I think that unbelief is everywhere in the Christian culture. I mean, we all struggle with it. It just goes by a different name. The traditional definition of faith is found in Hebrews 11.1, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” Faith is interconnected with belief. If we say we are struggling to have faith, we are battling unbelief.
This struggle with unbelief seems to be a taboo in Christian culture today. We aren’t necessarily encouraged to share this thought because it highlights our weakness. Rather, it is the social norm to put on the mask and to convince people of our perfection. (Maybe then we can convince ourselves). The thing is that we aren’t perfect. We struggle with unbelief. We struggle with having a faith that is “big enough.” If we begin to be honest with ourselves and with others, then maybe we can begin to overcome our own unbelief.
Mark 9.14-29 contains a familiar story of unbelief. I am so thankful this father is mentioned in the Bible. It gives me hope to know that someone else wrestled with doubt just like me. The story is of a father and son. The son has been possessed by an unclean spirit since childhood. The father sees Jesus and says, “But if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.” Jesus responds, “If you can! All things are possible for one who believes.” Then the father cries out and says, “I believe; help my unbelief!”
The father’s unbelief can be seen in his words. He says to Jesus, the God Man, “if you can do anything.” We see here that the father is not sure of Jesus’ ability. Let’s not discredit the father entirely. He did ask Jesus to do something, so the father did have a little faith.
I think this is the place we often find ourselves. We have heard of God’s goodness, power, sovereignty, etc., but we often are not fully convinced of these things. We ask things of God, but we struggle to believe He can and will come through.
What do we do in times like this? The father’s response to Jesus may give us direction. The father recognized what he believed of Jesus (God) and confessed that he struggled to sustain that belief. I think the first step would be to pray about our unbelief. Tell God where we are struggling with unbelief. He can take it. Acknowledging our unbelief before God, helps us to acknowledge it to ourselves. This is exactly what the father in this story does. He acknowledges his unbelief and confesses it to God.
The next step may be to share our battle of unbelief with others, one or two people or your small group. The point is to have others pray for us and encourage us. Others can be used by God to remind us of truths we often forget.
The shame associated with unbelief can easily drive someone to keep their questions and doubts to themselves. We are the children of God, a family. We are to come to each other with our battles that we might encourage one another in our Christian walk.
In my own life, I have made a connection between battling unbelief and struggling with self-doubt. I have found that in the seasons when I have questioned God’s goodness and sovereignty, I have also questioned myself and what I’m good at.
Over the past year, I have made multiple plans for my future, specifically graduate school. For every plan I made, I was sure it was the right plan. I had peace with each one, but the door has closed each time. The place where I am now is not where I want to be. As a result, I have made more plans, but each one has failed.
This cycle of failed plans has caused me to question God’s goodness. It’s caused me to question His plan for my life. As His plan looks like keeping me in a place I loathe, I am struggling to understand God’s goodness. This is unbelief, unbelief in God’s goodness and sovereignty.
Every time I have begun to question God, self-doubt always follows. I question myself. I question what I’m good at. I become hyper aware of my mistakes, putting another tally mark on the negative side for the day. I crumble. I question every action, every word I said for the day. I review my past and become overwhelmed by the mistakes I see.
When I question God, I question the only solid foundation I have in my life. I question the only One who is and will be constant for me. God is immoveable, constant and firm. He does not change. He remains faithful. My unbelief can cause me to question these characteristics, and therefore, my view of God becomes twisted. In my unbelief, I begin to question God’s faithfulness. If I question the One from whom I find my worth and my identity, then I begin to question who I am. It is a cycle that can have a huge effect on your self-esteem.
I am encouraged by the father in Mark 9.14-29 because I know I’m not alone in my battle of unbelief. I know that it is nothing new, and I can overcome. What can I do to win this battle? Call out to my Father and confess my struggle, asking Him to give me faith in this season.
Photo Credit: Brooke Cagle