By Lori Arnold McFarlane
No thoughtful reader of Lori Arnold McFarlane’s memoir, The Last Petal Falling, could disagree when the author writes:
“It would not be hyperbole to say that my faith was the very essence of me.”
As is true for many children raised in Christian homes, McFarlane believed in God, in the Bible, and in the gospel of Jesus Christ from a young age. She not only believed, but she wanted to be sure that she was saved. And, like many young Christians, she was often full of fear that she wasn’t saved, that she would finally end up in hell.
The author writes of the religious experiences that convinced her of God’s existence and love when she was young. How reassurances came immediately after she asked. How God rescued her from drugs when she was a teenager. How God led her in other ways.
As a young adult, McFarlane was no “Sunday morning Christian.” She had a rare mixture of fervency and theological understanding, a Calvinist “on fire for Jesus.” She examined herself, she examined the Bible, and she examined her faith. She had (and still has) a better knowledge of theology and the Bible than many pastors.
But she also began to have doubts:
“The last thing I wanted was to fall away from Jesus, but the lack of challenge or intelligent teaching was leaving me dry. Still my faith in the reality of Jesus never wavered; I had my intellectual doubts, on such topics as a literal seven-day creation for instance, or the idea of Jonah being literally swallowed by a large fish, but those things didn’t stop me from truly believing deep down in God’s love and Jesus’ sacrifice.”
Besides having trouble believing some of the Old Testament stories, the author also began finding problems with Christian doctrine. After telling of her friend’s death and funeral, the author writes:
“No matter how much I tried to ignore it, this persistent thought troubled me incessantly: If what I believe about the Bible is true, Jacqui is in hell right now.
Hell. It tormented me. I could not believe that just because she wasn’t a born-again, Evangelical Christian, she was now suffering eternal punishment…The criteria for salvation suddenly seemed too narrow.”
Far from welcoming her doubts, McFarlane fought against them. She writes of her three-year struggle—how she begged God not to leave her in unbelief, how she sought him through prayer, the Bible, church. But despite the New Testament promises to the contrary, she found herself abandoned
“I was crushed. The burden of unbelief was heavier than I could bear. I told myself one last time the Christian answers—You’re trying to do this too much on your own. You are trying to get to heaven by works not faith. But there was no hope for the alternative. No God had answered my pleas.”
McFarlane writes thoughtfully and honestly about her deconversion. Her book is short and quick-moving, though she still answers any argument that a well-meaning Christian may present. As she said herself, she already had all the answers. For those who say McFarlane couldn’t have been a real Christian, all that this reviewer can say is to read the book before you make that judgement.
I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys reading and thinking about human experience, especially as it relates to belief. I especially recommend it to anyone going through something similar, or to friends or family of those going through a deconversion. It’s a great and compelling little book.