“I believe; help my unbelief” is my favorite phrase in scripture. It captures so much of what it means and takes to be a follower of Christ, encapsulating struggle, faith, doubt, obedience, wandering, and repentance. It is deeply theological and personal. For these reasons and more I wrote a book called Help My Unbelief: Why Doubt Is Not The Enemy of Faith (releases July 1 – Available at BarnesandNoble.com & Amazon.com) which explores what real belief is and its relationship with doubt in the life of a believer. The challenges of that tension are not unique to me; They’re nearly universal among Christians no matter position, maturity, or church tradition. In the weeks leading up to the release I will share the the thoughts and experiences of several friends of mine – authors, church leaders, writers, thinkers – who honestly answered five questions about faith and doubt.
Lore Ferguson is a writer whose deepest desire is to adorn the gospel in everything she says and does. She lives in Dallas, Texas, and is a covenant member at The Village Church. Lore writes regularly at Sayable.net, and you can follow her on Twitter @loreferguson.
That God is never surprised by my weakness is a great comfort to me. My pastor says, “God doesn’t drive an ambulance,” which means God isn’t rushing around crazily trying to manage my life. The comfort of that reality allows me to walk in tensions of all kinds, but especially (for me), the tension of “I believe. Help my unbelief.” Belief has never come easily to me, especially belief in God. It’s not that I don’t believe He exists (though there have been extended periods of time of believing that) or believe He’s good, it’s that I don’t believe He means good to me. This is what the father of the demoniac was saying in Mark 9 when he said to Jesus, “If you can!” The entire gamut of doubt exists in that little word: if. It is not a question of yes or no, belief or unbelief, it is a question of whether God can and will. It ultimately has nothing to do with my ability to believe anything, and everything to do with God’s ability to do anything. That’s the tension of “I believe. Help my unbelief.” And it’s the tension that every believer, no matter how strong or weak, must walk in. Blind belief and stubborn doubt don’t serve us—or God. He wants our restless hearts to find our rest in Him.
Psalm 73:28, “But for me it is good to be near God.” Another translation I like better says, “The nearness of God is my good.” The ESV puts my nearness to God in my hands, and in the NASB it puts it in God’s. Regardless of which is the better translation, it reminds me of the tension of life in Christ. His nearness to me and my nearness to Him—both are my good. It’s not that I will feel His goodness or the affect of His goodness, it’s not a “Do this, then this,” promise. It’s a promise of presence, that’s it.
For some it’s going to be a question of whether God exists. For me it’s whether He is who He says He is. I can’t trust a liar and if God is a liar, even if He exists, I can’t live there. It’s not about atheism, it’s “Do you believe God is telling the truth when He says He’s love, He’s good, He’s faithful, He’s generous, He’s kind, He’s just, He’s merciful?” And, if I can believe He’s at least telling me the truth about His character, then I have to learn to understand that my understanding of love, faithfulness, generosity, kindness, etc. are flawed. I have to reframe those attributes until they become a constant reflection of God: God is love; Love is God, etc.. God’s attributes, when we really begin to understand them, are like a hall of mirrors, constant and endless reflections of one another. It’s the most beautiful thing I know about Him.
Some find belief easily, they don’t have to wrestle too deeply with it, but I think I’m like Jacob in the sense that I’m going to wrestle long and hard until God blesses me with belief—even if it means that I walk with a limp for the rest of my life. I don’t care about my limp, the evidence that I’ve wrestled with God and He’s changed my name, but I think most of us do care about our limps. We don’t want to be like the Israelites, who the Bible says, “Do not eat the meat of the hipbone to this day.” Why? Because they’re remembering the wrestle. They’re remembering belief doesn’t come without a fight. Between doubt and belief there’s a fight and that fight has to happen. It can happen in a second and it can happen for years, but it has to happen.
I can’t give you a five step program to strengthening belief in God. I can tell you what I have done and what He has used in my life, and pray the reader understands it’s not a formula, but a testimony.
I was absolutely honest about my doubt. I swore at Him. I screamed at Him. I cried at Him. Before I could believe He was good, I had to believe He could handle my badness. I held nothing back.
I stopped treating my doubt like a “season.” Christians are so quick to compartmentalize things like suffering, doubt, fear, etc. into times and dates. We want to know we won’t be walking in it forever. But the truth was, until I could be okay with not being okay—and be okay with the reality that I might always be that way—I couldn’t deal with the roots of my unbelief. I had to say, for as long as it takes, I’m going to wrestle. I won’t let go until you bless me.
I was willing to lose everything. I quit my job, sold everything I owned, packed my two-door Honda and moved 2000 miles across the country to attend a local church where I heard glimmers of something I thought must be true about Him. When we’re dealing with something as systemic as doubt, I think we have to be willing to do hard things. I was willing to lose my reputation over this issue. I didn’t care about anything else. Money, home, belonging, family—nothing mattered to me during those years, nothing except seeing if He was real. I was single so it might look different for someone who’s married, but I’d say this to them: your wife, your husband, your children, they need to see you fight for truth, not fight against them, but fight for them, just as the father of the demoniac was doing in that Mark 9 passage. He was fighting for his son, and in the process confessing doubt and belief. It’s a beautiful passage.
I systematically meditated on the attributes of God, reframed my idea of what they were, put them in beautiful terms instead of ugly doubting terms. I did this for months and years until it was so deeply inside of me I couldn’t think about God without being grateful for all the ways He was far better than I ever imagined.