Lord, Forgive My Unbelief

Whenever I went to confession I would always confess this particular sin. It weighed heavily on me and I could not seem to overcome it. Despite my constant concern, my confessor seemed far less worried. In fact, more often than not, I was told it wasn’t a sin and was actually part of a healthy Christian life. The “sin” I was struggling with was doubt.

If doubt wasn’t a sin, why was it so uncomfortable? It sure seemed to nag at my conscience like sin and I felt plenty of guilt. I asked myself if it was the doubting or the inability to reconcile my doubt that bothered me. This reminded me of a concept I learned about in college called cognitive dissonance. Simply put, cognitive dissonance happens when someone holds two simultaneous beliefs or thoughts that cannot be true at the same time. I was told this could often be a catalyst for intellectual growth, as a person tried to resolve the dissonance they faced.

Equipped with this this understanding about cognitive dissonance, I decided I would apply it to my belief system. Obviously my doubt would be resolved by discovering the answer to the questions fueling my doubt - right? I thought once I learned more about Catholicism and theology, my doubt would dissipate. I was wrong. With each new piece of information I was left with more and more questions. If anything, my doubt had grown. Without realizing it, I was turning my beliefs into solely an intellectual pursuit when my doubt was actually rooted in me emotionally and spiritually. It wasn’t my head that was doubting, it was my heart that was struggling to believe. I didn’t need more knowledge. What I needed was deeper faith.


I believe though I do not comprehend, and I hold by faith what I cannot grasp with the mind
— St. Bernard

I had mistook belief to be the same thing as understanding. I assumed in order to believe something I had to comprehend it completely. I was not leaving room for the mystery of God. Instead of placing my trust in the Creator I was placing trust in myself. While there may be elements of sin rooted within my challenge, my doubt was not entirely sinful. It was an opportunity to grow and embrace faith. Much like how cognitive dissonance can be the catalyst for intellectual learning, doubt had become the catalyst for my belief. I was being called into a deeper trust that relied not on my own understanding.


Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding
— Proverbs 3:5

While I continue to struggle and admittedly still confess doubt as a sin, I am learning to discern the root of my doubts. Instead of beating myself up for not understanding, I am trying to let God take over. I may even go so far as to say doubt has become a part of my faith. I now see them as going hand in hand.


Doubt is but another element of faith
— St. Augustine

 

This relationship between doubt and faith is still much of a mystery to me. But maybe that is the paradox of faith which I am struggling to let go. Instead of trying to comprehend God, I am just trying to trust Him. Maybe that is all I need to do right now. Leaving room for doubt and in doing so I leave room for faith.


If one has the answers to all the questions-that is proof that God is not with him. It means that he is a false prophet using religion for himself. The great leaders of the people of God, like Moses, have always left room for doubt. You must leave room for the Lord, not for our certainties; we must always be humble.
— Pope Francis