At times, I don’t feel like I have enough faith. I doubt, and it troubles me. How can I, an ordained missionary, have doubts? Doesn’t that sound like a contradiction? I wonder, however, if it isn’t a contradiction. What if our doubts and struggles with belief actually make us better able to serve?
The essence of this struggle boils down to our understanding of two words: faith and belief. These two words are central to Christianity, but I feel that, to some extent, we’ve lost an exactness when we speak using these words. We use them interchangeably, but they are distinct words. For instance, when I was in college I went with a group on a weekend retreat, and part of that retreat was a high-ropes course. At that time, if someone were to have asked me if I believed the ropes and harnesses would hold me up, I would have said yes. When I was given the chance to put that belief into practice, however, I decided to keep my feet firmly planted on the ground. My belief said it was safe, my faith said it wasn’t. I’ve regretted that ever since.
How does this translate into our discussions of discipleship, of following Jesus? Way too often, our focus when we mention our faith or our beliefs is on doctrine. “I believe in God, the Father, Almighty Maker of heaven…” or “I believe in forgiveness.” What we fail to realize, however, is that saying that I believe these things doesn’t mean that I have faith in them. In order to show that I have faith in them I have to start treating creation with respect since God made it, or I have to start forgiving people who have wronged me; even those I blame for the death of my son.
I believe that forgiveness is the right way to go, but I’m struggling to have faith in that right now.
In his book, Faith and Doubt, John Ortberg shares that there are three types of convictions, or beliefs. Some things we say we believe simply because we know it will help us get what we want. Other things we say we believe because we think we’re supposed to, but they really don’t alter that much about who we are or how we live. Some other things, however, we believe and the way we live, move, and interact with the world around us is different because of those beliefs. That is faith.
The question, then, is how we can move ourselves into that third level of belief, where beliefs alter our life, even in the midst of our doubts. See, doubt isn’t the evil twin of belief that we have always made it out to be. Doubt is natural, and I would say expected. That doesn’t mean that we can’t have faith in the midst of doubting. Some have even said that faith without doubt is dead.
Matthew tells us an interesting story at the end of his gospel. All the followers of Jesus are gathered together, and are receiving the great commission to make disciples, that is followers of the way of Jesus, and there is one detail that Matthew shares that many of us overlook.
Some still doubted. Even after seeing the resurrected Christ they still doubted.
Maybe it’s Matthew’s self-confession as a closet doubter, or maybe the disciples were open and shared their doubts together. Regardless, Matthew tells us that some still doubted, and these doubters are commissioned along with everyone else, despite their struggle with belief. Why? Because they still had faith enough to step out, trusting in Jesus, living the life that he prescribes.
We may doubt; we may always have doubts. The litmus test, however, is if we have faith enough. Do I have faith enough to step out, even though it scares me to death? Do I have faith enough to forgive, even though the pain doesn’t want me to? Do I have faith enough to trust that Jesus got it right, even though my circumstances cause so much uncertainty?
After all, the Gospel is that in our weakness, God is strong. Maybe it can also go that in our struggle with doubt, God gives us faith.