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What Do I Do If I Don't Believe?

What Do I Do If I Don't Believe?

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Detail from a painting by Sarah Kranz
Detail from a painting by Sarah Kranz

Question:

I don't pray every day. Sometimes I'm not so sure that I believe in G‑d enough to pray. I just don't think I can have the unwavering faith that people like you seem to have. I'll never be so sure. Can you pray and be a good Jew if your faith is unsteady?

Answer:

To be a Jew means to struggle. The very name Israel means "one who struggles with G‑d." Faith is not a light switch that you turn on and it stays on. Faith is a fire that you need to tend to and fuel, and sometimes rekindle. It is a wrestle that never ends.

The name "Israel" means "one who struggles with G‑d." There are days that your faith shines through and everything fits into place. On these days, you feel at one with yourself and G‑d, and prayer comes naturally. Then there are days that you wake up and all is dark, your faith seems to have dried up. G‑d, soul, prayer, goodness--all seem like annoying insects buzzing in your ear, and you just want to just roll over and go back to sleep.

But even on those days, you have to find the motivation to get up and get on with it. Perhaps your faith won't get you out of bed, so how about trying another approach. Putting aside your faith in G‑d, what about G‑d's faith in you?

There is a powerful prayer that we say as soon as we wake up in the morning:

I give thanks to you, Living and Eternal King, for You have returned my soul to me with kindness. How great is Your faith.

The faith referred to here is not our faith in G‑d, but rather "Your faith"--G‑d's faith in us.
If your faith in G‑d doesn't get you out of bed, what about G‑d's faith in you?
The very fact that we have woken up is proof that G‑d believes in us. He knows that we are not perfect, is well aware of our failings and knows the mistakes we have made. And yet, in the morning after our sleep, He returns our soul to us and gives us another chance, because He trusts us. He has faith in our ability to change and make today a bit better than yesterday. We may or may not believe in Him, we may or may not believe in ourselves, but G‑d believes in us.

Humans are fickle; G‑d is constant. His faith in us is firm and unchanging, even if our faith in Him is shaky. That's the faith of an Israelite, one who struggles with G‑d. We may be struggling, but we are struggling with G‑d - He is always there.

If you woke up this morning, if your soul was returned to you to see another day, then give thanks. Start your day with a prayer, if not out of your faith in G‑d, then at least out of G‑d's faith in you. He trusts you enough to give you a precious soul. Use it.

Aron Moss is rabbi of the Nefesh Community in Sydney, Australia, and is a frequent contributor to Chabad.org.
Artwork by Sarah Kranz.
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L. Seth Phoenix, Arizona March 9, 2017

If G_d has not revealed himself to one, how proud is that person to think that it is because of him and not of Him. Isn't He greater than us and the onus on him to show himself to us. If we don't perceive him with our eyes, our limited field of view, compared to His great field of view, it is because of His choice. Correct.

So you must continue with your small perception, within His, until that time you might catch a glimpse of Him. The realizing that He was there the entire time, then you will know. The truth hath no need of defense. Reply

kay richmond January 29, 2017

Every morning All things work for good for all of us who love G-d. Thank G-d even when you don't feel like it. He knows us far better than we know ourselves, and there is comfort in that . He made us. Thank Him! Lovely article Reply

Paul College Station via jewishaggies.com May 31, 2014

I'm kinda sleepy, but I cannot think of a better prayer than thank you G-d for returning my soul for another day, as suggested.
Wait I thought of one, G-d help me to not think you have more faith in me than I have in you! Reply

Yisroel Cotlar Cary NC February 26, 2014

Re: Here is a great article on the nature on faith in Judaism:


What is interesting though is that the word EMUNAH (faith) also comes from the word UMAN, meaning craftsman. Just as a craftsman practices in order to perfect their work, it is our APPLICATION of faith through actual Mitzvot that strengthen that hidden emuna inside of all of us.

With this understanding the faith is always there. It just needs to be revealed. And applying it in action is one good way to do so. Reply

Daniel ben Avraham Avinu California February 24, 2014

Is "faith" action? What is "faith?" Is it performing ritual despite a feeling of distance from G-d? Is it performing good deeds in spite of this distant feeling/lack of connection? Are prayer and acts of loving-kindness expressions of faith even if the intellectual part of faith is not present? In other words, can we practice faith without even knowing it?

I'm afraid I don't fully understand "faith." But I do know the feeling of distance from G-d. Reply

Pam Nyc August 16, 2013

Faith and belief Yes we can thank Gd for believing in us, but what of the rest of humanity? The millions who die each year do because Gd doesnt believe in them? What does unsteady faith really mean? Reply

Shulamit Melbourne Australia. March 5, 2013

Thank you "Faith in you". That is a fresh perspective for me. A very moving article. Reply

Kolyah ben Avraham Pasadena, CA March 5, 2013

tooth faries, huh? When people say they do not believe in any kind of G-d, or that they have concluded that there is no such thing in reality; I must ask them, "Where are you then?" Anatomically, there is no control room, no steering wheel, no single place in the body to which we can say, 'This is where you are.' Atoms have been found to be energies, which vibrate between many dimensions, therefore; your own consciousness, (which has no mass, and no actual location) is moving all of these vibrations that are also equally non-corporeal, through an entire lifetime and we say we exist, yet by the same logic of the tooth fairy guy; we can not be, and our consciousness is a myth, which cannot be proven at the subatomic level. Sorry to tell you this but in opposition I know I exist, and because I do exist, Without proof; the higher world must also exist. EYEH means this very thing; "I exist" The power of a group of people is greater than the sum of its individuals, the same principal applies to Elokim. Reply

Michael Fenton NJ March 5, 2013

G-d's faith in us What then of the one who doesn't awake? What of the young child who dies prematurely, the young parents who are blotted out by a wanton act of disregard? Does this mean G-d has no faith in these people? That somehow G-d lost faith? That they are unworthy? This cannot be but your logic would suggest that if we awake that is proof of faith in us but if we don't it must mean lost faith. That is unacceptable to me. Reply

Anonymous Earth March 5, 2013

I'd sooner believe in the tooth fairy Sorry but no more Iron Age superstition for me, thank you very much. There are no gods, demons, or angels - there never was. Life is what you make of it but prayer is nothing but a pathetic attempt to deny one's own mortality and the ultimate meaninglessness of life. We are born, we live, we reproduce, we die and we are forgotten - that's all she wrote, folks, there isn't any more. Reply

Bertrand ESCAFFRE France March 5, 2013

b H Shalom,

I had an N.D.E., and knowledge of the Afterworld in such circumstances is reputed to concern one person on twenty on earth.

However, thanx to all wisemen of this world ! For even with this experience, I have doubts and doubts and doubts and the struggle is gigantic every year. Let's call it gravitation. I call it the Samson syndrom.

Thanx G.od that Israel continues to exist as promised in Torah, thanx to the few ones amongst all other nations, who try to search Truth the right way, knowledge instead of wishfull thinking.

And thanx to the site ;)

Mazal Tov ! Reply

ruth housman marshfield hills, ma March 5, 2013

it's a journey Be LEAF, and Be LIEF... life is a circle... a GARDEN Story... Which is stronger? The person who believes because he has been taught to believe, or, the person whose life takes him through all iterations of belief, including agnosticism, and atheism, and then he finds the path, that is, undying belief in G_d? Finding that absolute, personal, Proof.

All paths are beautiful but I do believe the struggle somehow creates its own beauty, as in the sand rubbing inside the oyster shell. It's the "rub" that creates the pearl and the shine. But then again, actually, no one traverses life without doubt, even the true believer, questions, because life does throw us against the rocks and in bleeding we often turn to ask, where is G_d? And G_d does not always answer back, in a clear way, and so the search is everything. Then it all becomes clear. Everything is Illuminated. Reply

Kolyah Pasadena, CA February 23, 2012

A question then... B"H
Is faith the same as belief? If I don't believe in a G-d (as most others understand that word) can I still say that I have faith? It has been my experience that the answer is a big 'Yes'. Ex.; Is the soldier on a battlefield not acting upon faith when he (or she) stands up in the midst of battle, shots of hot lead whizzing by, as he (she) charges forward regardless of fear, and consequence to take on say; an enemy tank, or machine gun nest in order to save the lives of his fellow countrymen. Whether he (or she) believes they will succeed or not, does not come into their mind when making the decision to act. 'Faith' has an element of courage and the bravery to act even without certainty. Of 'Belief'; courage is not a requirement. You do not have to have 'Belief' in order to have Faith. IT IS AS IT IS (Eyeh Asher Eyeh)- Is a name of G-d. All of Reality, including the greater part of it, which is unknown to us. Is 'belief' the same as acceptance of reality? "Use the Force Luke!" Reply

Karen Joyce Chaya Fradle Kleinman Bell Riverside, CA, USA February 20, 2012

G-d has faith in me. I have to repeat that often, because I surely don't have faith in my self most of the time. Thank you. Reply

Mrs. Beatriz Reis February 18, 2012

To Victoria If you mean knowledge as in science, all I have to say is the more I understand science, the closer I feell to understanding my Creator.
Faith? I don't know. It's not a talent one acquires nor a disease one may catch -for lack of better comparison, sorry about that. I think one, all of us, are born with it, knowledge of a Creator.
Perhaps, later in life, after a few disappointments, realizations that fighting our evil inclination is not as easy as we first thought and will go on to the day we die, that free will is a double edged sword, that it will require WORK to grow up, than perhaps something inside gives up, perhaps just out of plain laziness or whatever.
If ones never looses one's sense of wonder - because all the Creator has made IS wonderful - worlds within worlds, infinite, from the macro to the micro universe, it's all wonderful, awe-full, in any direction one looks...
I think one has just to open one's eyes, and there is no need to have "faith." What is that anyway? Reply

Karen Joyce Chaya Fradle Kleinman Bell Riverside, CA August 2, 2011

This is the first article from Chabad I found SO important to my life that I PRINTED IT OUT and put it in my daily journal! Thank you so much. I didn't catch the saying in the prayer until you pointed it out, "G-D's faith in US". Wow. That is deep. Thank you. Reply

Rob W. Pittsburgh, PA / USA March 9, 2011

To Susan re: Mother Nature / G-d I took an Introduction to Bio-Psychology course in college. Professor Colavita often made reference to "Mother Nature" in his lectures. It didn't bother me, and it didn't seem to bother anyone else. I thought that he could have easily said "G-d" or "Our Heavenly Father" instead and it would have meant exactly the same thing. However, I'll bet it would have ruffled a lot of feathers had he made such substitutions. Either way, such language projects an anthropomorphism onto the great reality around us such that we may relate to it more personally.

I'm not so atheistic as OJB, but I am a skeptical Jew. My thoughts about G-d tend to morph between Deism, Pantheism, and of course, Panenthism (which is found in Chassidic philosophy). I often tell people that I have an "agnostic faith." I told Rabbi Altein, that I worship nature, but that I am skeptical of miracles. He made an announcement in shul: "Remember, Folks, there's just one G-d. G-d of Nature, G-d of Miracles; same G-d!" Reply

Kolyah Pasadena, CA September 7, 2010

Disbelief I disbelieve in a Noun called G-d. I do have absolute trust in the fact of a Verb known as 'G-d'. When someone practices the mitzvahs of Torah with acts of love toward other people, that action itself is what I view to be G-d. We disbelieve because our minds have become accustomed to the mindsets of the Greco-Roman world. Someone says the word 'G-d' and we instantly think of that painting in the Sistine Chapel of some giant man with a flowing white beard, and lightning in his eyes. Well, sorry folks! That is not my G-d. It never was, and never shall be. That is none other than Zeus, Osiris, or Baal. We are not to worship G-d in that way. He is not a god like that. Theirs are nouns formed from the imaginations of men. G-d is anything but. So I say He is a perpetual verb, which makes Him true and not of me, or my imagination; but simple & plain fact. Wanna 'see' Him? Go do something wonderful for another human being whom you do not know, without them knowing that it was you, UC? Reply

rhl September 5, 2010

dear anon from cocoa beach Depression.

I understand from your post that you are depressed since your husbands death. And i completely get you. I have experienced depression and it has taken me 3 years to start coming out from its spell. My advice is to keep moving. Find activities to keep you active and busy or the depression gets worse and drags on and on. I tried to find answers in my mind but there weren't any, it's better to just get moving in life and find something meaningful to do. Volunteer maybe. I have recently started doing that, it's not easy but it does help. Reply

rhl September 5, 2010

My apologies I was very angry and very upset on Friday when i wrote this post. The anger and upset had been boiling for a while and I was overcome. I can't believe I wrote that. When life goes our way we see G-d everywhere, when life pushes us around for a long time we feel like failures and G-d is nowhere to be found. It's my own pain that was talking, I apologise please forgive me. I know that my understanding of G-d needs work , clearly.
WOW I am so embarressed. On the other hand i think its wonderful that we can express these baddies within us so that we can see them instead of them lurking under the surface within us derailing us in silence Reply

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