Why religious faith is not comforting

At least not for me, upfront. Here’s my story.

Faith in God is often described as a source of great comfort by we who hold it. Some would even say, a crutch.

In my experience, though, it didn’t begin that way

We speak of turning to it in times of difficulty and despair, yes, but for me, it was itself a source of despair and considerable difficulty to begin with.

I came to adult faith as a second year medical student. I was standing in a corridor in my hostel (I still recall exactly where), thinking about nothing in particular when suddenly my mind set out on a troubling tangent.

I realised I was, for no good reason, thinking of existential questions. You know, the kind that keep you up at night. The what’s-your-life-about kind. I was thinking about them before I caught myself, but immediately I did, I did what anyone does when bothered by such questions, and done often enough with little trouble.

I pushed the whole thing out of my mind.

I tried my best to, anyway. Because this time they wouldn’t go away. Not just that, I felt very strongly that a decision was being demanded of me. It felt rather like a lover might asking if we were doing this relationship or not. (I had turned my back on faith years before this.)

And at some point in the middle of this unwelcome situation, it occurred to me…

This is what it means to hear God’s voice!

I grew up in a Christian home, so I knew all about the phenomenon referred to in Christian circles as Hearing God. Or at least, I knew about as much as one could without actually ever hearing much of anything. I’d figured at some point that it wasn’t actually an audible voice but I thought it might be something like loud thoughts, you know?

Apparently, it was my own thoughts, except—and there’s no other way to say this—I just knew — and the knowledge was anything but comforting — that it wasn’t just me.

(Totally subjective, I know. But so is being in love — or in pain.)

Anyway, at some point in the conversation in my head, I decided I’d had enough. I remember quite clearly the thought in my head when I decided that. It was,

“Okay, fine, I’m in!”

And I turned around, returned to my room, lay down and went almost immediately to sleep. To paraphrase CS Lewis (whose own account I would much later read), I felt like I’d been dragged into faith, feet kicking, the most reluctant of converts.

I woke up the next morning feeling like someone who, the night before, had said declared love to the wrong woman—and worse, had done it fully sober, if a little frustrated. I remember thinking, “What have I done? What have I gotten myself into?”

And yet, even though in the cold light of morning I knew perfectly well that I could simply take it back and damn the consequences, I didn’t. I was afraid I’d done something stupid and yet it felt right.

It felt right.

But it would be a long time before it felt comforting.

By then I’d been living it—or trying to as seriously as I’d ever tried anything—for over a year.

I thought at first that my experience was unique, but I know that it’s not.

Faith initially offered me, not comfort, but reality, hard and cold and not exactly welcoming. For me, and for many I’ve known since, faith started off as troubling—terrifying, even.

Comfort came later.

I’m curious: do you relate? Or not?

Published by Doc Ayomide

I’m a medical doctor with specialty training in psychiatry, and I love thinking and writing about what it means to be human.

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