by Melodie Davis
for release February 4, 2000
Help My Unbelief
An open letter to a man who feels he can't believe.
I watched as your beautiful little daughter was christened recently, and noticed you did not attempt to recite the customary words of belief expected from parents. I respected you immensely for not mouthing words which you did not believe. I also admired you for standing with your wife who does believe, in a gesture of solidarity and fatherly support. I remembered her saying that you think people at church are really nice and friendly, and that certainly you'd "be there" for the really important moments in your child's life at church, like this christening. But she also shared how even though you had read all the books for skeptics and tried to believe in Jesus, it was just a bit too much for you to swallow.
I thought of the Hughleys' (TV comedy) recent episode where Mr. Hughley was asked to be godfather for a neighbor's child. At first he refuses to participate, because as a non-believer he feels it would be hypocritical. Then he has typical sit-com second thoughts and participates as a neighborly gesture. I was intrigued that dealing with unbelief was a theme on at least two other TV situation comedies this fall.
Jonathan, you are far from alone in how you feel. It struck me recently that people who "cannot believe" continue to struggle with the question, either front and center, or stewing in the back of the mind. Unless one has completely cut him or herself off from God, I believe that it is natural for questions to keep echoing or trickling through the head. That alone should tell us something, something about the nature of God who (in my view) keeps gently tapping on our brain and consciousness, pulling us toward faith and relationship with God.
I too had my season of questioning, in the late teenage-early adult years, even though I had been raised in the church. I did not outwardly rebel or leave the church but inside I had questions aplenty. I used to worry about that but then I ran across a great quote that goes: "Faith unexamined is a curious offering to be made to the creator of the human mind." God is wider, greater, smarter than all our questions. It is okay with God when we demand deep answers.
Among intellectuals that I have observed, once they decided to believe, (and it does come down, really, to deciding, because faith cannot ultimately be proven) then they go on to live out that faith. They move on to putting faith into practice in life, which can be a freeing experience. Freeing in that they don't continue to mull the same old questions, but move on to the new questions that come as they continue to try to live the life of faith. The journey deepens.
Many times new parents find that the birth of the first child is a time when they find themselves exploring what they really believe and what they want to teach their children. Some parents say, "We'll raise our children with an exposure to all faiths and let them choose." While that may sound nice and open-minded in theory, in practice it rarely works. Children are more likely to believe what they have been taught in words and example. I grew up Mennonite and married a Lutheran and we "compromised" by joining a Presbyterian church when we had children. I said, well, we will teach them about all three groups and when they grow up, they will choose for themselves. That may still end up being true but for now, all three feel most at home (not surprisingly) in the Presbyterian church where they grew up!
Having children has enriched my faith journey and helped me to understand God and the nature of God's love in unexpected ways. I finally understand (at least a little bit) how God can't help from loving me, even though I do things that are unpleasing. Just as you, Jonathan, adore your beautiful child, so God adores you. Without reservation. How much God wants our love in return, just as I desire the love of my children.
My prayer for you and the many other millions like you is that just as that little girl has now unexpectedly touched regions of your being that you probably didn't even know were there, so may you be open to ways that God would speak to your mind and your spirit. Sometimes belief doesn't come all at once. Some persons start by saying, God, I believe. Help my unbelief"
What do you think? Send comments or stories to: Melodie Davis, Another Way c/o Name\Address of YOUR newspaper; or e-mail: Melodie@mennomedia.org.
You can also visit Another Way on the Web at www.thirdway.com.
Melodie Davis is the author of seven books and has written her column since 1987. She taught feature writing and has won awards from a number of organizations including the National Federation of Press Women, Virginia Press Women and the American Advertising Association. She and her husband have three growing daughters.
NOTES TO EDITORS: text = 780 words; end material = 105 words
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