Faith vs. Doubt, Still a Problem After 2,000 Years

News: Commentary
by Fr. Paul John Kalchik  •  •  April 19, 2023   

We Must Still Pray 'Lord, Help My Unbelief!'

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The tug of war between faith and doubt is an ongoing battle, starting from the time a person reaches the age of reason and lasting till the hour of his death. The evil one is trying to destroy his faith. But resisting doubt with earnest prayer and love will help us stay the course.

St. Thomas and Our Lord

If you look closely at the post-Resurrection accounts in the Gospels, many of the disciples, even after seeing the risen Lord, continued to doubt.

The Apostle St. Thomas is perhaps the most famous of the doubters. Saint John recorded Thomas' misgivings after the other disciples told him they had seen the Lord.

"Unless I see the mark of the nails in His hands and I put my finger into the nail marks and put my hand into His side," the doubting Apostle announced, "I will not believe" (John 20:24–25).

Thomas, instead of believing what all his companions had reported to him, doubted. Thomas would only come to believe a full week later, when Jesus appeared again and Thomas actually touched the wounds of Jesus' passion (John 20:26–28).

Forty days after the first Easter, at the Lord's Ascension into Heaven, many, if not most, disciples continued to harbor doubts. Matthew wrote, "When they saw Him they worshiped, but they doubted."

It is slightly unfair that St. Thomas is remembered as "the doubter," since all of his doubt evaporated when he touched the Lord's wounds. Immediately, he fell on his knees and declared, "My Lord and my God!" Afterward, he gave his life as a martyr in India, confirming his faith in the risen Lord.

Nowadays, centuries after Our Lord's death and Resurrection, we, too, are dealing daily with nagging doubts and disbelief. We are ourselves doubting Thomases and must beg God to spare us from disbelief and a flagging faith.

When they saw Him they worshiped, but they doubted.

We would do well to follow the example of the father of a son possessed by an evil spirit who asks Jesus for the gift of faith. The exchange is recorded in Mark's Gospel (Mark 9: 20–27): 

Then [Jesus] questioned [the] father, "How long has this been happening to him?" [The father] replied, "Since childhood. It has often thrown him into fire and into water to kill him. But if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us."

Jesus said to him, "'If you can!' Everything is possible to one who has faith."

Then the boy's father cried out, "I do believe; help my unbelief!"

Jesus proceeded to answer the father's plea by expelling the demon. "Mute and deaf spirit, I command you: Come out of him and never enter him again!" declared Our Lord.

The clearest example of a great miracle taking place during Jesus' ministry in which next to no one becomes a believer, except the one cured, is found in John's Gospel, when Our Lord restores the sight of a man born blind (John 9:1–38).

The Vortex: One and True

Despite the large number of people witnessing the miracle, as recorded in the gospel, only the man to whom Jesus bestowed sight became a believer. Neither the man's parents nor those who witnessed the miracle are said to have become true disciples of Jesus. Seeing is not necessarily believing. 

In truth, becoming a believer has more to do with faith than with witnessing miracles. The Hebrews who left slavery in Egypt witnessed many powerful miracles. They lived through Moses' plagues, they saw the pillar of flame, and they even witnessed the parting of the Red Sea. But their witnessing of these events did not automatically make them all believers. As Scripture attests, some believed while others did not.

Many of the newly freed Hebrew slaves fell back into idolatry when Moses absented himself to Mt. Sinai. Scripture records the event clearly:

When the people saw that Moses was delayed in coming down from the mountain, they gathered around Aaron and said to him, "Come, make us a god who will go before us; as for that man Moses who brought us out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has happened to him." Aaron replied, "Take off the golden earrings that your wives, your sons and your daughters are wearing, and bring them to me." So all the people took off their earrings and brought them to Aaron. He received their offering, and fashioning it with a tool, made a molten calf. Then they cried out, "These are your gods, Israel, who brought you up from the land of Egypt" (Exodus 32:1–4).

So it's abundantly clear that just witnessing a miracle does not make a man of faith. The man has to choose to become a man of faith, to become a believer. It takes courage and it takes love.

St. Maximilian Kolbe

Romantic love, however, is not what we're talking about. Far from it! Rather, I have in mind the kind of love that emboldens a mother to run into her burning home to rescue her child, the love that gives a man the courage to offer his life to let another go free, as did St. Maximilian Kolbe at Auschwitz. 

It's that powerful love (which is a reflection of God's very nature) that some people invite into their souls that transforms them into believers, changing them into God's sons and daughters. That love that originates in God, once welcomed by a man into his heart, can transform nonbelievers into men and women of formidable faith.

Saint Paul talks about that kind of love. It is God's unconditional love, which He'll bestow in full measure upon the man who asks Him for this gift. In his First Letter to the Corinthians, St. Paul writes,

If I give away everything I own, and if I hand my body over so that I may boast but do not have love, I gain nothing. Love is patient, love is kind. It is not jealous, [love] is not pompous, it is not inflated, it is not rude, it does not seek its own interests, it is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury, it does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things (1 Corinthians 13: 3–7).

The disciple who lets God's selfless love reside and transform his heart is the same disciple whose belief is formidable, and who lives his day-to-day life free from doubt and despair. He is not a doubting Thomas, whose doubts have to be put to flight, sometimes in halting baby steps.

Such men will remain faithful even at the risk of their own lives. During the course of the French Revolution, for example, hundreds, if not thousands, of priests and nuns suffered persecution and martyrdom for the Faith. They did this out of selfless love for God and His Church. Many submitted to the guillotine rather than lose their souls.

Lord, help me in my unbelief.

In 1984, Pope St. John Paul II beatified 99 of these martyrs. The pope said that there were many others, unnamed and unknown, who were among those executed that are worthy of being beatified. All, he said, died ''for their determination to remain faithful, at the risk of their lives.''

If your faith is flagging, ask God for a full measure of His love. Ask for His selfless love to reside in your heart. This will lead to the grace of a strong faith. And ask for the prayers and intercession of the Church's myriad holy martyrs to help.

Brush aside all doubts and believe. Pray, as did the father of the son possessed by an evil spirit, "Lord, help me in my unbelief."

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