Why I Still Believe

May 2007By Larry A. Carstens

Larry A. Carstens, who is listed in the 2005-2006 edition of  Who's Who Among American Teachers, teaches English in a public high school and community college in the Los Angeles area.

It has now been a few months since my mother died from cancer. Besides the grief over her loss, the emotional desolation, and the sense that the world contains less beauty, less laughter, and less love than when she was alive, the way her death has affected me most deeply has been in regard to my faith in God. As a cradle Catholic who has been a devout and church-going believer for all of my 41 years, I don't recall having been attacked by doubts in God's existence as much as I have been in the time since my mother passed away. I have a good friend who recovered from terminal cancer in 1993 and is still alive today. I fervently hoped that the herbal medicine he used, in combination with prayer and a positive attitude, would save my mother from death at 74, and allow her to live into her 80s or 90s. But it did not.

I attribute the doubts that have besieged me to the influence of the demonic, and, perhaps, my own emotions temporarily holding sway over reason. But even as my heart feels as if God were not there, my head continues to find its way back to Him. I cannot escape the conviction that He lives and is the ultimate Truth of the universe, even if some of the most intelligent and ethical people I know do not believe in Him. In The Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis, a former atheist, has the elder devil say: "Our cause is never more in danger than when a human, no longer desiring, but still intending, to do our Enemy's will, looks round upon a universe from which every trace of Him seems to have vanished, and asks why he has been forsaken, and still obeys." This passage has come home to me with great frequency in these trying times.

Recently, I told my father, who has been an atheist since before I was born, and still is, that I have seen religion and religious people through the eyes of disbelief. I have asked myself what if all religion were a grand lie, a massive deception that has been passed on from generation to generation for thousands of years? What if all the people who were praying, sacrificing, and attending Mass were wasting their time? What if there were no afterlife and this life all there is? After all, we believe that plants and animals are completely finished at death; what if it were true for us as well? Such a large number of things seem random and "unattended," from my mother's passing and the suffering of children to the animals killed on the highways.

And what of You, Lord Jesus Christ? I must confess that I have actively avoided thinking about You since my mother's death. What if You were just another good but deluded man who had visions and touched many people, but were ultimately abandoned by the Father? Or worse still, served a Father who was merely a figment of Your imagination? When I put these questions down "on paper," they seem to lose their power and force, yet they are vicious in moments of anguish and desolation.

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I hope that, by now, your grief will have subsided and I pray that you will find your way within the Lord. However, if there is no God, then what does it matter? If there is a God, then your Mother is in a better place. God does show his presence in many ways but to do as you ask would be to take away our free will. And then to what end? Our job on this earth, as my Baltimore Catechism says is to know, love and serve the Lord in this life and to be with him in the next ( or something like that). My wife is in a wheel chair so our retirement years will not be as we had planned but that is our challenge, like the loss of loved ones and that of your mother, that the Lord gives us. That is the cross to bear. How we respond is what is important. Take care and God Bless. Posted by: wunsch
June 03, 2007 10:40 PM EDT
I was surprised when you mentioned that your mother was 74--you had been describing things as if she had died young. Her lifespan is longer than most in human history and the world today; she was generously gifted with long life. Why is that not an occasion for gratitude and praise?

When my mother died, she was 62 and I was 26; she died of metastasized breast cancer, after long pain and suffering, and her death was a month after I had surgery for melanoma, caught right before it reached my bloodstream. Because of her long crucifixion, I was nonchalant about my own cancer. Then a year later, the doc said that the shadow on my lung had grown and I might have metastasis, and I had to wait weeks for a CAT scan to figure it out.

So, great lesson here: don't ponder your mother's death--ponder your own. Especially if motivated by cause--the real mortal threat.

Seeing my mother's dead body made me believe in my bones what I had recited for years--we believe in the resurrection of the body and the life of the world to come. We will be resurrected in our bodies, and glorified, and made more perfect than the best versions of ourselves in this lifetime.

I've had thyroid cancer since--imagine that, two cancers, and no genetic marker for it! Seems odd. I'm still dealing with a cell count. It's not fatal either, but I may be living with a cell count for the rest of my life and hoping it never sets up camp anywhere.

Handel Messiah is a great prayer for me; I grew up on it, and it planted the words in my mind and heart for when I needed it.

[Baritone solo:] Behold, I tell you a mystery: we shall all be changed in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet! The trumpet shall sound and the dead shall be raised incorruptible.

[Soprano aria, popular at funerals]: I know that my Redeemer liveth and that he stall stand at the latter day upon the earth; and though worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God. For now is Christ risen from the dead, the first-fruits of them that sleep.

My faith is as fragile as a soap bubble; I love it, then I think I must be crazy and can't stand it. Hot or cold. I'm not good at lukewarm either. So I get your doubts.

At this point, with my crazy grim reaper biology, the choice for faith or despair really means I'm just wormfood or go ahead, cancer, kill me if you must, but you won't win in the end.

O Death, where is thy victory?
O grave, where is they sting?

He led captivity captive. Our only cause for hope is that he rose and ascended...and sent the Holy Spirit so that we can comprehend and love these mysteries.

Re: lovable atheists--of course you love your father. What atheists do you love that intensely that you're not related to?
Posted by: kentuckyliz
June 13, 2007 12:18 PM EDT
My mother died almost exactly 2 years ago and I still literally pine for her (even though I'm 46 and have a wonderful family of my own)! I just can't believe that her voice is no longer here in this world and I'll never hear it again. Her 10 months of pain, depression, and intense feelings of despair and abandonment were heartbreaking to watch. She even went through a period where she did not want to close her eyes because she saw demons and dismembered babies! At the end though, she had found her peace and faith again and looked like she would be around for another 20 years (she was 80). Only in retrospect do I clearly see God's hand in her final year. She was tried like gold in fire. She endured her own passion and crucifixion and in the end was submissive to God's will. If I had any doubts about God's existence and mercy before watching my mother die...I have NONE now! My mom's countless rosaries undoubtedly kept me close to God and now I can only repay her by taking up my daily rosary in her place! Peace be with you! Posted by: rpkammerer
July 05, 2007 04:21 PM EDT
We are like Abraham, on a pilgrimage of faith, facing the huge risks of the Christian, moving from one piece of Holy Ground to another, seeking God - ‘You would not seek me if you had not already found me.' The apostasy is to stop seeking. Posted by: SoSideCubsFan
January 15, 2010 10:26 AM EST
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