“I believe; help my unbelief!” This is the plea a desperate father makes to Jesus. It is startling in its honesty and its confession. There is a misconception that as Christians we can never have doubt, that our belief must be resolute and never waiver. The fact is that there are plenty of crises that we face on a daily basis that can challenge our faith. To be human is to encounter sickness, suffering, disaster, and despair. We ask ourselves why these things happen. We want to know why God would allow good people to suffer.
The kinds of experiences that shake our faith to the core are also the kinds of experiences that can shape our faith life and help it to grow stronger. In his book Messy Spirituality, Mike Yaconelli describes these kinds of events as opportunities for us to experience spiritual growth in a whole new way. We tend to label these times when we feel like we are low on belief as if they are a bad or negative thing. Instead of feeling God has abandoned us or isn’t answering our prayers, Yaconelli encourages us to think of those times as periods of quiet reflection, an opportunity to listen and discern what God would have us do.
Even with the attitude that a crisis of faith is an opportunity for spiritual growth, it can be difficult to believe that God is present in the midst of our struggles with fear and doubt. How can we find quiet and contemplation when our minds are racing a million miles a minute? We want to know where God is. We want to know the reason something has happened. Where is God in the midst of our suffering? God is present in the hands of a caretaker who gently nurses the terminally ill. God is present in the friend or neighbor who sits with us and shares in our suffering. Sometimes it’s our own fault for making poor choices. Sometimes, there is no good reason, no enduring explanation of why God would allow something to happen.
But God does not abandon us to doubt and pain. God does not let us suffer without hope of renewal. The God we know through Jesus Christ understands our suffering. Because Christ chose to suffer on the cross on our behalf, chose to put on our frail human flesh and walk along side of us, we have a God who shows us that there is possibility where nothingness once existed. The women who went to the tomb on that early Easter morning had lost all hope — until they found that the death of their hope for the future was alive and well and amongst the living.
We will face many trying times. Like the father of the demon-possessed child, we may feel trapped. But as we journey through the valley of the shadow of doubt and uncertainty, we know that we only need to cry out and ask for help, and we will receive it. We may not feel like we fully believe, but we will be provided plenty of opportunity to have our belief strengthened by a loving and compassionate God who brings life and faith and hope in unexpected places.