Q. I have a friend who seems to be questioning her religion. She isn’t sure she even believes in God. What can I tell her?
A. Well, first of all I’d say she is fortunate to have a friend like you who is concerned for her and for her faith! Oftentimes, the number-one reason a person rediscovers God is because of the care and concern of a friend or family member. So stay close to her and keep talking to her.
But the question is, “What can I tell her?” I think the best way to answer this is to first look at why people seem to question their religion and belief in God in the first place.
Questioning God, or one’s religion, is very common. And believe it or not, I’d say that doing this is actually an essential part of growing in faith. As long as it’s done the right way!
I think we can “question” our faith in one of two ways. First, the unhealthy way to question is to doubt our faith. Doubts can enter in for a variety of reasons. Perhaps some very difficult situation has entered someone’s life. They can wonder why God let this happen. Or perhaps someone is lured away from God by the passing pleasures of this world or becomes steeped in materialism, one’s occupation, or some sin. In these cases, it can happen that a person begins to doubt God’s existence because they either don’t understand God or they feel guilty about how they are living. Doubting God is the easiest way to temporarily get rid of that guilt. People can also believe in God but begin to doubt their religion. I can think of people who have left the Catholic Church, for example, and discovered God elsewhere. Oftentimes this happens because of some hurt they experienced by members of our Church. This simply reveals the fact that the human part of our Church is imperfect. But what is important to point out is that the divine part of our Church is always perfect and that’s the number-one reason to continue to seek God within the context of a religion, which in this case is the Catholic Church. We, as Catholics, believe that despite the imperfections within our Church on a human level, God still guarantees that the fullness of true faith is found within the Catholic Church. So for those who have been hurt or confused within our Catholic Church, it is always important to give it a second chance.
There is also a “healthy” way to question our faith and religion. This is where we simply and humbly admit that we don’t have all the answers and don’t understand everything. But this questioning doesn’t lead to doubts; rather, it leads to a zealous search for the Truth. This is the kind of questioning that Mary entered into when she asked the angel Gabriel at the Annunciation, “How can this be?” She didn’t doubt, but she did want greater understanding. Indeed God, throughout her life, continued to give her greater insight and understanding when the time was right.
So what can you tell your friend? First, simply tell her you care and that you want to listen. Try to understand her questions and confusion. Try to discover if she was hurt or is angry. When you can get at the source of her current struggle, you will be in a better position to offer her direction. Often the best way to do this is to share your own personal faith in God and love for your religion. And pray that the Holy Spirit will guide you in this and give you the right words to say at the right time. And pray for her daily. Armed with this approach, I trust that God will help you make a difference in your friend’s life!