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Father Richard Kunst: When doubt creeps in

Perhaps this might sound like I am stating the obvious, but I feel like I have a pretty strong faith. Faith is a gift, so I certainly do not take it for granted, and yet in saying I have a strong faith I also have to admit that from time to time I have small shades of doubt, and that these tremors of doubt almost always come when I am reading about astronomy, which is a subject I have always been interested in. 

Father Richard Kunst

As science develops and we have a greater awareness of the universe, we get a clearer picture of the size and scope of it all. As new telescopes get sent further out into space, we are seeing images of distant galaxies that seem to be more science fiction than fact, but they are indeed fact. I don’t want to overwhelm you with data, but just give you enough to have a healthy appreciation of the world we live in. 

As a benchmark, it has been slightly over a billion minutes since Jesus was crucified. Let that sink in a little. Our sun, which is one star in the galaxy of the Milky Way, burns off 350 billion tons of its weight every day. Again, let that sink in. In the Milky Way, astronomers estimate there to be 100 billion stars. Thanks to modern telescopes, we can detect about 200 billion other galaxies like ours. To put it another way, it is said that there are more stars in the universe than there are grains of sand on earth! 

I would like to say “let that sink in” again, but it can’t sink in. There is no way we can fathom this sort of number and size; it is too far beyond us. The fact of the matter is that the more we learn about the universe, the more unbelievable Christianity becomes. The more modern astronomy reveals the secrets of the universe, the more farfetched Christianity’s claims seem to be. 

There are 100 billion stars in our galaxy and 200 billion other galaxies besides ours, and yet Christianity’s claim is that the person who created the entire universe came to earth in our image because he loves us so much. Seem farfetched? 

At this point there is an attractive quote in one of the Gospels which I would like to draw our attention to. It takes place in Mark’s Gospel. Some of the Apostles are trying to cure a young man of some possessed spirit, but they are unable to do so. Then the father of the man asks Jesus to help, and the man says: “I do believe, help my unbelief” (Mark 9:24). 

It is natural and even normal to have doubts from time to time. How can there be a being that created this universe and then came to our insignificant planet because he loves us? It is OK to scratch your head from time to time and wonder about all of it. It is OK to say, “I believe, help my unbelief!” 

But the line spoken by the father of the possessed man should always be read in tandem with another line from the Gospel of John. After Jesus gives the “Bread of Life” discourse, in which he repeatedly says that in order to have life we have to eat his flesh and drink his blood, many, if not most of those who had been following Jesus left him, because they could not accept what he was saying. The Gospel says that they abandoned him because the saying of eating his flesh and drinking his blood was “too hard,” to which Jesus turns to the Twelve and asks if they are going to leave too. Peter responds, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life” (John 6:68). 

“I do believe, help my unbelief.” “Lord to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” When we are faced with doubt, no matter what that doubt may look like, whether it’s from studying the size and scope of the universe or from anything else that might cause doubt, there is really nowhere else to go, there is no viable second option to Jesus. 

Jesus is the one who gives our life meaning; without him we are truly nothing more than microbes feeding off a speck of dust traveling around an average size star in an averaged size galaxy among 200 billion other galaxies. By any measure, we are pretty insignificant, unless we believe. Unless we believe that the one who did create all of this truly did come to our little planet so that we could be with him in heaven. It may all be farfetched, but it is all true. 

Father Richard Kunst is pastor of St. James and St. Elizabeth in Duluth. Reach him at [email protected].