Help me in my unbelief

April 25, 2020

IN A MOVING scene in Mark 9, Jesus had just come down from the Mount of Transfiguration and saw a large crowd. The religious leaders (“the teachers of the law”) were arguing with His disciples.

When He asked what the commotion was all about, a man in the crowd answered, “Teacher, I brought you my son, who is possessed by a spirit that has robbed him of speech.  Whenever it seizes him, it throws him to the ground. He foams at the mouth, gnashes his teeth, and becomes rigid. I asked your disciples to drive out the spirit, but they could not.”

Can you imagine the father’s living nightmare? Here was his beloved son, the fruit of his loins, his pride and joy. But the son was not merely seized by epilepsy. It seemed like he was seized by the agents of hell itself. How many sleepless nights had that father gone through? How many screams of anguish had he hurled to heaven? How many years of distress did he endure?

It is telling that both the teachers of the law and Jesus’ disciples were there, yet they were impotent. They could not heal the boy. The first group knew their Bible; they can cross all the T’s and dot all the I’s as far as doctrine is concerned. The second group was empowered to cast out demons (Mark 3:15). But the father complained they could not cast the spirit out. He was going through his own version of unanswered prayer.

The man cried to Jesus, “But if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.” The Lord responded, “If you can? Everything is possible for him who believes.” The next line is heart-wrenching. Immediately, the boy’s father exclaimed, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” If we were to peer into his anguish, it would look like this:

Teacher, I really want to believe. My boy’s life depends on it. But there’s something in me that holds back. I really don’t understand. Maybe I have been living with this nightmare for so long, I can’t imagine anything else. I went from doctor to doctor; they had my hopes up only to dash them to pieces. Now I’m broke because I spent everything I have had to find a cure. Even my wife has given up hope.

I don’t know what’s more painful: my boy’s condition or the disappointment. And I’m so, SO sick and tired! I wonder if this will ever end! Where is God in all this? Are You really the Messiah people say You are? You are my last hope. If You let me down, then that’s the end of my world. I might as well curl up and die…

Did Jesus wag a disapproving finger at him? “Until you believe 100%, I won’t heal your son.” Did Jesus give him an extended Bible study? “All things work together for good.” Did Jesus tell him to hang tough? “Hey, man up! It’s to shape your character and beef up your faith.”

No, Jesus, in His wonderful mercy, healed the son. He took the father’s belief, no matter how miniscule or fragile or struggling it was. Is doubt a sin? Maybe a better answer is “What of it?” What does it matter if Jesus is gracious to those who believe, yet ask for His help in their unbelief?

In much the same way, Jesus could have castigated us for our doubt. But that’s not His style. Instead, He sees a sliver of trust in our crisis of faith and He honors it. I am not saying that He will give us the miracle we so desperately want. Rather, I am saying that if we cannot trust Him for what He will do, we trust Him for Who He is. “A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out, until he leads justice to victory. In his name the nations will put their hope” (Matthew 12:20, echoing Isaiah 42).

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