“‘If you can’?” said Jesus. “Everything is possible for one who believes.” Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” – Mark 9, verses 23-24.
These are perhaps the most profound words in the entire Bible that express simple, unvarnished, honest faith. I find it intensely comforting that someone face to face with Jesus Himself would exclaim these words to Him, exposing the very nerves of his soul, baring everything to the Son of Man. It’s comforting because we can do the same.
The boy’s father was distraught, desperate. His son was dying, Jesus’ Apostles were powerless, and Jesus seemed to be dithering. All the father wants is what any father wants: for his son to live. Yet here is Jesus seemingly stuck in this teachable moment. He isn’t accusing the man but He is forcing the man to get down to brass tacks on what matters most. Immediately the man responded; not a week later, not after taking some time to consider Jesus’ words: immediately. And the amazing thing is how the man gets on Jesus’ level, going where the Lord is leading him.
I hadn’t really considered these verses very much until a few months ago in church when our worship leader, Anthony, remarked on them during his devotion. As I listened to Anthony I was struck by how profound the words are, confessing in the fewest words possible the nearest and dearest concept of faith. “Jesus, I believe in You but I still have my doubts. Help me overcome my doubts.” The man said them right to Jesus’ face. Can you imagine the desperate humility and courage it must have taken to say them? Indeed, I think those words are the battle that every unbeliever, atheist and agnostic fights every day of their lives. Some give up on the battle; some are plagued by doubts; some grow cold; some bask in the wonder of the logic.
But don’t go away thinking it is only unbelievers who struggle with belief. Every believer, from St. Peter on down to us, struggles with their faith at some point in life. Doubts, anxieties, questions, stress, and exhaustion all plague us from time to time. They cause us to waver in things that we know are true; more to the point, we let them cause us to waver. If one can waver in love, in the law, in the ways of this world, or in the friendship of other people, then one can waver in one’s faith in Jesus. It isn’t rejection: it’s doubting; doubting as much in our own strength as in His strength to help us persevere and overcome.
In those moments, it’s good to come back to these verses and remember two things about them. One, Jesus promised that everything is possible if we believe in Him. He meant those words especially for people living in doubt. Then, the man in front of him confessed his simply humanity and exposed the bare surfaces of his heart and his overwhelming need for what only Jesus could do. And in doing so, Jesus delivered in ways that still resonate for us here today.
Lord, I too struggle with unbelief. Forgive me for this, and strengthen me inside to close out the darkness by shining on it Your light of belief.
Read Mark 9, verses 14-29.