Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Help Thou Mine Unbelief -- the Question of Faith

I remember a Sunday School teacher from my youth who confided that although we probably shouldn't have favorite general authorities, she suspected that at least one reason to have so many is that different leaders speak differently and appeal to us in different ways. She said she did have favorites. And so do I.

One of my favorites had long been Elder Faust. His own self-deprecating stories were as endearing as they were instructive. And he touched specific subjects that seemed to touch my heart at just the right time.

One was a landmark talk to me: Lord, I Believe; Help Thou Mine Unbelief. In it he broaches a subject that at the time was dear to me because of how I was serving in the church at the time, in a capacity to counsel others who seemed to lack faith.

But the talk also spoke to my own sense of inadequacy. The story from which his title comes is from Mark 9. A father brings his son first to Jesus' disciples, then finally to Jesus for healing. Jesus tells the father, "If thou canst believe, all things are possible to him that believeth. And straightway the father of the child cried out, and said with tears, Lord I believe; help thou mine unbelief" (v. 23-24).

I can so identify with this father, who wanted his son to be healed, even if he did not understand how it should happen. That he replies "straightway" says to me that he wants to answer correctly so that the Lord will bless his son, even though he may still have doubts. Then the honest and humble plea: "Help thou mine unbelief."

There's a thread over at Mormon Matters on priesthood blessings, and some great discussion about the faith of priesthood holders who perform the blessings and those who receive them. I'm touched with the honesty of good worthy men who admit that they do not know everything there is to know, and who may not understand their own faith in these matters. And I empathize with them.

I have been fortunate in my life to have been blessed with faith. I believe it has come to me as a gift, and I do not know why I have it and others do not. A very close friend from my college days took a path very different from my own because of his faith. We walked part of our path together; we read similar things, asked similar questions, prayed similar prayers (often together) yet his heart took him one way and mine took me another. I have written about the fact that some of my children have chosen other paths than the one I am on. Some of those children were quite earnest in their seeking at one point in their lives.

I have great respect for those who develop faith and act on it and see it grow in their lives. But I also have great respect –- in fact maybe more -- for those whose faith is smaller, who do not have what they would consider remarkable experiences, and still move forward, putting one foot in front of the other as they walk the straight and narrow path.

I've commented before that we have different spiritual gifts. As a result, I hope that we are sensitive to the fact that we will not all have the same spiritual experiences. And hopefully knowing that our spiritual experiences are unique and precious, we will protect them and display them with care, sharing them when prompted to do so, but in a way to strengthen and lift others, not to boast.

Further I would suggest that when we encounter another whose faith is not as strong, we dare not assume why that is. The discussion of spiritual gifts in 1 Corinthians 12 or Doctrine and Covenants 42 does not include a worthiness clause. We should not assume that father in Mark needed help with his unbelief because he was lazy or unworthy. That father had already carried his son first to the Lord's disciples and then, very publicly, to the Lord Himself. He clearly was willing to do something to gain the blessing he sought for his son.

That the Lord can help our unbelief is a great comfort to me, knowing there have been times in my life when I have felt unequal to the task I faced, and hoping and believing, even with imperfect faith, that the Lord could make up the difference between what I could offer and what was required.

- Paul


  1. One book I really enjoyed reading was Mother Theresa's letters; in them, she discusses her own struggles with belief. Apparently, for most of her adult life, she struggled with unbelief--her letters describe how she cried out to God, begging Him to reveal Himself to her, but nothing ever happened. Hers was, I think, a life of crushing loneliness. In her later letters, she began to reflect on her struggle as, in some ways, an answer to prayers: she wanted to truly feel Christ's pain and alienation and, in a sense, she did. Anyway, I found it totally fascinating, and very faith promoting.

    One thing I've observed is that our faith is strong, or weak, in different ways. Among my friends and family, some have very strong faith in the sense of making moral choices, but aren't necessarily totally convinced over certain spiritual matters (like the existence of God); others have very strong faith in the sense of really internalizing, and learning from, the laws of the Prophets; theirs is a different kind of faith. One of my best friends goes to the Temple weekly, and is probably the most devoted to the Temple of anyone I know, but she struggles in other areas.

  2. I have not read Mother Theresa's letters, but have heard of them; they are an excellent example of what I'm talking about here. Thanks for bringing them up (and prodding me to get to the library...).


  3. It's totally worth the trip. I got the book a couple of years ago, when it first came out; it was a present from Jim's grandmother. I've reread sections of it a couple of times.

    Also, I recently purchased the Scriptures on CD, to listen to on the way to work...I'm a little skeptical (what if the narrator is terrible?), but I figure maybe I can do something productive during the hour I'm stuck in traffic every day...

  4. Your comment about scriptures on CD made me think of Lael Woodbury who was one of my professors at BYU. He was the original "scriptures on tape" voice and told us that he didn't get paid for doing it (or didn't get much, anyway). But, he said, if he got to the pearly gates he would at least have tangible proof that he'd read all four standard works at least once!