Perhaps the single verse with which I most resonate in all of Scripture is found in Mark 9:24: “Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, ‘I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!’” Seriously, the dude who said these words two millennia ago stole the words from right out of my mouth. It seems like a nonsensical paradox, I know, but at the same time it makes so much sense to me.
For a long time, I’ve been a skeptical kind of guy, particularly when it comes to faith and epistemology. While this has sometimes led me to times of severe doubt and agnosticism, it has also guided me to a stronger foundation for what I believe.
Unfortunately, the fistfights with doubt seem to occur more frequently and violently than the times of existential peace. In fact, it seems like the more I have studied philosophy and theology, the more I have really had to grapple with the things I had so resolutely determined to be gospel truth.
However, I have come to find comfort in the words of Mark 9:24. I have held Christian beliefs (legitimately and independently) for several years now, so I already have the framework for belief in place. But there are still a great many nagging doubts in my brain that I find difficult to overcome. Thankfully, Mark 9:24 reminds me that I don’t have to be anywhere near full-fledged certitude in order to accede to the basic tenets of the Christian faith. I can offer whatever amount of faith I have and ask that God would, in turn, reveal truths to help me combat my unbelief.
I know that probably sounds like confirmation bias to some of you, and that might be accurate. But confirmation bias isn’t necessarily a bad thing, particularly if one’s presuppositions are correct to begin with (although I wouldn’t go so far as to make that claim for myself yet). Even if that were the case, though, I would hope that I approach the pursuit of understanding as objectively as possible (though I’m not sure how objective one could plausibly be in any case) and not as one seeking only to back up what I already believe.
The most frustrating thing, though, is that there will never be definitive proof one way or another regarding the truth of Christianity; I suppose that’s what makes it faith. But having faith does not result in the nonexistence of doubt, but rather faith requires doubt. The two are not mutually exclusive. Without doubt, faith would just be certainty, and I don’t think humans are smart enough to know anything with certainty.
Now, I don’t want you to be reading this and thinking, “Whoa, this dude is an apostate. He’s totally lost his faith.” That’s not true at all. In fact, I think my faith has gotten stronger and more genuine through this whole process. I don’t believe things simply because they were taught to me as a child anymore, but because I have wrestled with them, lost sleep over them, and, yes, even written poems about them. This has led me to modify or, at times, even reject some things I was taught as a child, while still grasping on to a fuller and more authentic version of my faith.
So why do I believe what I believe, you may be wondering (if, by chance, you aren’t actually wondering, feel free to head to http://www.netflix.com and watch Parks and Recreation or Criminal Minds, because either show would be far more exciting than this)? It’s actually quite simple. So simple, in fact, that it would make Christopher Hitchens roll his eyes and Richard Dawkins LOL. You may disagree with me too, and that’s okay. Anyway, enough apologizing:
It doesn’t take much research for me to see just how messed up our world is. As a result of my job in the mental health field, I’ve witnessed child abuse (physical, verbal, emotional, sexual), neglect, disabling addictions, suicide attempts, self-harm, relentless bullying and hazing, and malicious attacks toward others and myself. I’ve read deeply about mass murders committed on US soil—oftentimes perpetrated by teenagers. I watched as my neighborhood was destroyed by a devastating tornado, for no other reason than senseless random chance. I’ve read countless other stories of weather-related disasters that have led to tragic loss of life and property damage. And those are just my areas of personal study! There are innumerable injustices going on every second in our world today, from trafficking children as sex slaves to the slaughter of innocent people in the name of God. And I know that no amount of policy-making, military force, or even human decency is going to change the decadence of the world in general and humanity specifically.
I look at all of these things and think that there must be something more to it than this. Surely there is some sort of justice out there, some sort of healing, some sort of reconciliation, some sort of hope. I’m just not satisfied with the idea that this tired violence is all there is, that there’s no “putting the world to rights” as N.T. Wright would say.
To me, the only solution that makes any sense is Jesus and the gospel. And when I say gospel, I don’t mean the discriminatory, legalistic, nationalistic, war-mongering pseudo-gospel with which you may be familiar. I mean the real gospel, the one that sets the captive free, brings life to the dead, provides healing for the sick, promotes peace for the war-torn, seeks justice for the oppressed, and promises absolution for the convict. I mean the gospel that turns everything we think we know on its head by turning the other cheek and going the extra mile. I mean the gospel that will one day restore everything to the way it was originally intended to be. I mean the gospel that reminds us that, though the night may be blacker than the blackest black we could ever imagine, there’s a new day coming and the sun will shine out so bright that our retinas would melt away were it not for the grace of God providing some sort of heavenly eye protection. To me, that is a gospel worth believing, and without it, I couldn’t even imagine life being all that worth it.
That’s why I believe. That’s why, even though I know there are gaps and logical flaws in my reasoning, I have no problem crying out, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!”