Summary: Dealing with doubt when overcome by circumstance, a "crisis of faith." Reflective Christianity involves questioning what you believe while continuing to believe what you are questioning.
“Lord, I believe; help my unbelief.” Most of us have said this at one time or another; We’ve hit a “crisis of faith” in which we waver in our self-confidence and in God’s ability to come to our aid.
I went to college with Ed Dobson, an evangelical leader who is currently battling ALS. He writes how his faith has been joined with doubts. He says that “Faith is not the absence of doubt. We can still pray, even when uncertainties assail us. Prayer opens up the possibility of a miracle.” These are brave words from someone determined not to give up on God…to believe in spite of suffering, even in the midst of uncertainty.
The response of the father in our Gospel reading is one of the most remarkable and honest admissions in Scripture. It is a frank assessment of what he wanted but knew he hadn’t achieved. He was only certain that his faith was inadequate and was beset by fear and doubt: “I’d like great faith, but I’m not there; I’m overcome by circumstance when I know I should be above it all.”
There is faith in honest doubt (Chesterton). Not all doubts are honest; some doubts are an excuse to live lawlessly. Faith is what helps us to trust God while working through our doubts. We don’t pretend all is well, yet we’re confident God hasn’t forsaken us. We start with where we’re at in our journey, and proceed from there. And when it seems we’ve made little progress in faith, God still patiently loves us. He leads us forward, through it all. Reflective Christianity involves questioning what you believe while continuing to believe what you are questioning. Lauren Winner writes, “Some days I am not sure if my faith is riddled with doubt, or whether, graciously, my doubt is riddled with faith.”
The context of the encounter we read is people rejecting Jesus and criticizing His ineffective followers. In Jesus’ absence the disciples stood in His place. People expected them to be successful…so they now question whether Jesus can do any better.
This father of an afflicted son pleads for help, but adds “If you can.” His confidence was tainted by the poor performance of the disciples. Jesus assures this discouraged dad that “Everything is possible for one who believes” (23). That’s when we hear his frank admission of an inadequate faith.
How does Jesus respond? He doesn’t say, “Come back when you have more faith.” Or “Get rid of your doubt and then we’ll talk.” Instead He acknowledges this dad’s conflicted emotions, then goes on to heal his son.
Strong faith does not save us; it is the object of our faith (not faith itself) that brings about new life. We are saved by Who our faith is in. It’s not believing in ourselves but believing in Someone higher. We may have just enough faith to turn to God for healing and wholeness. We can barely turn, we can barely believe…yet God accepts our weakness; He even tolerates our faith failings--the many times we act on our own without trusting Him. Our faith is weak, but God is strong.
I’ve had people tell me, “I wish I had as much faith as you.” This is usually spoken either sarcastically or hopelessly. The sarcastic person dismisses faith as meaningless fluff; the hopeless person figures they’ll never have enough faith to find favor with God…not realizing that they already do. “Faith is trust in a relationship with Someone who’s already accepted us” (Capon).
Faith is a gift; it’s not in our hands, so we can relax. We don’t have to summon up faith; we simply take what level of belief we have and run with it, trusting that God will help us to keep going one day at a time. Bill Moyers observed, “I used to think that faith was a state at which you arrived. But faith is an ongoing conversation between God and me.”
However, there is one thing we can do. Need more faith? God has an app for that! Romans 10:17, “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” The more we read and gain a working knowledge of the Bible, the more faith we’ll have. When faith flickers, stoke the fire.
Faith is following a path with few guarantees. We choose to trust God even when we’re not sure if our lives will improve. Sometimes all we have is a hang-by-the-fingernails faith. “Only in a world where faith is difficult can faith exist” (Peter Kreeft). “Faith begins as an experiment and becomes an experience” (Robert J. McCraken).
Faith is not a feeling…yet when we’re hurting, our feelings may overpower our faith. We need to remind ourselves of God’s promises and stop thinking with our feelings. Sometimes we say things that do not reflect how we believe; our words are simply an expression of wounded emotions. God understands.