There is one very frustrating thing which made me glad, in the “old days,” to have Richard to talk to: Richard understood spiritual searching and questioning, while my husband seems to see every question or exploration I make into theological issues, as the sign of the End of My Faith.
For example, the questions I had about such things as Hell, who goes there, is it eternal, all led me to Orthodoxy–but along the way, he seemed to think my questions would lead me to atheism.
I held certain theological positions based on my Nazarene upbringing, which got him asking how any Christian could believe that way.
Those positions, by the way, also led me to Orthodoxy, because the search I started to show him I was not a heretic, led me to discover that many of the things my dad had taught me, were very similar to Orthodox beliefs. (This is all related to the Harrowing of Hell and the meaning of Old Testament sacrifices, could Old Testament pagans be saved, that sort of thing.)
Ever since at least as far back as 2005, I’ve had occasional doubts that the supernatural and God even exist. We have all sorts of evidence, yes, but where is the proof that cannot be explained away as hallucination, brain malfunction, lack of sleep/food, or other natural causes?
Then I found “The River of Fire” by Alexandre Kalomiros, and that doubt vanished for quite some time, as I finally found the pearl of great price, the evidence that God was not a stern judge, and that Hell was not filled to the brim with good people who happened to be Buddhists or Muslims instead of Christians.
No, I can’t call a sweet, pious, loving Muslim woman, truly evil and depraved just because she happens to believe in Mohammed instead of Christ.
In Orthodoxy, I found prayers being answered as I prayed during Divine Liturgies and asked for the prayers of the Theotokos and saints alongside my own.
The doubts did resurface at times; I remember asking Richard about these questions during this time.
But friends I’d made over the years had drifted away, as they tend to when you change churches, or change jobs.
In one situation, I kept inviting to parties a friend with whom my other friends had problems. My main group of college friends and I were still close via e-mail, but we were scattered around the state, too far to see each other often.
My husband and I would try to make new friends, but it just wouldn’t work out. He no longer did stuff in the SCA, because he kept having arguments with people, and our son was a toddler, making it more difficult to do much in the SCA.
As for another group of friends, he had a falling-out with one, the husband stopped coming to the gaming group as well, and the other couple had work schedules which did not work with ours.
So I was desperately lonely. I was starting to get to know people at my new church, but I’m shy and introverted, so it is always a struggle, and I was alone because my husband did not want to be Orthodox.
During Divine Liturgy one day, I prayed for a friend. It was in my head, not something that Satan could detect, because he can’t read minds the way God can. So it seemed a safe prayer that only God could answer.
A few months later, God seemed to provide this friend, as Richard moved his whole family to my city.
Richard and I had been friends for a couple of years, meeting on an Internet forum and also talking on the phone, so that I trusted him, believed in him, thought we had connected on a spiritual level.
He was my spiritual mentor, the one who led me to Orthodoxy and helped me every step of the way with my questions, who explained various parts of the faith to me. He was the one to whom I spilled all the private details when my dad left my mom for a short time. I didn’t even tell my college friends what I told him.
And now he was moving to my city. A friend again at last! An answer to prayer! And for quite some time, it seemed that God had predestined us to be friends, that we were meant to help each other, bless each other.
…Which is why my faith has been so sorely devastated since Richard turned his back on me and betrayed me just two and a half years later.
More and more evidence keeps coming out that Richard was not at all what he claimed to be. That he hasn’t reformed from his young and wild “evil” days as much as he claimed.
That he was a violent person, not just past violence which he claimed to be defeating with the tools of Orthodoxy, but was still violent and dangerous.
That he complained that his wife abused him and the children, when he himself turned out to be an abuser, beating one child mercilessly when she was little, then choking her to unconsciousness when she was 9.
That he was using me for my generosity.
He threatened my husband. He turned on me. He threatened me and has been stalking me online for months, when he knew very well I wanted him to go away and leave me in peace.
His cruelty has been unbelievable. I never would have expected this from him.
How could God answer my prayer with a curse? If, indeed, there is a God? I suppose a deep question which I barely dare to admit even to myself is, not just how could Richard betray me, but How could God betray me?
This wasn’t the only thing that brought it back up, however. On June 9, 2009, I watched the movie The Seventh Seal; it explored the same feelings I had about death, that we can’t really be sure what will happen, that we are afraid of the void, of going into emptiness.
I e-mailed Richard about this, since I could safely talk to him about these fears. I know from this e-mail that those feelings had been stirring again in me already in 2009.
But the true test of faith did not come until Richard’s betrayal more than a year later. Then everything just fell apart. Then I no longer knew what to believe. The first time I wrote about this was Fighting the Darkness.
My husband and I have discussed this before. I try to put his mind at ease, try to explain that in Orthodoxy and Catholicism, this is called the Long Dark Night of the Soul. I try to explain that saints have gone through this, that Mother Theresa suffered from it for 50 years, that it’s actually considered a mark of mature faith to go through this and yet keep at the faith rather than just chucking it all and becoming an atheist.
But he keeps bringing it up again and again. He just doesn’t understand the constant questioning of an intellectual, that not only can I not help the constant questioning and analyzing my brain does of everything, but that I don’t want to.
If I were to lose all these constant questions and thoughts and the drive to research, I would lose what makes me creative, what makes me comfortable with my own company, what leads me to write and draw and lose myself listening to music. I would feel lonely without my thoughts.
But he thinks I over-think. He thinks I should be like him and just ask a question for a few minutes, resolve it and not think about it anymore.
But I don’t want to be like that. It seems that if I became that way, I would lose my drive for life. What would keep me going if not those endless questions and searches which keep me looking for answers? Just day-to-day drudgery of housework, exercise and getting my son to school?
Yesterday, my husband became very concerned yet again, wondering how I could be so comfortable with questions and doubts in my head that never go away completely. But this is what I live with.
Without those questions, I still would be a fundamentalist Nazarene who believes that dancing, alcohol, and going to movies is sinful, who believes that Catholics are not Christians and doomed to Hell, and various other beliefs which I have long since examined, found wanting, and replaced with Orthodoxy.
It’s kind of funny that he talks as if I have any sort of control over this. I don’t. God made me with a brain that always questions and thinks and reads and contemplates. Even in elementary school, teachers noted it.
And these thoughts have been with me since at least 2005, have been with mankind forever. I also see them in Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov, a work which my fellow Orthodox converts online love to talk about.
He wonders how I can just accept this if it leads to losing my faith? But I can’t be scolded or argued into reassurance or an ending of questions. That would just be denial.
It’s not my choice–It just is! I can no more stop the questions than you can stop the tide from coming in.
And no, it has not led to loss of faith or atheism. It has, rather, led to a period of spiritual blackness, where I hold onto the Church, hoping to one day be led back into the light of certainty, hoping that there really is an afterlife and I won’t just blip out of existence after death.
I don’t want to end. I want to see what comes next. I want to go to Heaven and find that Richard wants to make peace with me there. I want to see if mankind ever goes past the moon.
I want to know the truth about religion, rather than just dying and knowing nothing, not even that religion is false–because if religion is false and there is nothing beyond the grave, none of us will ever know the truth, because when we find it, we’ll be dead.
And the simple fact of the matter is: If in any way Hubby can explain to me how God can answer my desperate prayer for friendship with a curse, giving me a couple of narcissistic sociopaths who destroyed my faith in humanity and God, and still exist, still be a loving God–then sure, I can stop doubting….