Updated: Mar 31, 2020
"What do you see?" he asked, halting in front of a fair booth and pointing to the sign hanging above.
I was sixteen and it was the first time I saw the psychological puzzle. My salsa partner, a cute seventeen-year-old named Ryan with piercing blue eyes, seemed hellbent on poking holes through my Christian faith. Our weekly dance classes were one of the few times I interacted with non-Christian peers - and certainly the only time I held hands with a boy outside of prayer. Our Latin dance troupe would be performing in an hour. Nerves made my jaw tight, and the last thing I wanted was a philosophical debate amid the noise of the fairgrounds, but I knew Ryan wouldn’t let up.
“It says two things,” I told him, studying the sign. “It says ‘God is nowhere’ and ‘God is now here.’”
He grinned at me in frustration, as though he couldn’t tell whether he admired or disdained my answer. “Which one does it say to you?” he asked.
“Yeah, but which did you see first?”
I didn’t know. I honestly felt like I saw both options at the exact same time. Knowing Ryan was trying to engage me in another argument made me turn the question around on him. “Which did you see first?” I asked.
“I see ‘God is nowhere.’”
I shrugged, unsurprised. Ryan said he and his family were “New Age,” which meant “demonic” to me. All semester long, he’d been needling me about the foolishness of blind belief, to which I always replied, “Well that’s why they call it faith.” He wouldn’t shake mine, no matter how many signs he dragged me to.
But the sign still lingers with me eighteen years later.
As a scroll through any newsfeed will tell you, the world is in the midst of a global pandemic. I find myself thinking back to that sign, which I saw only months after President Bush declared the War on Terror. I remember reading how 9/11 turned Christians into atheists and atheists into believers. I can no longer find the article, but its messages stands out to me now as clearly as it did back then. In times of crisis, the faithful can be shattered by God’s lack of protection. That very lack of protection is also what can turn the faithless toward God as they grasp for any sense of comfort they can cling to.
I’ve been wondering how many believers are losing their faith over COVID-19. I also wonder how many non-believers might be praying for the first time in their lives as loved ones die, helpless and alone. The thought of reuniting in eternity must surely be comforting. The thought of an all-powerful God choosing not to interfere when he could must leave others enraged, on the verge of processing a betrayal that will take years to reconcile, as the deconverted know. Some whose faith is strong enough will tell themselves this is a part of God’s plan; it is not for us to question, and if question we must, it is not for us to know. Others will begin wondering if there is a God at all.
If you find your faith wavering in these times, you likely have a faith-based community you can turn to for support (and hopefully from a distance). If the idea of someone telling you God is holding us in his perfect hands makes you want to break glass, there are faithless communities where you can also find solace. Facebook groups like Grief Beyond Belief offer support for the grieving free of religious platitudes. Networks like the Secular Therapy Project will help you find a therapist who won’t bring spirituality into the conversation, and most are offering virtual sessions by video chat. For former believers triggered by echoes of End Times terror, the Religious Trauma Institute is partnering up with the Reclamation Collective to bring you a free four-week online series called Exploring the Impact of COVID-19 on Religious Trauma, hosted on Facebook Live starting April 5th. Religious trauma survivors are also welcome to find COVID-19 stress support in free bi-monthly conference calls hosted by Dr. Marlene Winell and Marie D’Elephant.
Whether you find yourself pulled toward God during this time of uncertainty, or you find yourself moving further away, I encourage you to have grace for yourself, religious or secular. As someone who doesn’t believe faith is always a choice, I hope you won’t judge yourself either way. Seek out support if you need it. It’s okay to let ourselves change and grow, especially as our faith and lack thereof is challenged in ways it may never have been before. Dare to Doubt is, obviously, a resource site primarily for religious doubters. But I hope you give yourself permission to simply live in your truth, whatever that may be, even if it changes day by day, hour by hour. “God is nowhere” might speak to you one moment and “God is now here” might resonate at another. Or maybe one position feels staunchly affirmed with no wavering about it. However you feel is alright.
What did you see in the sign at first glance? Did it say “God is now here” or “God is nowhere”? How does it feel to think about it?