True or False: I believe in God.
Absolutely true. Every fragment that makes up the whole acknowledges this truth. The flesh, the soul, the body, the mind, the spirit: my entire existence accepts and proclaims that God is real.
True or False: I believe in the Truth as revealed by the Bible.
True. At least on most days. There are some days that I am bombarded with questions, and it is on those days that my confidence wavers. Those days are rare, but I would be dishonest if I did not admit they were as much a part of my life as the days where I accept every word of Scripture as inspired by God Himself.
True or False: I believe that Jesus is who He and the rest of Scripture say He is.
True. I believe that Scripture and history are in agreement. Jesus lived and breathed 2,000 years ago. He taught. He was followed by many. The Bible says that he died on a cross and rose again on the third day after his death. Awesome story there and one that has moved my heart more times than I can recall, but it has also been the source of many sleepless nights and totally unproductive days. God in the flesh dead? God in the flesh raised to life? Any adult that claims that those truths are easy to accept is a liar. Scripture speaks to it. History speaks to it. But sometimes, my mind cannot fathom it. Sometimes my unbelief is too strong to ignore. It is at those times that I think about faith.
I have frequently wrestled with the idea of faith. There are times, frankly, too many times, that I get the impression that Christians are supposed to go through life with unwavering confidence in what we believe. And if we do not we are not spiritual enough. Sure, you hear preachers and teachers say that it is okay to have doubts, but when they say that they are referring to things like uncertainty about God’s will for our lives or not understanding why God allowed a loved one to die. Those questions are acceptable. If we ask the wrong questions, like “is Jesus really the only way?” and “is the Bible true?” well, let’s just say that questions of that nature are not only discouraged but are labeled as weak and unspiritual. I am convinced this is why so many Christians live very frustrated, disappointed lives. We all know what the dirty, ugly, secret is. We all know about the giant elephant in the corner of the room, but we refuse to admit it to ourselves and we definitely will not admit it to anyone else: We doubt. Our belief is not complete. Or strong. Or perfect. It is flawed and deeply human. Our belief is easily shaken. At times, it is easily broken.
There are times that my intellect, my emotions, and my heart are telling me that there is no way that Jesus fed 5,000 men with one child’s lunch. Or that God became man and lived and died in my place. The Gospels say those things happened. If we accept that Scripture is reliable, that means that God says it happened. If I doubt one part of that, I in effect doubt that the Bible is truly the inspired Word of God. If I doubt that, then what do I actually believe? If I have nothing authoritative to hold on to, then on what am I basing my beliefs?
I grow frustrated when I hear other Christians sigh and postulate why more people do not embrace our beliefs. As if it is easy to embrace what Christians believe. Unfortunately, many Christians do feel that our belief system is easily understood and that it should make perfect sense to everyone, all of the time. Let me be blunt: That is insane! Scripture is full of examples of people of faith struggling with their desire to believe and their inability to actually do so. The disciples were not completely convinced that Jesus was the Messiah until they saw Him in His resurrected form. They spent three years traveling with Him and watching Him raise people from the dead, heal the blind, lame, and diseased, feed thousands with one small meal, and control the elements. They did see all of that and yet they doubted.
And then there are those that have lived after Jesus ascended to heaven. We have not seen the miracles. We have not heard the words issue from the very mouth of our Savior. Yes, we have the biblical accounts. Yes, we have the historical record and tradition. Yes, we have the previous 2,000 years of human history to show us the power of Jesus’ life and message. Yet to expect Christians from any age or generation to live without doubts is unrealistic and damaging. It is damaging because it implies that to have doubts is to sin. So when we doubt, and we all do, we feel guilty and defeated, which of course leads to even more doubting and more guilt. You see the pattern? It is vicious and it is unforgiving. That is not the life that Scripture speaks to. That is not the life that Jesus calls us to.
Where does all of this leave us? I am not entirely sure. I do know a few things that have given me great comfort, though. First, questions are acceptable ways of interacting with God. Scripture is full of questions, many of them unanswered. Questions do not make us sinful, or immature, or even unspiritual. Questions make us human and they show that we are actively engaging our beliefs in a way that is healthy and God ordained.
Second, we do not have the ability to understand everything about God or His plan. We are human after all. Scripture promises that “God has given us everything we need for living a godly life.” We are not promised answers. We are not promised complete clarity. We are told to seek, knock and ask. We are commanded to work out our faith with fear and trembling. Do those descriptors sound easy? Do they sound safe and comforting? On the surface, no, they do not. Look deeper though and you will see a comforting truth underneath. God is intimately aware with the challenges of faith. He understands the struggle, so much so He tells us that our faith will not come easy. As Ben Plunkett mentioned last week in his article on the dual nature of Christ, even our Lord struggled with God’s will in the garden of Gethsemane. God knows and He understands. He does not demand perfect understanding from us. He asks only for our trust. The craziest part of this whole thing is that I struggle more with the insignificant areas of life. My faith wavers more when confronted with trusting God to provide or believing that God truly cares about me. When my faith has been assaulted by something more challenging, the untimely death of a loved one, I have unreservedly been able to trust that God knows best, even when I can not possibly comprehend His methods or His means.
Lastly, sincere doubt can lead the way to a fuller and more vibrant faith. My wife put this in a way that has resonated with me ever since – sincere faith is running to God with our questions, like a child would run to their mother or father. Sincere doubt is not running away from God when we have questions. That leads to a hardening of our hearts. True faith is not the act of believing in something that we already know to be true. True faith is believing in something that defies our experience. True faith is believing when all evidence points to the opposite conclusion. True faith is living a life that makes no sense from a human perspective, but is exactly what Jesus instructed us to do. True faith has all sorts of room for doubts. If it did not it would not be faith. We are not saved by assurances and truths. We are saved by grace, through faith. So, I believe, albeit hesitantly at times. And when I cannot believe completely, I cry out to God, “I believe, help me overcome my unbelief!”