As a Christian, I have had periods where I wrestled with whether I was a true believer. I would go through periods of great depression and anxiety and question my faith. I would come out of the other side of that valley knowing Jesus carried me, but still wonder why I questioned my faith. I don’t think I will question whether I am true believer now after reading Barnabus Piper’s book, “Help My Unbelief: Why Doubt Is Not The Enemy of Faith.” He has explained why we have problems believing and also how to believe in a way that has given me peace.
Piper talked about this tension of belief and unbelief for Christians. He came across what for him was a familiar story in Mark 9:14-29 in his studies that jumped out at him. This is the story of the father who sought help for his son who was possessed. The father first asked Jesus’ disciples to cast out the unclean spirit from his son. The disciples couldn’t help the father, so he became angry. They quarreled. Jesus heard the arguing and stepped in at this point. Piper’s idea for this study comes from this particular exchange:
21 And Jesus asked his father, “How long has this been happening to him?” And he said, “From childhood. 22 And it has often cast him into fire and into water, to destroy him. But if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.” 23 And Jesus said to him, “‘If you can’! All things are possible for one who believes.” 24 Immediately the father of the child cried out and said, “I believe; help my unbelief!”
This story “exhibits the Christian experience of belief” (26), Piper said. He started the study by discussing what belief in God isn’t and then built on that to explain true belief. As I started reading, I took notes collecting and connecting new thoughts about the life of a believer. Here are some I will take with me from reading this book:
- God welcomes my curiosity. He wants me to search, to ask, and to know Him. Piper said, “God is infinite, beyond our understanding—yet He chooses to reveal Himself in ways that spark questions rather than settling them all” (32).
- Head knowledge and “mental assent” are part of belief, but not the same as genuine faith in God. Genuine faith involves transformation. I can read and agree with God’s Word and even quote it, but I will not have a true faith without a change in my actions and thoughts. Faith in God changes the course of one’s life. “Relational knowledge of God leads to transformational, living belief” (53).
- The words “infinite” and “omnipotent” explain why we can’t fully understand and explain God – even though some people will try despite the fact that we’re finite beings. “[God] could not shrink Himself, His profound and unfathomable self, to a size our human minds and hearts could grasp. He wanted us to search, to wrestle, to wonder, to be mystified. He wanted us to ask” (32-33).
- What faith like a child means is “not passive, mindless dependence” (135) like a newborn. Piper said “questioning is the currency of childhood.” A child will ask mom or dad a question and truly want to know the answer. She trusts they have the knowledge to answer her. The child doesn’t challenge while asking the question.
- Piper gave examples of researchers vs. prosecutors to explain the difference between the good and bad ways we question God. Researchers are asking questions based on a theory they explore. They are seeking the truth. The prosecutor already has a picture in his mind of what is the truth. I was reminded of the passages where the Pharisees questioned Jesus to trip Him up. They didn’t want to learn or believe.
- I have to believe in order to ask God, “Help my unbelief.” This was major for me. It’s why I can make the statement at the top of this review. It’s why I felt peace as I read. My desire for God to help me is born out of belief. I pray and believe He will hear and answer. Piper said, “If you have cried out to God – ‘Help!’ – you have spoken from a place of belief. That is evidence of your faith” (85).
- I needed help from the Holy Spirit to truly believe in God in the first place. I knew I needed Him to read the Bible and understand it, but I hadn’t considered that I needed the Holy Spirit to help my unbelief before I became a Christian. The passages in the Bible where I read and see something transformative appears as just information without Him.
- It’s okay to doubt as a believer. We are sinners, we are imperfect, and we live in the “not yet.” But we have the assurance that one day we will have perfect belief.
I enjoyed taking this journey with Piper. He wanted his readers to “see that belief isn’t blind faith and that questions, if asked well, are building blocks for stronger faith rather than stepping-stones away from it” (21). He accomplished his goal. I did wonder about the “order of appearance.” Why did he not talk about the Holy Spirit sooner? In Chapter 7 he explained the “how to” and then touched on earlier points he made like a painter who has sketched out the created scene and then applied color, firming up the lines to finish his painting.
I wrote in my notebook that I had some confusion about whether some words were Piper’s own or part of a quote from someone else. Some quotes were set off as a quote, but others were ambiguous. I’m used to some indication that I’m reading a quote, like quote marks. Some quotes didn’t always flow seamlessly, even if they were excellent ones. I would copy and paste passages in my search engine just to double check. Not a big deal. At most I was just jarred a bit.
Otherwise, I didn’t have trouble following along and coming back to the text even if I had been away from the book for a day. I talked a lot about what I was learning too which is always a good sign. I also liked the added material about reading the Bible to find Jesus in the story. I recommend this book to anyone who is struggling as a Christian with what it means to believe and to live out this life of faith. For more information about the book and Barnabus Piper, go to https://barnabaspiper.com/books