“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.
Ben Reed is married to Laura and they have two children. He is a small groups pastor at Saddleback Community Church, the author of Starting Small: The Ultimate Small Group Blueprint, and blogs on life and theology as a young pastor at BenReed.net. Follow Ben on Twitter at @BenReed.
1) What does “I believe; help my unbelief” mean to you?
To me, it means that two seemingly contradictory concepts can be help in tension. AND, to me, it means that I’m “normal.” Because I feel both poles of that man’s statement.
As a pastor, as one called by God into vocational ministry, you’d think that all doubt would’ve been driven from my mind. You’d think that after having preached the Gospel and seeing God work in the lives of countless thousands of people, that my doubt would be just a vapor from the past. You’d think that after I have personally seen God work miracles in my own life, doubt would be gone. But it’s not.
And the fact that the man in this passage has just literally seen the Son of God perform a miracle on his daughter…yet still feels the tug of unbelief on his heart…that gives me a sense of calm. I’m not the only one.
2) Do you have a favorite Bible passage about belief and doubt? What is it and how has it impacted you?
Matthew 8:26 And he said to them, “Why are you afraid, O you of little faith?” Then he rose and rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was a great calm.
I like this passage because, yes, Jesus rebuked the disciples’ doubt. And in my moments of doubt and fear, a rebuke can feel like pouring salt water in a wound. It stings, and I try to avoid it. I run from it and try to hide.
But Jesus doesn’t stop there. He rebukes the winds and the waves. And I just love this: “And there was a great calm.” Oh, how I’ve felt that great calm so many times. Not that all of my questions are answered, or my fears assuaged. Not that I think I’ll never encounter a storm again.
The calm after the storm is much more beautiful and peaceful than the calm before the storm.
3) What is belief in God?
Belief in God moves well past affirming the evidence. If it were simply about affirming the evidence, then doubt would go away. Through studying the facts, reading the Scriptures, and experiencing God (personally and through others), I can tell you that I believe in God.
Belief must go beyond evidence, and move into the realm of action. So belief and action go hand-in-hand. James says it well:
“I will show you my faith by my works.” – James 2:18
Belief without action, or faith without works, points to a non-belief. Not a “disbelief,” as in Mark 9. Belief without action proves the absence of belief. Because a true belief in the everlasting God MUST result in action.
He goes on to say, “You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder!” – James 2:19
If “belief” were simply about an intellectual ascent, acknowledging God’s existence, then the demons would be “believers.”
4) What do you see as the relationship between belief and doubt?
Doubt causes you to dig deep. Because we’re not trifling with small matters here, doubt shouldn’t cast you away, but cause you to search more. Eternity is at stake!
The person that doesn’t doubt hasn’t truly searched their beliefs. It’s as if they’re just floating through life on a cloud, content to take at face value the difficult things in life. There are so many things in life that should cause us to pause, reflect, doubt, and affirm our beliefs. If you don’t pause in those moments, there’s the very real chance that when life falls apart, you won’t have strengthened your belief muscles and your faith façade will crumble.
5) How can a person strengthen their belief in God?
I’m a big fan of remembering moments. Remember the times when you knew God was with you, when you were confident in His presence. When He came through for you. When you witnessed a miracle. When you received undeserved grace, and knew God had given you something you didn’t earn.
And if you don’t have one of those moments, ask God for one. Ask God to show up for something big. Or for something small. Not just for a selfish request, but for something significant, because your belief in God is fundamental to who you are. Ask God to show up, and He will.
Then hang on to that moment with all that you’ve got. Doubt will try to steal it away, but go toe-to-toe with that doubt. Don’t let it win. Let it drive you to a deeper level of trust and confidence than you’ve ever had.