atheism. This is because whenever we lack faith and belief in any aspect of God’s existence, character, or will, we are leaning toward atheism. The question then becomes, what about God do you doubt or lack faith in?

Now, before we can determine the level of atheism, or doubt, we have, we must first talk about its opposite: faith.

Google will define faith as a complete trust or strong confidence in someone or something. It also calls faith a belief based on spiritual apprehension (anxiety or fear). While these definitions allude to aspects of faith, faith itself is far more than the dictionary can teach us.

Atheists will use the dictionary to define faith. The God-fearing will use the scriptures. So, to be fair to the God-fearing (since I already used the online dictionary), let me put out there the spiritual definition of faith:

Now, faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. JST Hebrews 11:1

Now assurance is a certainty or confidence. And, evidence implies an available body of facts or information. So, if we use synonyms and reword this scriptural definition of faith, we get:

Now, faith is the certainty of things hoped for, the body of facts and information witnessing of things not yet seen.

It is important to note that faith is not about believing in something random or that we have no evidence for. It is a confident belief in things we have not yet seen, but that we have sufficient evidence for, and that we are certain exist or will be/take place.

Silhouette of a man an atheist

Tossing “spiritual apprehension” out the window, true faith cannot be generated, satisfied, or maintained by a mere fear of some higher power. Faith generated by fear/anxiety, which is not true faith, will eventually be pushed to one side or the other: it will either result in either atheism or theism.

True faith can only be based in a certain amount of assurance and evidence. And, by evidence, I mean any information (or experience, or feeling) that leans in favor proving the belief that we have faith in. It doesn’t matter if others consider the information, etc. as evidence. If we do, then it is sufficient to engender more faith and more belief.

If we look at atheism and theism from a merely scientific perspective, it is possible that we can’t ever completely disprove the existence of a god, or gods. Nor, can we ever completely prove the existence of a god, or gods. Because the true scientific method cannot ignore any evidence for either side, no matter how small. This is because evidence is evidence. We can’t merely toss it aside because we don’t like it. And, the fact is that there is abundant evidence for both sides.

If we look at atheism and theism from a spiritual perspective, then we know that anything spiritual (or godly) can only be comprehended by the Spirit, or spiritual communication from God (1 Cor. 2:4-15). If that’s true, then to get spiritual evidence and confirmation, we must first try to live by God’s word and by worthy of spiritual communication, for God doesn’t give spiritual witnesses to those who do not desire to have faith in Him or come to know Him (Matt. 7:6; Doctrine and Covenants 88:33-34).

So, what constitutes evidence for God?

  • Myths, history
  • Testimony of people/others
  • Personal spiritual experiences, spiritual feelings
  • The unexplainable, miracles
  • The whole of creation

Whether or not we give credence to the evidence others use for their faith in a god, or gods; IF they give it credence, then we are left with a choice. Either, we can believe the feelings and testimony of others and try to gain our own, or we can decide they are out of their minds and disbelieve (or doubt) their feelings and testimony. Just because others believe in God (whether to a lesser or greater extent) does not mean we have to have faith in God. However, the very fact that they do puts out there a tiny shred of evidence that its possible for a god, or gods, to exist.

So, to what extent are we all atheists? Answer: to the extent we lack faith and assurance of God and in God. Which means, that at any particular time in our lives, we may be in a place along a wide spectrum of atheism and theism.

We may feel more atheistic if our lives are not going how we want them to or how we planned. We may feel more doubtful (atheistic) if world events lead us to believe that the God people talk about is not what they say He is. Any number of negative events can lead any person, even the most faithful, to toy with ideas of atheism. Why?

I would like to suggest that whether we feel atheistic or theistic, doubtful or faithful, that it has to do entirely with our relationship with God—whether we doubt His existence or not. And therefore, how we handle relationship doubts and struggles will correlate directly with how much faith we exercise in God—and how we treat Him when we have doubts and struggles.

Are we natural relationship stonewall-ers when misunderstandings arise? Do we naturally overreact to issues before we have all the information? Do we tend to trust the opinions of our other friends and family first when misunderstandings arise? Do we lose trust in our relationship quickly when rumors reach our ears? Are we natural retaliators and vengeance takers? Etc. OR, do we go to the person with whom we have the relationship and get the information we need and resolve the issues together?

Mother and daughter find out the relationship

John 17:3 teaches, “And this is life eternal that they might know thee the only true God and Jesus Christ whom thou has sent.” In Matthew 25:12 Christ (the bridegroom) refuses admittance to the marriage feast to the five foolish virgins, not because they were literally foolish. He says, very clearly, “I know you not,” meaning, you don’t know me.

How can we resent the action (or inaction) of a god if we don’t have at least a minor relationship with him? Even a minor idea that He may exist. Is not our anger at injustice, human weakness, and suffering focused against the higher power that didn’t step in to stop it, or fix it? If we are angry at the unfairness of life and we don’t point that anger at a deity, then we must point that anger at mankind—meaning, we hate our own blood, including ourselves. And, if we were not created by a higher power then it would be counterproductive, even destructive, to hate our own kind (as far as evolution is concerned). Engendering such hatred would only lead to eventual extinction.

And, if we weren’t created by a higher power, where did we get our idea that life should be fair and just, at all? Animals, and nature, certainly don’t live by a system of fairness or justice. They live by instinct—and it is far from fair. Where then do our ideas of justice and fairness originate from? If not from a deity, and only from evolution, then we never should have arisen to the consciousness that anything about life was unfair or unjust. We should have only ever lived by instinct. We would never have coined the words “unfair” or “unjust.” And, we would never have exceeded such base and instinctual consciousness as we see in all animal life (aside from ourselves), UNLESS it was given to us.

So, if this logic is correct (And you are certainly not obligated to believe that it is), then if we lack a belief in god and doubt His existence or our ability to interact with Him, then this very feeling we have “against Him” is derived from our actual, tangible, real relationship with Him (whether we recognize it or not). How can we be angry at a being that doesn’t exist? We can’t, we can only be angry at a being that exists whom we do not understand. How can we fight against or actively ignore a being that doesn’t exist unless some part of us does know that He exists?

Thus, atheism is all about what we know and understand about God, or what we don’t know and understand about God. And, whether we claim to be atheist or agnostic or theistic and faithful, we can’t claim such without wanting to, in some way, identify our relationship with the Almighty. In fact, we claim these titles in order to make a public show of our relationship with God.

Those who claim to know God (to an extent) and understand His ways tend to label themselves as “believers,” “Christians,” “Jews,” etc. Those who claim to not know God (even though they do a little bit) and not understand his ways tend to label themselves as “unbelievers,” “atheists,” “agnostics,” etc. And, I suppose there are a rare few who actually believe in God but choose to openly fight against Him, and they label themselves “satanics.”

So, if you are more of an atheist than a theist, then the only way to move toward faith is to come to know God. Which, can only be done by emulating Him, keeping His commandments, visiting His home(s), and serving His family (fellow-men). If you are more a theist, or believer, then you will become more of an atheist as you sever your relationship and understanding of God. Which, can only be done by mocking Him, making light of and spurning His commandments, never visiting His home, and persecuting His family.

Now, whether you want to believe in a god, or gods, or not: mocking people, spurning good works, alienating people, and persecuting others, is generally accepted as stupid and unacceptable societal behavior. Psychologists and life-coaches, aplenty, will instruct you that hanging onto anger and doubt are poisonous and unhealthy to your psyche. Hate of any kind, anger of any kind, whether it is directed at your own kind or a deity whom you resent or want to pretend doesn’t exist, is always unproductive.

So, while there are many good people out there who claim to be atheist or agnostic (meaning they don’t recognize and often fight against their relationship with God, because they don’t want to understand Him, get to know Him, or figure out why He works the way He does), what I’d like to do is talk about how to do the opposite: to build your relationship with, and your faith in, God.

If you don’t understand why the world is the way it is; if you don’t like your own life; if you can’t make sense of injustices, etc. AND IF YOU TRULY WANT TO, then the only way to do so is to plant a seed of faith and try to get to know God.

Heart and love

True faith requires the following three things:

  1. An idea or belief that God actually exists
  2. A correct idea of His characteristics and attributes
  3. A knowledge that the life one is pursuing is in line with God’s will

I find that the majority of people in the scriptures who turned away from God, did so because they did not come to know Him (1 Ne 2:12). And, the majority who turn away usually continue to believe that there is a God, they simply are upset because they don’t have 2) “a correct idea of His characteristics and attributes.” As well, they were usually 3) unwilling to pursue a life that was in line with God’s will for them.

Firstly, many people believe that God is either all-loving or all-powerful based on their idea of what godly love is. To them, godly love lets no bad happen, prevents all suffering, and give us everything we want when we want it. Because they believe He is all-powerful then they also assume that such power should be brought to bear in a certain way, their way, in order to be “all-loving.” If they do not see sufficient evidence for this kind of love, then they assume that God is not all-loving and only all-powerful. However, their issue is their idea of God’s characteristics and attributes is “not correct.” And, until they come to understand what true, charitable, godly love is, they will always fall short of their ability to come closer to God and understand His ways/dealing because they are constantly in opposition and argument against the false god they have created.

A true study of the scriptures reveals quite clearly that God’s love is not comfortable love. It is the kind of love that does what’s best for us, even if we don’t like it. God’s love is the truest love. It loves and has long-suffering for both the sinning and the righteous soul. And, it will try to make a godly being out of both.

Second, people believe that they can maintain a relationship with God while also making a mock of His will for them, His Only Begotten’s sacrifice for them, and His personality and characteristics. By living contrary to His will (and the true manner of happiness), and settling for counterfeit versions of joy and fulfillment, they still suppose that they and God can be best buddies. Unfortunately, this is an ignorant and illogical assumption.

We are flawed mortals, and yet we still naturally gravitate toward those people and places where we enjoy what is going on and where the people do what we do and where we feel comfortable. We don’t maintain true friendships with people who live entirely contrary to how we want to live. It doesn’t work because we are not “like” people. Over time, such friendships die down to past acquaintances. Sometimes, they become enemies or disappear from our hearts and minds altogether.

Now, while God will always love us, and do what’s best for us, it stands to reason that He doesn’t have to like us—or how we live. And, if we live the kind of life that is different from His, then it stands to reason that He will love us, He will still invite us over all the time. But truthfully, we wouldn’t accept His invitations anyway because if we live contrary to His will, then we won’t find His home (and the environment of it) enjoyable, or even comfortable (Alma 12:14); and will more likely avoid His calls, texts, and mailed invitations. We will find reasons to not answer when He calls. We will say we lost our invitations and apologize for not showing up to His get-together. In short, if we are not trying to live godly and become godly, then we aren’t going to be able to trust in and believe in God because His life will be incomprehensible to us. And, therefore, we won’t desire or maintain a relationship with Him. Which, consequently means we will never come to understand Him or His ways/dealings. And, you could say that this means we will always feel resentful toward His perceived inaction/action and live a life with veiled hurt and anger.

If we do not desire, seek out, search out, study, and pray for a relationship with God, and then act on the relationship in a positive way, then we will forever be toying with atheism.

BT