I think we all know the famous FDR quote from his first inauguration speech, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” I think we all have a pretty good idea what he meant as well. Honestly, I knew deep down that I had correctly interpreted what he meant for years. That was until just a few seconds ago.
The words doubt and unbelief both come up rather often in the Bible. I suppose that means they encompass an important topic to God (if we are to accept the Bible being fully inspired by Him). I know in my own life I doubt a lot. More precisely, I think a lot and even though I am a hopeless optimist, I am also analytical. Therefore, while deep in my heart I want to believe the best in a situation, I have already made a list of the possible negative outcomes and assigned some sort of probability to each. For instance, the moment I take an interest in a girl, I have already enumerated the potential barriers to a relationship forming and then working out to some degree. That was just an example, but I do this with just about everything.
OK, so I’d say doubt is a significantly inhibiting factor in life. It is just this thought that turned on the light bulb in my head revealing what I think FDR was truly getting at with this quote. The greatest obstacle we will face in this life is our doubt, the fear of the unknown that lies ahead, and every risk we take will have to be in spite of that fear. I think what is understated is that fear is around every corner and every decision.
Fear takes many forms, however. It is not always that paralyzing jolt down your spine. It can be that quiet voice telling you to not take that risk because the logistics don’t line up or you’re not ready. It could be that voice telling you not to take such a risk because the stakes are too high. It could be nearly anything.
Look at the passage in Mark 9:14–29 and Matthew 17:14–20 where Jesus casts the demon out of a boy suffering from epilepsy. The father is pleading with Jesus to cure his son. He asks if there is anything Jesus can do and Jesus turns the request back on the father.
“…But if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.” And Jesus said to him, “‘If you can’! All things are possible for one who believes.” — Mark 9:22–23
The father then replies with the oft quoted “I believe; help my unbelief!” and Jesus cures the child. Notice, the man admits his doubt. I think this statement is more than monumental for defining what Jesus is actually saying about believing.
Faith is not the absence of doubt. Rather, it is merely acknowledging our doubt and prayerfully asking God to erase that doubt with His love. Faith is actively trusting God in spite of everything within telling you He’s not safe, not loving, caring, etc. and all the while praying He will replace those doubts with the steadfast dependence only He can instill.
Finally, I want to look at the account of this story in Matthew where the disciples after the healing ask why they could not exorcise the demon. His answer gives me so much hope in light of my perceived disbelief. I see the sincerity and the sadness in Jesus’ voice when He answers:
“Because of your little faith. For truly, I say to you, if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you.” — Matthew 17:20
In case you weren’t aware, a mustard seed is about the smallest seed there is (it was the smallest seed with which the audience at the time would have been familiar). What I understand from this statement is that God wants to work through our faith no matter how small it is. God blesses all our feeble attempts to obey and follow Him. He can work through any amount of disbelief so long as we are willing to give Him a little room. He’s not going to force our obedience, but when our hearts are in the right place (even if only slightly), He shows up in a big way and does mighty things with that tiny faith.
Faith is not the absence of, but action in the presence of fear. Doubt looks to hold us back at every moment, but when we decide to press on and put our faith into practice, nothing is impossible. Yes, we should be striving toward a perfected faith, but Jesus Himself acknowledged that there would be doubt. However, in that acknowledgement, there is the promise that God can accomplish great things even with only a tiny bit of faith on our part. Will you choose to trust Him at His word and water that little seed today?