The war between faith and doubt

In Believe, the second track of Grammatrain's debut album, Pete Stewart growled his way through one of my all-time favorite lyrics. “Some say that doubt's disappointing, but I say to question is to understand.” Between the rumbling bass heavy instrumentation, the punishing drum beats, and the final shouted line “I can't pretend to understand everything,” Believe was one of those songs that demanded it be played at full volume. If I go deaf someday, it might be due to this song pumping through my headphones at an obnoxious decibel level during my younger days as I walked from one MPHS classroom to another.

This concept of understanding that belief is impossible without doubt has become ingrained in the way I approach faith. It is a step by step process through which I have come to accept what I believe to be true.

To doubt is to question.
To question is to understand.
To understand is to know.
To know is to trust.
To trust is to believe.

For me, my doubts lead to belief. Perhaps this is a side effect of my analytical personality or my desire to know as many details as possible in any given situation. However, this also means my faith and my doubts are often at war with each other. There are days where my head and my heart don't get along. They spar in a great debate where the best rebuttal either can offer is “yes, but ... ” Even if I know something on an intellectual level, I don't always feel it.

It’s like my brain says “Makes sense,” then my heart says, “Sure, but...”
It’s like my brain says “This is the way it is,” and my heart says “I know, but...”
It’s like my brain says “Everything is going to be OK,” while my heart asks “What about...?”
It’s like my brain believes but my heart needs help believing.

In the ninth chapter of the Gospel of Mark, a father brought his son to the disciples asking for help; his son was mute and suffered from seizures. The best description they had was that the boy was possessed. When the disciples told the father they were unable to do what he wanted, Jesus asked them to bring the boy to Him. Jesus interviewed the father “What’s wrong? How long has this been happening?” As the father described his fear of losing his son’s life and the ailments his son faced since childhood, he posed the most timid of requests: “But if You can do anything … ”

Jesus responded, skeptical of the man’s faith. “If?”

Granted, if this man knew anything about Jesus, he would recognize the silliness of his question. Of course Jesus could do anything. He had been performing miracles everywhere he went. Before this troubled man ever asked for divine help, Jesus had been healing the sick, feeding thousands, and walking on water. Without hearing these stories – even second hand, he would not have had any reason to seek assistance from Jesus. But there he was, begging for pity.

Jesus’ reply seemed to ask “If? What do you mean if?” Then Jesus challenged the man, like he was telling him, “You can do better.”

Jesus said, “All things are possible to him who believes.”

And the man answered, “I do believe; help my unbelief.”

I get this man. Of all of the characters in the Bible, I probably identify with this guy more than anyone else. All he wanted was what was best for his son and the stress of keeping the kid safe had to have been exhausting. He had tried everything and nothing worked. Then he heard about Jesus – a miracle working healer. He knew Jesus was the answer for which he had been searching. Yet, armed with that knowledge, he still had doubts. Instead of approaching Jesus with confidence and demanding “DO THIS!” the man came to Jesus reserved and unsure. “If you can do anything … ”

This man struggled in the war between faith and doubt, the battle between his head and his heart. I know what how he struggled. And when he told Jesus, “I do believe; help my unbelief,” I hear echoes of my own struggles. I see how I can simultaneously know everything and nothing. I understand what it is like to have all of the answers and none of the answers all at the same time. All I can do is say, “I believe, but I have doubts. I believe, help my unbelief.”

I know I am not alone in this tightrope walk. The sentiment has been expressed in many different forms so I realize my thoughts are unoriginal.

In Switchfoot’s song Sooner or Later, Jon Foreman sang “I'm a believer, help me believe.” Six years earlier, Adam Duritz penned the lyrics “Help me believe in anything, I want to be someone who believes” for the Counting Crows song Mr. Jones. When Steve Jobs contemplated life and death, he said “I’m about 50/50 on believing in God. For most of my life I’ve felt that there must be more to our existence than meets the eye. I’d like to believe that something survives after you die. But on the other hand, perhaps it’s like an on-off switch; click and you’re gone.”

In their own ways, both singers and the tech guru said the same thing: “I believe, but I have my doubts.”

I am in good company. While I cannot speak on the behalf of others, I know that my faith would not be as secure if it weren’t for my doubts. I believe, but sometimes I need a little help believing.

image courtesy of St Mark Lutheran Church

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