Faith Seeking Understanding

I’m an insecure guy. This means that I have to fight against all kinds of doubts. I doubt who I am. I doubt what I should be doing. I doubt the direction I should be going. I doubt whether I’m capable. I doubt where I should look to in order to find help. I doubt that there is something powerful enough to really be able to help me. I doubt and I doubt and I doubt. It seems like the floor is crumbling beneath me. I long for something stable that I can stand on. Sometimes, I just can't seem to escape all the uncertainty.

What I’m realizing about my insecurity is that it’s essentially a belief problem. I doubt like everyone else does.

When I’m weighed down by insecurity and all the anxiety it produces in me, I’m not believing that God exists and that He rewards those who seek Him. I’m not believing that God is strong and that He loves me enough to help me. I’m not believing that He’s here, that His presence is available, and that He’s what I need. When my insecurity is oppressing me, it’s not just a practical problem – it’s also a belief problem. I’m in the throes of doubt.

I’m not proud of this. It’s not something I celebrate. My doubt is harmful to me. It makes me enslaved to fear and worry and loneliness. I don’t like that I doubt, but I do. All of us do. Whether our doubt manifests itself as intellectual questions about the validity of the Christian faith or as more emotional types of distress, we all doubt. We hear this even from someone as unexpected as John Calvin,

Surely, while we teach that faith ought to be certain and assured, we cannot imagine any certainty that is not tinged with doubt, or any assurance that is not assailed by some anxiety. On the other hand, we say that believers are in perpetual conflict with their own unbelief. (John Calvin, The Institutes of the Christian Religion, 3.2.17)

We can find immense comfort in knowing that we’re not alone in our doubt.

More than that, Jesus has astounding grace for us in our doubt.

When a man begged Jesus to free his son from the demonic spirit that was destroying him, Jesus told him that anything is possible for those who believe. The man cried out, “I believe; help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24). Despite this man's admitted unbelief, Jesus responded with incredible mercy by healing his son. This is not the only recorded instance when Jesus showed mercy to someone with doubt. Even John the Baptist, the prophet who was Jesus' relative and forerunner, expressed deep doubt about Jesus - and Jesus still praised John as the greatest man alive (Luke 7:18-30).

We all doubt, but we’re not doomed to remain hopelessly in our doubt. Jesus is in the business of healing us of our doubts, although His way may seem backwards to us.

We don’t find satisfying enough answers to enough questions about God before we believe in Him. I don’t think belief ever really happens that way for any of us. For instance, we don’t have a complete understanding of how it’s logically possible for God to be three-in-one before we come to believe in the only God who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. That's not how faith works. Rather, as we participate in the Christian community, we sense that God is at work among His people. We start to have a growing confidence that God exists and that He is transforming people. We find ourselves trusting that this God sent His Son to become human like us so that His life-giving Spirit can dwell in us. We start believing that this God can fix all that’s broken in us and around us. We may still have some questions, but they don't hinder us from encountering the living God. We don’t find the perfect answers to all our questions before we believe.

Thankfully, we’re not the first ones who have tried to clarify how belief in the midst of doubt works. Christians who have come before us have found clarity with this paradigm: Faith seeking understanding.

The order is crucial here: faith first, then understanding. We start to believe in the God who sent His Son to become human like us to transform us. That faith comes first. Then, and only then, are we able to dive deeper into further understanding of who our God is and what He has done for us. We don't seek understanding so that we can believe. We believe, and then we truly understand. First and foremost, we are people who believe. Now, this doesn’t mean that our belief is irrational. It’s not that we have absolutely no understanding about God before we come to believe in Him. Our faith isn’t blind or naïve.

Faith involves these three: understanding, assent, and trust.

Belief does happen because we understand certain essentials, but it never happens just because we understand. Once we understand foundational statements about who God is and who we are and what He has done for us, we then move to assent (i.e. agreement). However, neither of these steps have yet arrived at real, life-giving faith. We have to move beyond intellectual assent to trust. Faith involves us basing our lives on this God who comes to us to save us through His Son and by His Spirit. We start to trust Him with our very lives. Yes we understand, and yes we assent, but real faith also involves trust.

When I get reminded of who God is and what He’s done for me, I turn to Him in my uncertainty. I’m somehow drawn to God. I cry out to Him for help, but it's not because I arrive at some new height of intellectual understanding. There's something more mysterious and wonderful taking place. I somehow start to see God again for who He is. I realize that He is trustworthy. I’m reminded that He came towards me in my brokenness. He sent His Son to become human like me. His Spirit now dwells within me. I begin to trust Him again to lead me and guide me and take care of me. This renewed trust in God (i.e. faith), is effective; it does something to me. I start to experience freedom from the enslaving insecurity and fear that too often control me.

This transformative faith then leads us to seek to know God more. We ask questions, but it’s not a skeptical, cynical kind of questioning. It’s faith seeking understanding.

It’s not a never-ending line of questions that leads us nowhere. It’s not refusing to be content with what God has made known. It’s not doubting merely for the sake of doubting. It’s faith seeking understanding. It’s pursuing God with the hope that He can actually be found, even if that hope is frail sometimes. It’s asking questions and seeking answers because we want to taste and see more of the God whom we’ve already begun to encounter. Yes, we ask questions. Yes, we look for answers, but all of this comes from a posture of faith. Even in seasons of doubt, we’re desperately clinging to a hope that God exists and that we can know Him. We believe before we truly understand.

If you want to explore more about what Jesus has to say to those of us who doubt, you can listen to our sermon: Doubting Well.