Recently, I asked the iPhone’s personal assistant, known as Siri, to help me find a Bible verse.
Quoting the verse, I said, “Help me with my unbelief.”
Siri responded with, “That may be beyond my ability.”
Funny, I thought. That resembles the response I had from the 72-year-old patient I met last month in our ICU. After briefly introducing myself, I posed a question I routinely ask most patients.
“Do you have any kind of spirituality, or religion or philosophy that gives you guidance in life?” I know it’s a mouthful, but the question is intended to rattle a person’s spiritual doors long enough for me to find one that’s unlocked.
Occasionally, patients will scratch their heads, perplexed at the breadth of the question and say, “No, I’m not really spiritual. I’m just a Baptist.”
However, this guy was sharper than that.
“No,” he said, “but I wish I did.”
Surprised, I asked, “Can you say more about that?” I asked because wishing you had spirituality is a step toward rediscovering the one you most likely already possess.
Yes, in fact, he could say more. He was a firefighter and he’d seen too much tragedy to believe in God. “People tell me, ‘It’s all part of God’s plan,’ but I don’t buy that.”
I nodded sympathetically. As a chaplain, I’d seen enough children die to share his contempt for that platitude. “It’s a phrase people use when they don’t know what to say.”
He seemed to agree, but he had another surprise for me.
“I still talk to God though.” This guy was navigating some complicated angles. “I just never pray for myself.”
I pulled back at that one.
“I pray for family and friends. I just hope God hears them.”
“Sounds like you’re a ‘believing unbeliever.'” I said.
This time his quizzical look told me I’d caught him off guard. It was now my turn to “say more.”
“You want to believe, but you feel like your doubts are incongruent with your belief.”
“Do you think that I’m just hedging my bets?” he asked.
“Not at all,” I said. “It tells me that you are intellectually honest about your faith.”
His smile told me he’d finally found a minister who understood.
I understood because there are days when I am him. There are days I struggle to be that spot-on believer people expect a minister to be.
Frankly, my doubts used to worry me a bit, but as I’ve aged I’ve come to see those doubts as an honest wrestling match — not the fixed fights on late night television, but the kind of struggle that sharpens my wit, keeps my mind open and builds my spiritual strength.
While many of you can relate, there are likely a few of you who are tossing the yellow penalty flag.
“Doesn’t the Bible warn against doubt?” you ask. Yes, but those warnings address our failure to trust God, not the doubt that emerges from our humanity.
It’s a point well made in the biblical story of the distraught father who brought his son to Jesus for healing. In what sounded like a doubtful moment, the man said, “If you can do anything … help us.”
“‘If you can’?” mimicked Jesus. “Everything is possible for one who believes.”
Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!”
When I consider both the patient and the father who brought his son and his doubts to Jesus, I’m seeing a clear strategy for dealing with doubt: admit your doubts, stand for your beliefs, and remember that sometimes we could all use a little divine assistance to help us with our unbelief.
However, as I’ve learned, I wouldn’t advise counting on your iPhone to give reliable spiritual advice.