A Little Less Than Super Faith
By Ed Gungor
April 15, 2009
In Mystery Men, a movie from a few years back, William H. Macy, Ben Stiller and Hank Azaria starred as a trio of lesser superheroes with fairly unimpressive superpowers. The opening scene is in Champion City, a metropolis in a slightly altered (but not enough to really work) comic book-style reality, where costumed crimefighters (many with mediocre "powers") are in oversupply, to the point that many of them are out looking for work.
Three such individuals are "The Shoveler" (Macy), who can wield a shovel pretty well; "Mr. Furious" (Stiller), who has the "ability" to get very, very angry; and "The Blue Raja" (Azaria), a self-described “effete British superhero” who throws forks and spoons (but refuses to use knives), and wears a green turban (a running joke being that, despite his name, his costume has no blue in it whatsoever).
This motley crew arrives to foil a robbery in an old-folks home by a similarly inept band of villains. They are largely incompetent at what they do, and are quickly upstaged by Captain Amazing (Greg Kinnear)—this guy is a genuine superhero, who arrives just in time to save the day and completely upstages the "wannabe" heroes, who are treated as a joke by the police officers, villains, civilians on the scene, and Captain Amazing himself.
As far as faith is concerned, there are a lot of Captain Amazings in the Evangelical church. As much as I would like to be, I am not one of them. I feel much more like “Mr. Furious.” I can make lots of noise, express large emotions … but that’s about it. I wish my faith were really big. Don’t misunderstand me, I believe in God most of the time. And I have my moments when I know that I know He is present in my life. But I have moments when I wonder if I’m wrong; times when I have a taste of doubt in my soul. Faith is a tricky business for me—the idea of living my whole life for someone I’ve never seen is a pretty gnarly enterprise.
Some claim they never experience tension or doubt in their faith. They seem to project a kind of faith that is always an ecstatic, absolute and full of an unwavering “knowing” that overwhelms them at all times—always clean; forever effervescent; never encroached upon with doubt. These are the super-faith people.I’m just not there. I think the whole nature of faith is untidy, and I would argue God made it that way. I think faith is about persistence in the face of uncertainty and doubt. Some think faith completely eliminates the presence of doubt, and that if doubt is present, it is an indicator that one doesn’t have faith. But I don’t agree.
There is a great story in the life of Jesus where He asked a guy if he had faith. The man responded to the Lord, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24) Notice that it is possible to believe and still be wrestling with “unbelief.” It turns out that faith is not about absolute certainty. Just because you have doubts, it does not mean you do not have faith. The guy in the Jesus-story asked that his doubt be “overcome” so that it would not be the prevailing force in his life. It’s a good thing to ask. That is the basic battle of faith—we must fight so that our doubts don’t drown our faith. But there is nothing wrong with the struggle.
For many people of faith, the idea of experiencing doubt at all makes them very nervous. They view the questions that rise in their minds as evidence of a lack of faith, which surely disqualifies them from being authentic believers. So they shove their doubts into their subconscious in Pollyanna-ish fashion. But what if it’s not true? What if honest doubt is actually the essence of faith? What if real faith has doubt in the mix, as a coin has two sides? That would mean struggling with doubt is not a lack of faith; it would actually be faith!
I think it is healthy to be uncertain every now and then. Frederick Buechner wrote, “Every morning you should wake up in your bed and ask yourself: ‘Can I believe it all again today?’ … At least five times out of 10, the answer should be 'No' because the 'No' is as important as the 'Yes,' maybe more so.”
It turns out that considering the “What if it’s true?” juxtaposed up against the “What if it’s not?” is a healthy thing to do spiritually. We should not be ashamed if we are drawn like magnets to the uncertainties and questions inherent in faith. Faith, after all, is not supposed to come naturally. Faith is the venture of human consideration and divine illumination. Only in a world where faith is difficult can faith exist.
I believe God wants people of faith to question, to wonder, to get disturbed, to seek for tenable answers. Faith is not the quelling of all sense of doubt, but the result of a choice after one has honestly and earnestly sought to understand. If this is a true description of faith, then faith is more like an intense mud-wrestling contest than anything else. It’s hard, sometimes painful, often disorienting and always messy—certainly not a cheery, no-conflict, refreshingly bubbly, perpetual happy place.
Overall, faith has won the day in my soul. Something deep within me—like the E.T.-phone-home beacon—draws me inexorably back to the pursuit of the Holy. But I still get thrown and disturbed from time to time, and I think God likes it that way.