My thoughts these days are often with those who have left behind the faith of their youth or former days. I read several blogs of people who would say that they used to be believers. I would love to have deep conversations about what has happened in their hearts because the relationship with Jesus that is so real to me and so life-giving can be theirs as well. But something has happened and they no longer seek peace and joy from Jesus.
So, it was a great blessing for me to read C. S. Lewis again. His book, Surprised by Joy, is the story of his life and his faith. Early in the book, he tells how he lost his first faith. I have to cut and paste in order to keep this a reasonable length, but you can read it for yourself in chapter four of that book. He was a young man when a teacher’s words and thoughts brought him great peace and took away his faith. He does not blame the teacher or think her evil. He was ripe for the change.
“The whole thing became a matter of speculation: I was soon (in the famous words) “altering ‘I believe’ to ‘one does feel.’” And oh, the relief of it! From the tyrannous noon of revelation I passed into the cool evening of Higher Thought, where there was nothing to be obeyed, and nothing to be believed except what was either comforting or exciting.”
“One reason why the Enemy found this so easy was that, without knowing it, I was already desperately anxious to get rid of my religion; and that for a reason worth recording. By a sheer mistake—and I still believe it to have been an honest mistake—in spiritual technique I had rendered my private practice of that religion a quite intolerable burden. It came about in this way. Like everyone else I had been told as a child that one must not only say one’s prayers but think about what one was saying. . . [the false conscience] whispered, ‘Yes, but are you sure you were really thinking about what you said?’; then, more subtly, ‘Were you, for example, thinking about it as well as you did last night?’ The answer, for reasons I did not then understand, was nearly always No. ‘Very well,’ said the voice, ‘hadn’t you, then, better try it over again?’ And one obeyed; but of course with no assurance that the second attempt would be any better.“
Lewis goes on to share some of the feelings he encountered as he tried to pray “correctly.”
“My nightly task was to produce by sheer will power a phenomenon which will power could never produce, which was so ill-defined that I could never say with absolute confidence whether it had occurred, and which, even when it did occur, was of very mediocre spiritual value.”
“This was the burden from which I longed with soul and body to escape. It had already brought me to such a pass that the nightly torment projected its gloom over the whole evening, and I dreaded bedtime as if I were a chronic sufferer from insomnia. Had I pursued the same road much further I think I should have gone mad.”
Listen to the hearts of those who say they have left the Christian faith. Aren’t most of them saying something like what Lewis has written? The expectations of the faith, as presented by the religious traditions, were unreasonable. No success was really possible. No one could be good enough, work hard enough, pray long enough—there was no hope for the kind of acceptance and peace they longed for.
But was that the Christian faith?