Faith And Disbelief

We see the world around us and our place in it from the perspective of our personal belief systems. Whether we ascribe to a particular faith tradition or not, we have values based on the beliefs that we hold to be true. Belief systems change over time -- adjusting to the ebb and flow of life experience and growing with maturity and formation in our faith tradition. Throughout our entire life, the struggle to make sense of our existence is played out in our interior conflicts between faith and disbelief.

The realm of disbelief opens up like a sea of uncertainty. "The one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed about by the wind." (James 1.6) The questioning of one belief calls another into question and so on until the whole set of beliefs is tossed in turmoil. The voice of our conscience may call us to come back to our senses, but to listen to that interior voice takes an act of will. "By rejecting conscience, certain persons have made a shipwreck of their faith." (1 Timothy 1.19) Whether out of weakness, distress, or a conscious decision, to surrender to disbelief is to abandon one's faith. The decision to have faith is an act of will which strengthens our resolve in the face of uncertainty.

In His response to an urgent appeal from a father whose son was desperately ill, Jesus said: "Everything is possible to one who has faith." (Mark 9.23) To have faith is to believe in God's power to change our present reality, and to trust that He will do so according to what He knows is best for us.

In the modern mindset, the facts of the physical world have become the basis of our belief systems. How is belief in the Unseen God possible when we have become accustomed to only believing in what we see? The Apostle Thomas stumbled over this obstacle to faith. In hearing of the resurrection of the Lord, his response was: "Unless I see…, I will not believe." (John 20.25) the resurrected Jesus had a direct visible encounter with Thomas to help him overcome his disbelief. Upon hearing Thomas' profession of faith, Jesus said to him: "Have you come to believe because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed." (John 20.29) Indeed faith is a blessing - a gift which is given to those who put their trust in the Unseen. If we pray with the words of the father for his ill son: "I do believe, help my unbelief!" (Mark 9.24), God will provide the grace of conversion, that we will be able to profess with Thomas: "My Lord and my God!" (John 20.28)

Is overcoming disbelief a one-time event and is our faith forever solid once professed? For some today, there is the mistaken notion that to be 'saved' or to say 'I believe' is a one-time event which affirms their eternal destination, like booking an airline ticket to heaven. In fact, a one-time event like this may do little to alter their present course over time. Faith begins with the smallest of seeds, slowly takes root, and grows strong over time. Jesus used this analogy: "It is like a mustard seed that a person took and planted in the garden. When it was fully grown, it became a large bush and the birds of the sky dwelt in its branches." (Luke 13.19) Faith begins with the smallest of seeds - a decision to trust in the Unseen God. From this decision, the roots of conversion can begin to take hold with love spent in and among the events of everyday life. With time and grace, the works of faith sprout and grow in such a way that they provide shelter for others who are seeking God.

Though faith may seem to be solidly rooted in love and nourished by grace, it is nonetheless subject to temptations of disbelief throughout our lives. Temptations of disbelief may arise in the midst of crises which leave our hearts with a profound sense of abandonment and lack of direction in the midst of deep interior darkness. As our strength of faith increases, so do the temptations, that faith itself might be purified and strengthened through trials. St. Therese experienced this turmoil: "Her soul was enveloped in thick darkness, and her temptations against Faith, ever conquered but ever returning, were there to rob her of all feeling of happiness…by this trial, the Divine Master wished to put the finishing touches to her purification." (Story of A Soul, Epilogue) We must persevere through these storms of temptations -- ever clinging to the Rock who saves us. Let us "persevere in running the race that lies before us while keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus, the leader and perfecter of faith." (Hebrews 12.1-2)

This poem expresses the trials of disbelief and the need to cling to our faith through them.

Help My Unbelief!

Beneath the clouds of temptation,
Doubts lunge out at faith like a thief;
Weighed by the heart's desperation,
We cry: "Lord, help my unbelief!"

Faith is a rock amidst the churn:
It shores up our hearts in distress,
It leaves our minds free to discern --
Bearing God's strength in our weakness.

At times, our faith may seem certain,
Yet disbelief lurks on the scene;
Until death tears the soul's curtain,
Faith holds as real what can't be seen.

Trials of faith strengthen the soul;
We place crises in God's control.

Holy Spirit, help us hold fast
To faith amidst the doubts that churn;
To rest on Your strength unsurpassed -
Trusting Your guidance at each turn. Amen.


New American Bible - Catholic Edition

St Thérèse of Lisieux, Story of A Soul

Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraphs 162-165

Pope Benedict XVI, Introduction to Christianity,
© 2004 Ignatius Press, San Francisco, p. 39-47

prepared by:

Paul Buis

(c) Paul Buis, 2006