I’m a Believer … But Not Yet

God Can Handle Our Unbelief

Jason Thompson / 3.17.20

The anxieties of the week weighed on me until I could take no more. I parked the car on my lunch break and climbed to the top of an observation hill, a spot where you can get an almost panoramic view of the city. As I took in the picturesque vista of the skyline and distant lake shore, I thought about everything difficult and tenuous; I thought about everything poignant and beautiful. And then I broke down and wept, confessing, “God, you have no idea how burdened I feel! You don’t know how exhausted and lonesome I feel…and furthermore you don’t care!”

It was liberating to articulate an ache that God had known was in me from the foundation of the world. I felt like a weight had been lifted, allowing me to breathe, think, and process. I thought about the several episodes in Scripture where God makes concession for human venting and complaining. I thought about those beautiful moments when the psalmists wrestle through their best attempts at reconciling the promises of a faithful God despite the hopeless reality of internal sin, spiritual warfare, and captivity in strange lands. Psalm 89 in particular opens with a celebratory recitation of the Davidic promises, yet the latter half interpolates a Selah between the former and a scathing criticism, charging God with faithlessness to His covenant people.

I find great consolation in knowing that God allows frustrated souls to imperfectly express their disappointments and misperceptions of reality. Cain for example didn’t care that he had murdered his brother and expressed more concern for his own safety (vv. 13-14) than for the cavalier manner in which he had shed innocent blood. Yet how did God respond? God met his confused, troubled soul and marked Cain and vowed to protect him against his enemies. What?!

Or what about Cain’s mother? All she could do when confronted with her sin was blame the serpent: “He made me do it!” And in an act of absurd mercy, God promises her a Seed through the means of painful childbirth (cf. Gen 3:15-16) which would one day restore paradise beyond its original design. All of this to say, the God we read about in Scripture, the true and living God, is recklessly indiscriminate with the dispensing of His grace. And that’s good news for complainers like me!

You see, much of the tension in our lives comes from feeling like we can’t confess our unbelief. I don’t want to admit that I don’t think God cares about me, because to do so is to deny what I know I should be/do/think. Because a Christian should never feel that way. I mean, by definition, a Christian is a truster-in-God, so to confess that I don’t trust God is to undo or invalidate my identity, isn’t it? The writer of Hebrews asserts that Jesus can identify with our every temptation and weakness, but I don’t believe that. I don’t believe He cares. Sometimes, I don’t believe He exists.

Whoops. Did I say that out loud? 

There’s a passage in 1 John that I believe helps us process this dissonance between the faith we know we should have versus the despair that often characterizes our daily experience. In the third chapter, the beloved Apostle writes,

Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us that we should be called the children of God. 

John wants us to behold, see, consider, believe some seriously good news concerning our identity before God. We are presently named and called the “children of God,” based on no merit of our own. Based solely on the righteousness of Christ. Or, as John states elsewhere in his epistle, “as He is, so are we in this world.” John continues,

Now, we are the children of God, but it does not yet appear what we shall be.

In other words, we are believers…but not yet. What we have, we no longer are, yet who we are…or rather whose we are, we do not yet possess. The former refers to the stubbornly persistent unbelief that refuses to let us go; the latter concerns the day of redemption that often feels like it will never come.

John’s words in 1 John 3 destroy the idea of a progressive sanctification in which I’m gradually getting the hang of holiness and learning to trust God more and more each day. As one worship song incorrectly assesses, “Every day with you Lord…is sweeter than the day before…” Our salvation is in fact nearer than when we first believed, but walking with Jesus hasn’t revealed how I’ve matured over the years; it has exposed how desperate and dead I remain, even after justification.

These verses instead reinforce the concept of what we call the simul in which the Christian is both sinner and saint…unbeliever and faithful, in an inexplicable, incomprehensible overlap of two eschatological ages. First John 3 helps us understand how we can be believers and not actually believe, and how we can be functionally atheists and still eternally loved.

Confessing our unbelief frees us to receive grace in an age rife with law, expectations, exhaustion, and despair. What perpetuates our grief and sorrow is the little-l law that demands, “I cannot confess that I don’t trust God the way I should.” Thankfully, the One who carried our grief and sorrows believes when we cannot, and forgives our unbelief.

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2 responses to “I’m a Believer … But Not Yet”

  1. Bill says:

    Honest thoughts – thank you for sharing.

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