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My week doesn’t go by without receiving several emails or private messages like the one below. Does this strike a chord with any of you? (Content slightly altered to assure anonymity.)

After being active and very strong in my evangelical faith for most of my 60 years of life, about three years ago my husband and I stopped attending church. We had grown incredibly weary and exhausted with the apologetic acrobatics necessary to reconcile the truths of God and Jesus of the Bible with the what we were hearing and seeing all around us in a 21st century world and church.

Some would say we lost our faith, but the reality is we still desperately seek God and long for the ability to believe in his existence without having to bury our heads in the sand. God seems largely absent, indifferent, or simply on vacation to us anymore. I am currently reading Inspiration and Incarnation, but I’m wondering if you have written anything specifically on prayer and why most of the time it seems a fruitless exercise?

We have been as sincere and honest before God as we can possible be at this point, and have poured out our deep crisis of faith. Like Thomas, we have also asked God to provide a tangible sign of his reality that cannot be disputed or manipulated. So far, all we’ve heard is a deafening silence. We are hanging on by a thread from becoming full agnostics if not atheists. . . . 

It is indeed a very lonely journey and we feel like lepers in a colony of old friends. We no longer fit into the “church” camp or the “secular” camp. We are in “no man’s” land. Our friends and family within the church wring their hands with a combination of concern, pity, withdrawal and (what feels like) concealed judgment.

Not wanting to be argumentative, combative, or insulting we have simply learned how to remain quiet and pretend around them. Thus, the reason for our slow withdrawal. It has felt like grieving the death of multiple loved ones. We live in a tiny community and all of the churches preach a conservative and traditional message. It has been hard to find anyone out there struggling as we are.

I can’t help but notice how much this message from a contemporary pilgrim of faith looks like one of the biblical lament psalms written nearly 3000 years ago by ancient Israelites talking about the same God.

Maybe Qohelet was right:

What has been is what will be,
    and what has been done is what will be done;
    there is nothing new under the sun. (Ecclesiastes 1:9)

The journey of faith is now as it was then, and those who claim some superior steady state of bold confidence and calm certitude are either naive, sheltered, or false. At the very least they are not “biblical.”

Many are “desperately seeking God,” searching for compelling ways of bridging an ancient faith and text with contemporary life, of finding ways to accept and even embrace that we know far less than we think we do, that certainty is less common than we’d like it to be, and recognizing the vital importance of finding communities of faith that get that.

I wonder, too, whether our sense of losing faith is really more of an invitation to move toward a faith of a different sort, where “holding on” to what you “know” is decentered and exposed as an idol rather than a sign of “strong faith.”

These honest voices—that echo the biblical witness of lament psalms, Job, and Ecclesiastes—are not heard as often as they should. With permission from those who write me, I may make a blog series out of it.

This blog was first posted in February 2016.

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Pete Enns, Ph.D.

Peter Enns (Ph.D., Harvard University) is Abram S. Clemens professor of biblical studies at Eastern University in St. Davids, Pennsylvania. He has written numerous books, including The Bible Tells Me So, The Sin of Certainty, and How the Bible Actually Works. Tweets at @peteenns.