Help My Unbelief

Excerpt from Seeing God, available now at Amazon

The instrument through which you see God is your whole self. And if a man’s self is not kept clean and bright, his glimpse of God will be blurred

C.S. Lewis – Mere Christianity

One of my favorite passages in Scripture and one that presents a clear picture of the concept this book is addressing is found in the Gospel of Mark in Chapter 9. Beginning in verse 14 we see the story of a desperate father, who has tried everything to help his hurting son. The boy is mute and has seizures as a result of his demon possession. The demon not only causes regular physical difficulties, but also tries to kill the boy, by throwing him in the fire or the water. That poor father! To love your son so much and yet have no power to help him. He must have been on edge every moment, knowing that at any time his son’s life could be at risk.

The father took the boy to the disciples, but they weren’t able to help the boy. Jesus says, “O faithless generation, how long am I to be with you? How long am I to bear with you? Bring him to me.” (9:19:ESV) The problem is faith. The disciples had been with Jesus for some time at this point and they had seen miracles. This rebuke could be seen as directed at them, but also at the scribes who were present. In verse 14, when Jesus showed up, he found the scribes arguing with the disciples. What a dreary site for not only Jesus, but especially for the father. He comes for help and those he comes to end up doing nothing but arguing. The church sometimes comes across like this to the world, when our arguments are displayed publicly on social media and blogs for all to see.

Theology and distinctions of belief are very significant, and we should care deeply about them, but we should never be found arguing about them in the face of real spiritual or human need. As believers, we are the hands and feet of Christ in our world today. This father didn’t care about their argument, he just wanted help. The father cried out to Jesus, “if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.” (9:22b:ESV) This is what the father wanted, someone to see his son as he saw him, to have compassion on their circumstances. When you are struggling with a trial, you want help, but you also don’t want to feel alone. As a church, it is so important not to merely talk about people going through a crisis, but to support them with empathy and care, even when we can’t fix the problem.

Jesus wants to make it clear to the father what the circumstances are, “‘If you can!’ All things are possible for one who believes.” (9:23:ESV) Jesus is unlimited in His capabilities, but He also bridges that power to all who have faith. We have access to His power through our faith in Him. This is the kind of teaching many of us as believers have heard repeatedly over the years. We are taught of the sovereignty of God, of a real, living God who does miracles. From Sunday School to the sermon we heard last week, we hear of a God who is able to do anything and has the power to not only change your life through salvation, but to help with physical circumstances through healing and His supernatural provision.

Despite all of that truth, which we have been exposed to over and over, many of us would be right to echo the words of this father in response to Jesus, “I believe; help my unbelief!” (9:24b:ESV) When we come to Christ in faith and join His Kingdom, we do believe. The Gospel means accepting the miracle of who Christ is, what He has done and what that means for us. We believe in that truth and we move forward in our life with Christ, hopefully growing in Him along the way. And yet, we don’t believe. We are sometimes afraid to pray for God to act in our lives and the lives of others. We are challenged with the doubt of a God that might not be big enough to provide for the circumstances that we find ourselves in.

Our unbelief can creep in over time as we give in to all of the challenges that we’ve talked about in the previous chapters, or it can slap us in the faith in a moment when we realize we thought that being a believer in Christ would protect us from physical loss and suffering. Jesus’ previous comment about them being a faithless generation wasn’t for this father, instead it was for those who stood to the side and argued in the face of this man’s very real and personal pain. Instead, Jesus offers no condemnation for the father’s confession of unbelief, He only acts. Jesus releases the son from bondage and gives him back to his father. At long last, despite the father’s imperfect faith, God had chosen to answer their prayer and end their suffering.

There are many lessons for us in this. This is one of those stories that doesn’t flow the way we might like. The disciples aren’t who we would want them to be. The father doesn’t really strike us as a person responding to Jesus as the Messiah and exhibiting true faith and worship, but a regular person, desperately seeking help in any way he might find it. Unlike some other healings in Scripture, he doesn’t turn and worship Jesus or proclaim any great truth about Him. Instead, the Bible is silent on his response and he fades out of history without another word. This passage is about Jesus, who He is and what He does, and it is about fallen sinners before Him. The father is someone any father of a child in need could relate to.

When Jesus chooses to heal the boy, it is because of who He is, not because of the father. Later, the disciples ask Jesus why it is that they were unable to help. Jesus responds, ““This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer.” (9:29:ESV) I can imagine how baffling that might have been for the disciples. Surely, they had prayed. Surely, they had done their best to imitate the things that they had seen Jesus do previously when He had healed others, and yet their efforts were ineffectual. There were probably many differences between their efforts to heal the boy and the father’s efforts to get help from Jesus, but the biggest difference was the amount of emotional capital they had invested.

Photo by Ric Rodrigues on

We can assume the disciples legitimately wanted the boy to be healed. I’m sure they felt some compassion for the father and didn’t want either of them to go on suffering, but the father needed it all to be true. His prayer and desire for the healing wasn’t superficial, it wasn’t something he hoped would work out, but it would be okay if it didn’t. Instead, the father was desperate. He would have given anything to see Jesus heal his son. He came to Christ without hope and yet, what if the things he had heard about Jesus were true. Could it be possible? He believed, but he didn’t believe and yet he really did need to believe that everything he had heard about Jesus was true. The father’s words to Jesus are an honest prayer expressed out of his pit of despair.

God is a loving and compassionate God and He understands this struggle. He would prefer we be real, like this father, struggling with our lack of faith. It is right and true to pray to God and ask for His help in our unbelief. Christ lived with human emotion; he knows the burden of this kind of struggle. In J.B. Phillips rendering of 1 Peter 5:7, it says, “You can throw the whole weight of your anxieties upon him, for you are his personal concern.” This is what that father needed to see. Someone who didn’t see his son in the abstract but would enter into the reality of their pain and meet them there, sharing their burden. That’s who God is. He knows all your doubts, so why not be honest about them?

Finding our way to this kind of honest transparency isn’t easy. Many of us grew up in environments which did not encourage us to express our doubts or talk frankly about them. Reading through the Psalms, you find the exact opposite. These passages are filled with people lamenting both their circumstances and their feelings of distance from God. Seeing God involves acknowledging the areas where He is out of focus to us and where it seems like His presence might be lacking. Until we really take stock of where we are at, it is difficult to know how far we are from where we want to get to. We should be willing to admit our need for help in the same way this father was when he cried out to Jesus.

Read the rest of the chapter by ordering Seeing God – For Who He Really Is

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