As a pastor, I’ve worked with people at all stages of belief — including unbelief. I’m use the term “unbelief” on purpose. When Christians speak of categories of people, we use many different labels:
- Lost or saved
- Christian or non-Christian
- Believer or non-believer
To call someone a non-believer is misleading. I’ve met many “non-believers” who actually do believe in …
- Will power
- The law of attraction
- Homeopathic drugs
- The Golden Rule
- Survival of the fittest
- Tony Robbins
In other words, they are very much believers — they just don’t believe in the same source of power that a Christ-follower believes in. By nature, all of us are believers. I’ve never met anyone who held absolutely no beliefs. Now, they might have been strange beliefs or not-well-thought-out beliefs, but they were still beliefs.
Unbelief is different.
Non-believer implies a person who does not belief.
Unbelief is a matter of being unable or unwilling to belief.
In Mark’s gospel, a father brings his son to Jesus. The son is possessed by an evil spirit and the disciples were unable to cast it out. When told this, Jesus laments about the unbelieving generation around him.
The father then makes a remarkable admission: “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24).
It’s possible to be a believer and unbeliever at the same time.
I might be a believer in Jesus when it comes to following his example of servant leadership. At the same time, I might be an unbeliever when it comes to trusting his financial standards and promises to provide.
But because I’m an unbeliever doesn’t mean I’m a non-believer. I just believe another way is better than the way Jesus offers. Rather than trust God with my finances, I’m going to believe that the stock market is a better way to secure my future and meet my needs.
So, what makes it difficult for a person to believe?
If you’ve been reading this blog, you’ll know that I’m starting 2017 in John 6. Just one chapter, seventy-one verses. I believe it’s where God wants me to be … because he wants to teach me about believing.
I’d like to return to the story of Jesus walking on the water as we consider the question, “What makes it difficult for a person to believe?”
16 When evening came, his disciples went down to the lake, 17 where they got into a boat and set off across the lake for Capernaum. By now it was dark, and Jesus had not yet joined them. 18 A strong wind was blowing and the waters grew rough. 19 When they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus approaching the boat, walking on the water; and they were frightened. 20 But he said to them, “It is I; donʼt be afraid.” 21 Then they were willing to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat reached the shore where they were heading. — John 6:16-21 (emphasis mine)
As I thought about this phrase — “then they were willing” — it made think of what often inhibits faith. Here are just a few:
- Peer pressure
- Family pressure
Up to that point, the disciples must have been unwilling to let Jesus in the boat.
We know from other accounts that they thought he might have been a ghost or apparition and it frightened them. The storm was still going strong. They were tired from all that rowing. It was dark outside.
If they were determined to wait until everything settled down, Jesus would never have been allowed in the boat.
One of the misconceptions about belief is that it should come without any challenges, difficulties, or problems. I often hear Christians say something like, “I don’t know why this is happening to me since I believe in God.”
In their view, the act of believing in God should clear up every storm and eliminate all problems. There should be an answer for all their questions.
When it comes to letting Jesus in the boat, we are either willing or unwilling.
- Am I willing to follow Jesus even when he tells me to love my enemies?
- Am I willing to serve Jesus even when it involves forgiving those who have hurt me?
- Am I willing to give up everything I thought was important to go where he calls me?
Believers are willing people, not unwilling people. Unwilling people have to be convinced or assured of every detail. Unwilling people want to follow Jesus, but on their own terms.
Abraham accepted the call of God even though he didn’t know the exact path it would take him down. He was willing.
Fear and pride will cause us to say, “Not yet. Not now. Not ever.”
Willing people just say, “Yes.”