If you, like me, have been around church or Christianity for any length of time, you probably understand that “faith” is a pretty big deal. Faith is placing a “saving belief,” not on something we have done, but on something Christ has done for us in order to gain eternal life. If we don’t have faith, we do not believe we have anything at all. Maybe this is why we label ourselves as “people of faith,” or why we constantly ask each other “do you believe.” These are essential elements to who we are, and as important as it was to have faith, it was always emphasized that it was equally important not to ever have “the opposite of faith,” which was of course, “doubt.”
Okay, part of this blog has been a bit of open confession for me, and I feel I must get something off of my chest. I’ve been a “believer” most of my life. I would say I’ve taken my “faith” seriously since I was seventeen, and I’ve been an ordained minister the last Twelve years. All this said, I still wrestle with doubts. Scandalous, am I right? Can we admit that we all do? I’m not admitting to questioning the existence of God, the authority of Scripture, or even the Deity and Resurrection of Christ. (Maybe you’re still working through those or other basic tenants in your journey, that’s ok, keep walking.) When I speak of my doubts, it comes down to how I apply certain Biblical truths in difficult or unexpected moments in life. I do not doubt that God is there, but when I get a phone call with devastating news, at times I doubt that certain things are possibilities, based on what I can or can not see.
For years, I questioned my relationship with God in these moments of doubt. After all:
“Without Faith it is impossible to please God (Hebrews 11:6)”
“all that is not of faith is a sin. (Romans 14:23)
“Doubt is the opposite of faith.” (Okay, not exactly in there, hang with me.)
Lately God has brought me back to a simple encounter in the New Testament which I believe we can all relate too. You can read the entire account in Mark 9:15-25. Basically, a guy brings his son who has issues to Jesus’ followers, they can’t do anything for him, so they begin to bicker with each other over why they can’t do the things Jesus does. Jesus overhears the commotion and quickly comes to the rescue, calling his disciples “Faithless.” When he asks the man what it is he needs, the father replies “If you can do anything… Please help us. (v. 22)” Jesus is taken aback with the man’s comment and response with, “If I can? All things are possible for someone who believes (v. 23)” This seems like the ultimate religious comeback on Jesus’ part.
Most of us when confronted with a statement like this, would begin to backpedal. I can hear myself saying. “Sorry, I just meant…” or “I didn’t mean that I didn’t believe…” This of course isn’t how we truly feel; it’s just us trying to save face. What the father says back to Jesus is what we all are feeling most of the time, but are too afraid to say.
“I believe. But help my UNBELIEF. (v. 24)”
Unbelief? How dare this man admit he has doubts. I bet Jesus was so offended that he slapped this unbelieving heathen in the face and cursed both father and son to hell.
What? That’s not what Jesus did? No, that sounds more like how we would treat unbelief, but it doesn’t sound much like Jesus at all. Jesus reaches down and heals the boy, and while that’s the end of this account, I believe Jesus also answered the father’s second request as well. The first being his son’s condition, the second being his own. Jesus “helped” this father’s unbelief.
See Jesus is more than willing to act for us when we have “enough” faith. He’s even more than willing to act for us when we don’t, as long as we are asking him to help us with our doubt and unbelief. God just wants us to be honest. In fact, I think doubt is natural, even for seasoned Christians. If there wasn’t a certain layer of doubt, we wouldn’t have to have faith. Everything would seem completely possible if we didn’t doubt things, so what would be the need for faith? Faith is believing that even when we can’t understand something (isn’t that a pretty good description of what a doubt is) or when we can’t see something as a possibility, that God is still able.
Look at it this way. Let says I come home from work and as I walk in the door I smell the rich aroma of a well prepared meal. As I walk into the kitchen I see that plates are already fixed and are awaiting my arrival. My wife looks at me and says, “Dinner is ready.” It takes no faith on my part to believe what she is telling me. The fact that dinner is ready, simply is a fact that is undeniable. There is no room for doubt that what she has told me is in fact reality. Adversely, if I come home and the kitchen lights are off and there is no aroma in the air, and I round the corner to find my wife playing with our daughters, to which she greets me with “Dinner will be ready in an hour or so.” I have no concrete proof that what she is telling me is true. I trust my wife when she tells me something, yet I have no evidence to conclude that what she is telling me is a fact. Because I can’t see, doubt creeps in; here I must have “faith” in what she is telling me. Faith can only exist where there is an absence of tangible proof. This is why the author of Hebrews says, “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. (Hebrews 11:1 ESV)
At the end of Jesus’ time here on earth, we are told just before he departed, he met with is followers one last time. They all came to a mountain side, and Matthew 25:17 tells us that they “All worshiped and some doubted.” Jesus didn’t call a timeout and rebuke them for a thread of doubt among them; he left his mission with them, doubts and all. I believe this is because it isn’t the fact that we have doubt that hinders our relationships with Christ, it’s what we do with that doubt. Do we admit it and ask for help or do we insist on our own control of the situation.
From the time we are born we are taught about control. I’ve talked about this in a previous post (Knots.) I remember the first night I learned to ride a bicycle by myself. The two things that stick out to me the most were being told to “not let go of the handlebars,” and ultimately crashing into a tree (I was still holding on though.) In high school, I took a Drives Ed course, and much like my late night bike lessons, the main goal was to stay in control of the vehicle at all times. I’m not saying that this was bad advice, if you are driving on the same road as my wife and daughters; please remain in control of your vehicle. The problem is when we take certain natural principles and apply them to our relationship with God.
I would contend that “Doubt” is not the opposite of “Faith,” though if you read the full context of Romans 14 you will see how if we don’t ask God to help us with our doubts they can become quite problematic. I think the opposite of Faith is actually “Control.”
Let me let that sink in for a second. This is difficult for us to grasp, not because it’s a new idea, but because if there is one thing we love, it is control. Our lives are an ongoing battle for control. Control over ourselves, control over others, control over our finances, the list goes on and on. Our drive for control, or to put it plainly, pride, leads us to another great pitfall to our faith, when we struggle for control this produces anxiety. Pride, Control, Anxiety, and Fear. Can we all admit that none of us want to admit we feel these things, but we all do? These qualities, I believe, do much more damage than any feeling of doubt.
God longs to help us with our doubt. He loves to meet us where we are and show us how he understands how we don’t understand. It is through our doubts we learn to have faith. But when we insist on control, there is little God can do to help us. We are taking things out of his hands, and insisting on our own way. This doesn’t mean that we are more powerful than God, but when we insist on control, it’s like he says, “okay, have it your way.” Then reality sets in.
Do you realize how much in this life is completely out of our control? When you really take the time to process, we aren’t in control of much at all. The weather, the stock market, your in-laws, politics, sickness, and disease. The list could go on and on. We are kidding ourselves when we think we are in control of much of anything. Reading this you will have one of two responses.
- A complete breakdown. Anxiety will overtake you in a heartbeat when you realize just how out of control life really is.
- A complete relinquishing of control to God.
If you choose path one, I pray God meets you where you are, and upon the next go round, you go with option 2. This is where God longs for us to be. He can help us with our doubts, but control, or anxiety over the lack thereof is a different story.
So if you have doubts in your day to day walk, you are not alone, in fact you’re in good company. Ask for help, and our loving father will do what he does best and faith will begin to rise. If you are struggling for control in a world that is far beyond your control, give it up, LET GO of the handlebars and there faith will begin to rise as well.
“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your request be made known to God, and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hears and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:6-7 (ESV)
Grace and Peace to You.