“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.
Hannah Anderson is a speaker and the author of Made For More: An Invitation to Live in God’s Image. She blogs at SometimesALight.com about “those times of shadow and light, of life and faith.” Hannah and her husband live in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia with their three children.
For me, this phrase captures that secret, helpless feeling we all know but few of us are brave enough to acknowledge. Unbelief, here, is not a rejection of God and His ways, but a confession of how very weak and vulnerable we are in the face of all that life holds. Even at our best, we are not enough. Even at its strongest, our faith is not enough.
I take great comfort in Christ’s gentleness with Thomas when he doubted. It reminds me of Psalm 103: “He knows our frame; He remembers that we are dust.” At the same time, Christ’s compassion didn’t leave Thomas in doubt; He revealed Himself to Thomas and gave him what he needed in order to believe. Knowing that Christ extends this same kind of compassion to me actually enables me to trust Him more.
There are all kinds of theological answers as to what constitutes valid belief; but I think belief comes down to trusting that His ways are beyond us. It’s not simply about paying credence to the fact that God exists or even certain theological paradigms; no, belief in God is fundamentally a posture of humility. Belief in God says, “I don’t know it all but Someone does and I trust Him.” I suppose in this sense, even the most appropriate theological answer could lack true belief.
In many ways, doubt is the factory setting of our fallen hearts. We are helpless, flawed people and our inability to trust God is just one expression of this. So we shouldn’t be surprised when we doubt God—or when other people do—but often we are. We expect faith to be natural; but the truth is that faith is literally a work of God.
Of course, Scripture is a powerful means of strengthening our trust in God–these are His promises to us, after all. But more than simply reading Scripture, I think we must be willing to actually test His promises. To “taste and see that the LORD is good.” This means creating space for Him to prove Himself. I don’t mean “name-it-and-claim” theology or laying out fleeces to discern His will. What I’m talking about is letting go of our fear and self-protection long enough to “taste.”
This is why prayer is so vital to spiritual growth. When I voice my desires and concerns, I open myself up to see the hand of God at work. In order to pray, I must humble myself and relinquish the security that doubt can bring in order to allow for the possibility that God would actually hear me and keep His promises.