26 October, 2008

The People who Turn to God

27th October 2008

Everyone knows the case of the repentant drug-addict or alcoholic who “found God” and improved his life. Everyone knows of that person who was lost and then was found, by God. Who are these people who turn to God?

The people I mean to write about here are usually not raised religiously, and if they were, they weren’t religious themselves. Instead, they went through a real reflection about religion and God and what it meant. This is much harder when you didn’t grow up being accustomed to the idea of God.

Now, because these people turn to God after a crisis in their lives, many imagine that they merely “found a quick solution” and that faith is easy. “They didn’t care about God until they had problems in their lives,” is often said in a contemptuous manner. A lot of people didn’t care about God before they realised life was hard.

Does it mean those people are fools who just turn to God in an act of weakness? Not in my opinion. If your life is no great trouble to you, and you enjoy living, chances are you don’t ask yourself an army of existential questions on a daily basis. Why? Because when living is fun, you need no more reasons to live. However, when each breath you take is an effort, that’s when you actually start thinking about whether this life is worth the pain. It’s easy to live on when you enjoy the ride, but when it’s taking everything you’ve got, you need a goal. Your life is no longer its own reason and justification. You need more, or you’ll give up. It’s practically impossible to struggle for nothing; it’s much easier to confront bigger obstacles if you have a goal than smaller ones if you don’t.

Contrary to popular belief, faith isn’t a quick solution to your problems. You don’t just suddenly decide one day that God exists and that you need Him. Most of us can’t do that. And we don’t, unless we get seriously damaged and broken. It’s not only because people look for help and solutions, it’s mostly because people need to be driven. A life without meaning is infinitely harder to live than a meaningful one. Believing in God doesn’t mean you’ll know exactly what the meaning of your life is – nor that of the universe – but it will mean that you have a hope there is a meaning to both your life and the universe, and that both are interrelated.

The sad thing is that this new found faith is looked at with suspicion and even scorn. On the one hand, people assume the faith is worth nothing because it was gotten in a time of distress; on the other, these new believers are thought to be hypocrites, for mostly the same reason. Often, you don’t know what you really need before you lose it. Most often, you don’t know the worth of things before they’re gone. You become aware of your mortality more easily when someone close to you dies, or when you are severely injured, or afflicted with a fatal disease, that’s only logical.

I remember my High School French teacher. She was a very intelligent woman with a strong character. One day, I discovered she was a Christian, which, to me, back then, was mutually exclusive with “intelligent”. And I remembered a story she told us once, about her daughter. Her daughter had leukemia and slowly died because of it. She was a young girl, maybe ten or twelve. Our teacher told us that for an entire year after her death, she cried every night. I don’t know whether she was a believer before this tragic event, but chances are she wasn’t, though that’s only a guess. The point is that if your own child died this way, you’d be seriously upset at life, and you would demand a reason. You would need some sort of an explanation, because you can’t live without one anymore. That’s when it becomes important that life actually make some sense.

So yes, broken people are more likely to turn to God than happy people. This isn’t because broken people are weaker, it’s because they faced the less pleasant sides of life. Demanding to understand what this whole life is about is not a sign of weakness, but of a healthy mind. You’re not a piece of wood, you have emotions and ideas, and thoughts, and you react to this world. The stronger you react doesn’t mean the weaker you are, not at all. No one is similar in the face of pain, and some of us will be enormously affected by what someone else would find easy to go through. Pain is not comparable, you’re your only standard.

Understand that sometimes you need a slap in the face to look at something in a fresh way. You need to be broken to be mended. You could compare that with minor and major depression: while a minor one will let you function like everyone else for years, it’ll slowly eat you inside, whereas a major depression will hold you down until you fix it. Sometimes a bigger crisis is better, like a full fracture is better than a partial one (or so I’m told).

I’m not suggesting that you should seek pain or anything like that. I don’t think anyone will be spared pain, it just varies in degrees. The point is to learn from it, discover needs in yourself you didn’t know existed, and solutions you never thought of.

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