Lord I Believe, Help My Unbelief

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Often when I tell people about my doubts about Go, they’ll say something like “Doubt is a part of faith,” which usually makes me want to roll my eyes, not because it’s not true but rather because I’ve heard it before and how is it helpful in those moments when you really miss feeling the presence of God like you used to.

But it is true, and not at some kind of surface level, but deep down at the point where faith starts.

I recently read an interview in the New York Times with John Caputo, and some of it sounds to me like a brilliant person flailing around for truth (but I think that’s probably how you find truth anyway), and some of it sounds just about right to me. In the interview he refused to make distinctions, between atheism and theism, doubt and faith.  I liked it. Underneath these distinctions is possibly some other, deeper kind of faith.

Maybe it’s that kind of deeper, barely understood faith that keeps me coming back to Church. Maybe it’s that kind of faith that is just about showing up, like the man who brings his son before Jesus to be healed.

“All things can be done for the one who believes,” Jesus says, and the man responds, “Lord, I believe, help my unbelief.”

I like Jesus in this passage. “How much longer must I put up with you?” he says. It sounds almost exasperatedly affectionate to me, like a parent with a child who has been roughhousing and has hurt himself. Like he’s trying to get us to try a little harder.

And then he heals the child.

Lord I believe, help my unbelief.

I can’t even quite separate the belief from the doubt anymore, and I’ve stopped trying to draw the outlines of my faith. I’ve stopped believing it really matters that much.

We’re in the middle of Lent, when we reflect on the things that tempt us away from the better part of ourselves, that are keeping us from God. I don’t believe there is anything wrong with doubt. If doubt presents any temptation, perhaps it’s despair, or maybe it’s the temptation to circumscribe God, as if once we figure it all out we’ll earn forgiveness and healing, the temptation believe  we have to do much more than show up and love as best we can.

But you don’t have to have it all figured out to be changed. You don’t have to understand in order to be loved.

This is how it works for me: First you show up, then you flail about with your questions and theories in hopes you’ll get a little closer to the truth, like the disciples, like Caputo and every theologian who ever lived, you work with your hands and feet and every part of yourself to love your neighbor as best you can, and finally you stick around and wait for God, whatever God is, to forgive and heal and love you in the communal, surprising, sometimes almost imperceptible way that God does.

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