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Unbelief and Disbelief

“Unbelief toward the Lord produces many vices—especially irrational choices, for unbelief is contrary to a rational mind…Unbelief is of course a free choice of each of us. Unbelief says that they base themselves only on what they see and grasp and understand with logic…Unbelief, however, is a serious spiritual illness. Faith is beyond reason and unbelief is unreasonable. Unbelief is often dense, comes from frivolity and shallowness of thought, and from a volatile life and confused consciousness. (Orthodox Study Bible, Numbers 4:1-4, Elder Moses the Athonite)

“I have long been convinced that “believing” is grounded in something other than intellectual activity. I am simply unimpressed by most of the intellectual arguments that I see regarding both belief and unbelief. In both, I hear so much that is unspoken, and even much that is likely hidden from the speakers themselves. That being the case (if I am right), then conversations about belief require great patience and not a little sympathy.” (Father Stephen Freeman)

“ ‘How long will these people provoke Me? How long will they not believe Me, with all the signs I performed among them? ’The Lord asked two questions to show us His opposition to unbelief. Even the miracles He performed could not bring the people to faith. Neither did the miracles He performed after His Incarnation win them over (Jn 10:38). Nevertheless, out of His love for them, He gave them every opportunity to believe. Unbelief is a deep-seated evil…Unbelief leads to death and self-destruction. For there is no remedy for unbelief. It ultimately led them to the loss of God's kingdom (Mt 21:43), as it does for all (Rom 11:22)… Just as unbelief kept the children of Israel from the land of promise, so it will keep us from the promise of the world to come if we fail to live by faith (Heb 3:4).” (Orthodox Study Bible, Numbers 4:11, 12, 22-38)

“In the Greek text, the word “disobedience”…is based on the idea of “a refusal to be persuaded.” Thus, “unbelief,” “obstinance,” and “rebellion” go together…Unbelief is the result of making wealth, honor, power, pleasure of this world one’s “god.” And so, the eyesight of one’s mind and the vision of one’s heart are darkened. One cannot see the glory of Christ, who is the image of God (vs. 4), the brightness of His [God’s] glory, and the express image of His [God’s] person” (Hebrews 1:3; see also Colossians 1:15).” (Fr. Basil)

“ ‘Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you sent’ (Jn. 17.3)’…The Lord’s quick to explain what eternal life means. It’s not another life which extends beyond this life here on earth. Much less is it a continuation of this life without an end or death. These ways of understanding are heard and expressed, but they’re misrepresentations, because they prolong the state of being in the sin of this fallen world. And, in particular, they take absolutely no account of the redemptive action of God, in Christ, in the world and are therefore understandings resulting from unbelief. According to the Lord, eternal life is linked directly to Him: it’s knowledge of God on the part of human beings; and of Christ Himself…This knowledge isn’t of an intellectual nature, that is, it’s not a matter of the brain; it’s not certain information which activates our intellectual abilities. Such knowledge does exist, but only when we’re talking about things in the present world. The knowledge which the Lord’s talking about comes from our personal relationship with him. This means that eternal life is experienced by those who’ve accepted Christ’s invitation to follow him and thus share in his own life.” (Protopresbyter Georgios Dorbarakis)

“… unbelief and faith are equally a part of the death and resurrection of Christ. The death and resurrection of Christ contain the utter and complete emptiness of hell, the threat of non-being and meaninglessness, the absurdity of suffering and of injured innocence. They also contain the fullness of paradise, the complete joy of existence and the ecstasy of transcendent love. Everything is there.” (Father Stephen Freeman)

“We pray “and deliver us from the evil one.” The “evil one” lurks behind temptation and abandonment to it. This does not relieve us of our responsibility by “blaming it on the devil,” but rather alerts us to the need for vigilance. As our spiritual tradition makes quite clear, the evil one often works through such “passions” as gluttony, lust, avarice, jealously, envy, anger, dejection, vanity and pride. As such, direct confrontation is unnecessary—or perhaps it is reserved for the great saints who take up that battle with utter seriousness, determination, and profound reliance upon the saving grace of God. Our “inner demons,” multiplied and strengthened by our weaknesses and lack of faith, thus pluck the seed of God’s word from our hearts as birds will pluck up loose seed on shallow ground. Distracted, enervated or consumed by our passions, the evil one, as an ever-present threat, can leave us with a heart empty of the saving seeds of the divine Sower. And as Christ warned, the horrific result can be unbelief and a loss of salvation.” (Fr. Stephen Kostoff)

“The disbelief of Thomas has done more for our faith than the faith of the other disciples. As he touches Christ and is won over to belief, every doubt is cast aside, and our faith is strengthened. So the disciple who doubted, [but] then felt Christ’s wounds, becomes a witness to the reality of the resurrection” (St. Gregory the Great)

“We also sometimes are subject to doubts about the truth of the Christian faith. Thomas’ doubt sprung from a heart that had been struck down by sudden trauma. Ours springs from the slow, ceaseless, and unrelenting barrage of propaganda from our secular society that inundates us. We in the modern West live in a world washed clean from any trace of God or faith. Everything our senses encounter reinforces the lie — every book or magazine we open, every movie, television program or newscast we watch, every casual contact or radio announcer we hear. After a while we grow tired of fighting. Can the whole world be wrong and we Christians alone be right? A kind of spiritual fatigue overtakes us and the secular model of reality begins to look ever more tempting; unbelief, moral and religious relativism gain ever more credibility. What do we do then? Where can we take our doubts? Thomas teaches us: take your doubts to Church. Do not abandon your Christian family, or retreat from the apostolic company. Stay in Church, praying privately and attending the Church’s public Liturgy. And ask Christ to give you the answers, and reveal Himself, and bring you the truth. If you really want to know the truth, Christ will give it to you. But be clear: you must want to find the truth like a starving man wants to find food, like a man dying of thirst in the desert wants to find a watery oasis.” (Fr. Lawrence Farley)

“…doubt and disbelief are only dangerous to our souls if they are not confronted. But if they compel us to search the scriptures, to study the teachings of the church fathers, and to exam the evidence for the truth of the Gospel, then they are, in fact, helpful. If, of course, our seeking the truth is done in prayer.” (Fr. Basil)

“The father of the young man in our gospel lesson had surely rejected simplistic views of faith long ago…But instead of falling into complete despair and cynicism, the father had at least enough faith to say to Christ, “’but if You can do anything, have pity on us and help us.”‘ In response to the Savior’s words, “’If you can believe, all things are possible to him who believes,’ the man cried out and said with tears, “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!”‘ With an integrity fueled by his years of heartbreaking pain over the wretched plight of his son, the man knew that he stood before Christ with less than perfect faith. He did not even try to pretend that he possessed a sentimental spirituality that shied away from hard truths. No, he named truthfully the condition of his soul even as he entrusted the young man’s healing to the Savior as best he could. In response to the father’s painfully honest plea, Christ healed the man’s son.” (Fr. Philip LeMasters)

“Unbelief is a soul-wound whose location likely lies much deeper than the fiction of choice. It is often hidden deep within the hell that has formed in the pit of a soul’s shame. That wound will require Christ-in-Hades probing and questing, and perhaps fierce battles that are hidden from our knowledge. When the Church proclaims, “Christ is risen, trampling down death by death and upon those in the tombs bestowing life,” it is deeply important to remember that we have the souls of those so wounded in mind.” (Father Stephen Freeman)

“…our secular age is haunted, and always has been. Certainly belief is contested and contestable in our secular age. There’s no going back. Even seeking enchantment will always and only be reenchantment after disenchantment. But almost as soon as unbelief becomes an option, unbelievers begin to have doubts — which is to say, they begin to wonder if there isn’t something “more.” They worry about the shape of a world so flattened by disenchantment…Taylor’s analysis of this point is deeply existential. As he puts it, while the world is disenchanted for “us moderns,” we nonetheless also experience a sense of loss and malaise in the wake of such disenchantment.” (Charles Taylor, James K.A. Smith)

“I do not think of unbelief as a result of reason or philosophical principle. I have spent too many years observing my own heart and listening to the thoughts of others to accept such a simplistic notion of how we behave as human beings. One person professes faith on the ground of “reasonable” arguments, while another, on similar grounds, professes unbelief. The fault is not in the reasoning. Reasoning is, in fact, something we largely do “after the fact.” Indeed, this psychological reality has itself been the subject of study and has been shown to be largely true. Reason is one of the sounds we make after the fact of the heart. It is a symptom of something else and we do one another a deep injustice when we reduce faith and unbelief to something they are not.” (Father Stephen Freeman)

“What makes people truly holy is not a perpetual inner state of joy, peace, hope and faith. It is caring for the needy when they themselves feel spiritually abandoned. It is offering a smile and a word of comfort to someone who is dying and otherwise would die alone. It is wiping saliva from their mouth, caring for their intimate and often disagreeable bodily needs, bearing the smell of their leprous flesh, or preparing their wasted body for an imminent burial. These are the kinds of things Mother Teresa did, day and night, for many decades. To her, God may have felt absent. She may have agonized over her inability to perceive His hand as it opened to receive the souls of those for whom she cared. But in her pain and loneliness, she manifested the most important virtue of all: to believe despite her unbelief, and to shape her life accordingly.” (Fr. John Breck)


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