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.