I typically hate cutesy church marquees as a rule. I think it’s ridiculous to try and parse out Christianity into a pithy little saying. I’m not sure what the point is or who churches think they are going to attract, but apparently someone out there things they are a real clever “marketing” tool. But I saw one yesterday that particularly rubbed me the wrong way:
“Faith Builds. Unbelief Destroys.”
Gag. The kind of absolute statement that means nothing to the majority of the population. It really bothered me because my life the last couple years has been marked by a pretty significant period of unbelief. Would this make me want to come to that church? Not in a million years.
But it got me thinking…I get what they’re trying to say, but I think they’re wrong. I think faith can build–and destroy. I think unbelief can be destructive–and a source of growth and strength.
Think about it. The faith of the 9-11 hijackers–they were absolutely 100% certain of their belief, their faith, in their god and the holiness of their mission. It was also 100% destructive. The “faith” of the Westboro Baptist Church–who clearly are sold on the beliefs they espouse–is totally destructive to the families they harass and the groups they choose to single out as hated by God. The faith of whites and slaveholders, who were firm in their belief that whites are superior, blacks and other minorities deserve to be subjugated and enslaved…that faith destroyed families, lives, cultures, and created a rift amongst humanity that has yet to be entirely healed.
And what about unbelief? Doesn’t it sometimes take doubt to build something new, to make important changes? Back to the slavery/racism issue–didn’t it take the doubt of African-Americans, their unbelief in the faith system that they were being sold, to begin to push for equality and freedom? To say “I don’t believe that this is how God wants it?” And the whites who began to doubt with them, to stand up and say that no, this “faith” was not a faith they believed in anymore?
I think that sometimes it takes doubt and unbelief to actually bring about change. I know for myself–I have struggled with unbelief and doubt for probably my entire life, but it’s only the last couple years that I have stopped trying to fight against it, to embrace it, and see where I end up. Honestly in some ways I feel stronger than I did before. I feel more sure in my doubt (which I know, makes no sense) than I did when I tried to pretend there was no doubt.
Because I think honestly everyone who has ever lived struggles with doubt and unbelief. Even the most ardent believer doubts, even if its just in the dark hours in the middle of the night where your head takes you to places you don’t want to go. So we craft clever sayings like the one listed above and try to stuff the doubts away and pretend they don’t exist and shame people into thinking that somehow their unbelief makes them “less than,” is a reflection on their worth in God’s sight, is a sign of their weakness.
Well hello–we are all weak. We are all helpless in the face of God, in the face of the universe. Why don’t we just admit it already and admit we’re scared and afraid and wonder what, if anything, it all means? Why can’t we BUILD something with our unbelief and our doubts?
I believe that God is big enough for my unbelief. For everyone’s unbelief. I think there is faith even in the middle of the deepest doubt. I believe there is TRUTH in doubt and unbelief. I mean, one of my favorite musicians, Frank Turner, is an unapologetic atheist. And yet his words and lyrics can speak to the deepest, truest part of me. How is that destructive?
Honestly I think words and phrases like the one on that church marquee comes back to trying to squeeze God into a very small box. To making him quick and easy and comprehensible. To turning him into a “tame lion.” And while that may make some people feel better about themselves, in the end I think it’s pretty destructive and not building anything.