I've been thinking lately about deconversion stories. If one hangs around on the Internet long enough, one certainly runs across them. A theme that sometimes crops up is that the person did not want to deconvert. Looking over the deconvert's shoulder at the flimsiness of the arguments that led him away from Christianity, one is permitted to wonder about that, but it is what a deconvert will sometimes say, and presumably he believes it when he says it: "I didn't want to deconvert. I struggled. I asked God to help me keep my faith, to speak to me, to reach out to me. God didn't help, or didn't help enough, and now here I am--I'm not a Christian anymore."
That's rather convenient, because it blames God for the deconversion. It's an insurance policy. You can see the wheels turning: "If I turn out to be wrong, and God exists after all, or Christianity is true after all, I will be able to say to God's face, in the immortal words of Bertrand Russell, 'Not enough evidence, God.'"
So you're covered. You asked God to help you not to deconvert, you tried hard not to, and after that it was up to God to come through. He had his chance.
All snark aside, I have to admit, as a person who tends to feel responsible for others who are struggling with doubts or on the cusp of deconverting, I find this sort of thing bothersome. I feel like tugging on God's sleeve to get his attention: "Uh, Lord, if you could spare a minute, there's someone over here who is doubting your existence or doubting that you sent Jesus to die for us, but it's not too late, because right now he still believes in you and loves you and is crying out to you, so, could you please do something about this? Just send him a sign or nudge him in the right direction or something. I would if I were you. Right about now would be a good time, Lord."
And sometimes, or so it seems to the person going through the crisis, God doesn't. The potential deconvert doesn't feel anything and doesn't even have any moment of great, shining, intellectual enlightenment. The things that bothered him about Christianity continue to bother him. Perhaps he finds answers that should be intellectually satisfying, but he doesn't find them emotionally satisfying, and those two things are very easy to conflate.
Why does God let this happen? It's one thing to acknowledge that God lets people who are indifferent to him go to hell, people who don't care, don't try, don't seek. But we're talking about someone who at least seems to himself to be seeking. This person is, at least to begin with, one of the good guys.
Well, I don't have all the answers. I believe that the evidence shows that God exists and is all-loving and all-just, but the precise how of the divine justice is something I don't claim to be able to follow through its infinite windings.
But I do have a thought to offer, and it is this: All of us who have been Christians for a while have major gaps in our understanding of God. That's inevitable, even for the most advanced saint, since God is beyond our comprehension. But it is especially true, I think, of two classes: First, those who have grown up Christians, and second, recent converts. For differing reasons, members of both of these groups are in danger of having a radically simplistic and insufficient view of the nature and character of God. This may take many forms. Perhaps the person thinks of God as harsh and vindictive, and it just takes a while for that to start to bother him. Or perhaps he demands that God must do things exactly as he would do them. One of the most common over-simplifications that I have run into is a misguided view of heaven. Heaven is seen as a kind of Happy Hunting Ground to which God (more or less arbitrarily) lets some people go while (more or less arbitrarily) blocking other people from going there, plopping them down in hell instead. Heaven is not intimately connected with the presence of God and with our own highest good through union with God. While they may mouth the idea that hell is separation from God, too many Christians don't really believe the corollary that heaven is union with God. Thus they will say things like, "I don't want to be in heaven with a God who would send my best friend to hell." As if they can have any good without God. As if they can casually pick and choose, shrugging off heaven and God while still holding onto truth, beauty, friendship, and human love. Or, "Why would we have a sense of perfect union with God in heaven, when we don't need it, rather than in the trials on earth, when we need it more?" Because "needing it" is entirely beside the point. Heaven is perfect union with God. You can't "be in heaven" without that perfect union with God.
Again and again, the angry things that deconverts say show just how shallow their concepts of God's character, of eternal life, and of Christianity really were and still are, because they never grew past them.
It's all very well to start out with sketchy ideas. But when you become a man, it is time to put away childish things. If you started out thinking that God owes you something, including a special revelation of himself in your time of doubt, you need to get over that. If you started out thinking that you can have any good thing without God, you need to learn what the beatific vision is.
God lets bad doubts happen to good people to give them a chance to move up, to deepen their understanding. C.S. Lewis portrays Tor and Tinidril, the characters in Perelandra who are like Adam and Eve, in much the same way. God allows a representative of Satan to come to their planet and tempt them in order for them to mature. One of the angelic characters says as much. "Today for the first time two creatures of the low worlds, two images of [God] that breathe and breed like the beasts, step up that step at which your parents fell, and sit in the throne of what they were meant to be."
In Perelandra, when the lady is being tempted, Maleldil (God) is silent. Previously she has always sensed him guiding her, but now she does not. If you know the book you may protest that God sends Ransom to (eventually) fight the un-Man after Tinidril has resisted temptation for a long time. That is true. But if I may say so, I never knew a former Christian deconvert yet who had no resources. Those resources may have been web sites, wise friends, or other people to whom he could take his questions. The resources might even have included very good answers, answers that were rejected. These "sendings," however, are rather mundane. We would prefer to have God zap people out of their doubts, not just send along some friend, perhaps some awkward or tactless friend, and then to leave the doubter to accept or reject the response given.
This all may sound rather harsh, but I think it is true nonetheless. God's intolerable love wants to make saints out of us while we would much prefer to be left alone to be happy, ordinary people. Happy, ordinary people are likely to have happy, ordinary ideas about God. Which is all very well and good for starters but isn't where God wants us to be in the long run. Any lover of detective fiction knows that the very fact that doesn't seem to fit in, the fact that gives you the most trouble, is a clue to the whole mystery. So it is in theology, and so it is inevitable that anyone given the opportunity to know God better will start to notice inconvenient facts that do not fit with his preconceived ideas.
So if you are that doubter, consider the possibility that God is deliberately not making this easy for you because there is something he wants you to understand, and you will learn it only by passing through this time without visible sign from him. Then ask what that something might be.
I would be remiss if I did not mention evidence again in closing out this post. I am not recommending fideism or even mysticism. On the contrary, I am always asking the doubter to examine the positive evidence for Christianity and take his stand on it. Indeed, one of the most curious things I find about recent deconverts is how difficult it is to get them to come back to the subject of the evidence for Christianity. A recent deconvert is like a man whose mind is always wandering from the point.
So my point is not to recommend that anyone believe against evidence or without evidence. Rather my point here is just this: If you are watching someone struggling, or you are struggling yourself, with questions and doubts about Christianity, and if you wonder why God lets this go on, take a hard look at the doubter's theological concepts (especially if the doubter is you) and ask where they need to be deepened and how such a deepening might serve to allay the doubts. If Christianity is true, then it is entirely possible that there is a step up that God wants you to take. You cannot stay comfortably where you were before. Whether or not you take that step is a matter of more than passing interest to us all.