The Winter of Our Discontent

This is the original draft of an article published in the Winter 2022 edition of The Forum, a student publication of Hillsdale College. That article, intended to be a media analysis of the Netflix show Daredevil, can be found here. This version of the essay is a much more personal take on the experience of doubt in the Christian life.

The Holy Week of my freshman year coincided with my first foray into the liturgical church. A baby evangelical at best, fresh off a series of encounters with a family friend recently converted to Catholicism, I was seeking something a bit deeper than the trite “concert and pep talk” formula of my youth. For a short period in my life, the Anglican church provided that. On this particular Friday night the sanctuary was bare and stark, yellow light splashed across the walls from dozens of candles clutched in reverent hands. We had just listened to what felt like hours of scripture and prayer, proceeding with a grim finality towards the Savior’s death and burial. Now, all I could hear was the creak of pews and kneelers, the feather-light breaths of those sitting to my left and right. It was quiet in the only way humans can be quiet while they are awake: with anticipation and unease. 

Then, a shout in the dark: “He is risen!” and a cacophony erupted from the choir loft as every light in the building burst into life in one single, grandiose gesture. The euphoria of that moment clung to me for days afterward. It felt as though whatever I had felt or believed about the resurrection before had finally become real. 

Ironic then, that barely a year later I would end up unaffiliated with any denomination, having not attended the Anglican church in an equal amount of time. Whatever I had experienced during that one holy night was quickly overshadowed by what I saw as an insurmountable hurdle: the silence of God. For context, my religious background before college emphasized a heavily emotional element to one’s faith. The role of a ‘prayer warrior’ was a pillar within my church culture, with the underlying assumption that everyone was––or at least should be––connected with God on an intimate and personal level, all day, all the time. Meanwhile, doubt was the work of Satan, trying to turn God’s servants away from Him. Not only did this make for a difficult environment in which to ask questions, but it also put the onus completely on the individual to sustain themselves in their faith.

Of course, this struggle is nothing new: thousands of years ago, Job demanded to know why God remains absent in the face of the prosperity of the wicked. In 1959, Mother Theresa wrote about a “terrible pain of loss” within her soul: ”of God not wanting me, of God not being God, of God not really existing”. As Shusaku Endo describes the plight of monks in 17th century Japan: “The black soil…has been filled with the lament of so many Chrisians; the red blood of priests has flowed profusely; the walls of churches have fallen down; and in the face of this terrible and merciless sacrifice offered up to Him, God has remained silent.” 

My circumstances were not nearly so dramatic, of course; I was no martyr, no saint, no lifelong servant of God. I was a confused and disillusioned teenager, sullen at being denied the one thing everyone around me seemed to have already achieved: emotional intimacy with the Savior. I had expected the high church liturgy to amend this, somehow. And when it didn’t, I grew bitter. 

I decided that God and I must be at a stalemate. I refused to be the first to break the silence (that would be giving in), and so spent my sophomore and junior years in a haze of skepticism and, more often than not, grief. I attended church occasionally, but only when invited. The idea of sitting in a pew, surrounded and yet entirely alone, numbly observing the ancient rituals that at one point meant everything but now felt like a petty compensation, was more than I could bear. 

In season 3 of Marvel’s Daredevil, Matt Murdock wallows in the midst of this same despair. Injured to the point of immobility by an explosion, he holes up in the basement of his childhood church, refusing Father Lantom’s offers of the Eucharist. His hearing is damaged, making it near-impossible for him to walk now that he is both blind and mostly deaf. To him, this means that God has finally shown his ‘true face’. Matthew spent years faithfully protecting Hell’s Kitchen, only to have his role as Daredevil be violently stripped from him. He compares himself to Job, God’s faithful servant who did everything He asked, only to be tormented and nearly destroyed without reason. And still, Job would not curse his Creator. To this, Matthew says, “Job was a coward.” As a child, he had believed that his uncanny ability to hear the whispered prayers of people in church was some kind of spiritual gift. “I thought it was God’s voice,” he tells Father Lantom. “But I was wrong. All I ever heard was people in pain. And all He ever gave any of us was silence.” 

The days of Moses on Mount Sinai are long past. It is a rare Christian who can attest to wrestling with an angel on a mountain, or receiving visions of the second coming. Many of us are simply fumbling through life, sometimes aided but more often baffled by an ancient text that, we are told, possesses the answers to life and the universe. To make matters worse, our lived reality often conflicts with theological principles. Reconciling the truths about God that we learned as children with the truths of our own circumstances, or the circumstances of those around us, becomes a near-impossible task. What to do, then, when God won’t answer his calls?

Our natural response is to grieve. 

In Daredevil, Matthew never receives any kind of supernatural sign that his path is the correct one. Instead, he is faced with a series of decisions: to resent or forgive his mother for abandoning him, to push away or reconcile with his friends, to take a life or allow the justice system to enact its own punishment, despite having failed before. It is through these choices that he learns who he is, and who God is. As Matthew tells his mother in the final moments of the show, “if my life had turned out any differently, I would never have become Daredevil. Maybe it is all part of God’s plan. Maybe my life has been exactly as it had to be.” 

For myself, I couldn’t describe when or how I found my way back from that horrible place of cynicism. I could point to certain events that maybe influenced it––a conversation with my roommate, the collapse of my church back in California during the lockdown of 2020––but those hardly amount to any particular moment of epiphany. What saved me was the repetition of a singular choice: to keep believing in all of it, even when I didn’t have a good reason to. There was a kind of desperation to it, at first; if I gave up my faith in God, what would I have left? If someone had asked me why I was a Christian back then, I probably would have answered with something along the lines of “because I don’t know what else to be.” I didn’t want to try to understand a world without a God in it, because I was terrified of what I might see. 

My faith is not just a preventive measure against insanity or hopelessness, but is an active thing, a framework by which I understand and perceive the world. I am no more certain or uncertain of doctrine than I was four years ago, truth be told. I still have no church affiliation, and my prayer life is tenuous at best. I can confidently say that I believe God exists and that he is Good, but beyond that I am more or less drifting on a proverbial lifeboat of tradition. The difference is that now I don’t hate myself for it. As for the silence that I resented so much, that is still present. But it is more like two people sitting comfortably in the same room, quiet in the intimacy of understanding without needing to speak aloud. 

From my experience, there doesn’t seem to be any encompassing theological explanation for why Christians experience such a deep and profound separation from God. Despite this, people are quick to hand out solutions: “Pray more.” “Get rid of sin in your life.” “Have faith.” However, when one is already following these prescribed steps of Christian life to the best of their ability, these solutions have no merit. They’re more akin to prosperity gospel than anything else, a kind of insidious victim-blaming: if the believer is suffering spiritually, it is because they must have some unconfessed sin or are simply not trying hard enough. Turning God’s relationship with his children into a meritocracy is disingenuous at best, and permanently damaging at worst. 

As we approach this bitter season, as the days end foreshortened and the sun grows distant and confused, let us remember that silence is not merely an absence of song or sound. Silence is preparation. It is a held breath and suspended hands, the hush of an auditorium as the lights dim: a deliberate space where nothing is heard but everything that follows will be given weight.

Hold onto the silence, my friends. There is music on the other side.

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