My sermon this morning was mostly about how our hope for ourselves, family, friends, and others is embodied in our hope in Jesus Christ and in our belief in him.
Part of the sermon was on (1) Christians giving ourselves, family members, and others grace on the amount of belief that we have or do not have, (2) how comparing our faith with the faith of other human beings is often folly, and (3) it is often beneficial to those around you to speak honestly and openly about both your belief and your unbelief.
Here is part—
Do you know people who say things like this? —
- “I have no doubts about God’s existence and power.”
- “I have no doubts about Jesus”
- “I am certain God can do anything.”
- “I am sure Jesus is God’s son.”
- “I believe every word of scripture in the Bible and know it is true”
- “I know God intimately”
Or people who are very active Christians and never express any doubts at all about all this Jesus stuff?
No doubt? None? Zero? Never?
Sometimes we compare our faith with what they say or how we perceive them to feel and we view ourselves as not having that same level of faith. And we see ourselves as coming up short.
Such comparisons can cause us to clam up. After hearing others say things like that, we will often either say nothing about our own faith or speak of it in vague terms to avoid expressing doubt directly.
Don’t want to make people think we are weird! Or are not like them. Or might not be a real Christian. Or haven’t looked at this Jesus stuff closely enough. Or are dumb. Or ….
This often leaves us with unreasonable expectations for ourselves and for our family and friends.
And leaves us and family and friends without people with which to have open and honest conversations about faith.
Jesus Gets Frustrated
Mark 9 and Matthew 17 contain a story in which Jesus grows frustrated with people due to their lack of faith.
Jesus and a few of the disciples had been away from the larger group for a bit. As they traveled back to the group, they could see that a large crowd had gathered around them. When people saw Jesus, they ran to greet him. One man explained he brought his demon-possessed son, one experiencing seizures, to be seen and cured by Jesus and that the disciples had tried to drive out the demon, but they could not.
Jesus responded, “You unbelieving generation, how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you? …”
Feel Jesus’s frustration at the disciples’ (and perhaps others’) lack of belief?
The father brought the boy, who had been possessed since childhood, to Jesus.
The father said “if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.”
Jesus responded “‘If you can’?”
Feel his frustration at the father’s lack of or low level of belief? If?!?! If?!!?
Jesus then said, “Everything is possible for one who believes.”
And the boy’s father exclaimed, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!”
Jesus healed the boy and when the disciples later asked why they could not heal him, Jesus responded (in Mark), “This kind can come out only by prayer.” Matthew records a longer response:
Jesus responded, “Because you have so little faith. Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.”
Give Yourself Some Grace on the Magnitude of Your Belief
My first point is that some of the people who were lacking in belief were the disciples. These were people who had seen Jesus perform miracles in person and had been taught by him in person. Yet, they were still lacking in the belief they needed to have.
So, —someone 2000 years later—give yourself and your family member and your friend and everyone a break on lacking of or level of belief. Do not be too hard on yourself or them. Belief is personal and different for each person.
My second point is that Jesus referred to the people there as “You unbelieving generation,” but went to on to die on the cross for them afterwards. So Jesus still loves you—even going to die on the cross for you—even with your doubts.
So give yourself and others grace on level of belief. Do not think Jesus will abandon you or them over your amount of belief. God asks that you believe in his son. See John 3:16. And there is room for growth in belief and faith for every single person on the planet.
Careful With Comparing Faith of Others
And my third point is to notice that Jesus told the disciples—again, people who had seen his miracles and heard his teaching in person—that their faith was smaller than a mustard seed.
Do you think your faith exceeds that of the disciples? Do you think the faith of people around you would have empowered them to move mountains if they had been with Jesus at that moment, all while the 12 disciples could not?
When we compare our faith with that of others, we are probably comparing mustard-seed fragments. Fragments of fragments, probably. Tiny. Barely perceptible things. Even the biggest relative different sizes when compared are still tiny. I’m going to need a magnifying glass. Probably a microscope.
It is not productive to compare mustard-seed fragments.
Aspire to great faith yourself, yes. But realize what you are comparing to. Hope for whole mustard seeds.
Instead: Talking Belief and Unbelief
Instead, notice the lesson of the father of the possessed son.
He said he believed and said he lacked belief. He said to Jesus, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!”
Do you think that the father had “no doubts about Jesus”? Was his “belief in God solid and unshakable”? Do you think he believed “every word of scripture and knows it is true”?
Or do you think he had hope for his son, for a cure, and hope helped him to believe some? And he wanted help, help with working towards a better understanding and a hopefully deeper belief?
I think it was the latter. And Jesus healed his son.
Conclusion: Helping Others, Helping Ourselves With Our Unbelief
I think the father of the possessed son was honest about his belief and was honest about his unbelief. He said it out loud.
And he asked for help with his unbelief.
And the father of the possessed son, by honestly speaking about his belief and his unbelief, helped both himself, his son, and others.
He helped us.
When we are honest about our belief and our unbelief, we, too, can give others the space they need to be honest and discuss their belief and unbelief.
And, perhaps, together we can all help each other with our unbelief.
Sources & Notes
The picture is from pixabay.
“The opposite of faith is not doubt: It is certainty.” ~~Anne Lamott
That story is so powerful; I cannot count the times that I have prayed, “Lord I believe; help my unbelief!” I *know* how that father felt.
Thank you—from one who has leaned into the ambiguity of it all for most of my life. Your posts are wisdom!
Thank you for your kind words! Made my day!