A man in the crowd [said], “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.”
“You unbelieving generation,” Jesus replied, “how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring the boy to me.”
So they brought him. When the spirit saw Jesus, it immediately threw the boy into a convulsion. He fell to the ground and rolled around, foaming at the mouth.
Jesus asked the boy’s father, “How long has he been like this?”
“From childhood,” he answered. “It has often thrown him into fire or water to kill him. But if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.”
“‘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!”
* * *
For the longest time, I didn’t really understand this story from Mark 9. I read it as another healing/miracle story, but found in it no real personal connection. The somewhat clinical way that Jesus speaks always seemed interesting; it’s not a tone you find much in scripture. The father, though, baffled me. How can you believe and yet have unbelief? It must be one or the other, right? Of course, life is rarely so black and white, and these days I find myself sympathizing with the father more than ever.
My life is one of flux right now, with more questions than answers. At times like these, I go to places like Jeremiah 29:11 or Matthew 10:29 and I know the truth of God’s word. I have seen first-hand the faithfulness declared by these passages, often when my doubts were at their greatest. When I’ve either not been looking for it or most questioned it, God’s help has been there. On that evidence, you would think I would have more faith as the years go by, less anxiety.
Instead, I find my soul is one of contradiction. I do believe in God’s providence and do trust it. If you were to ask me about the future, I would tell you without hesitation that God will make a way, because I know He will. Nevertheless, even as those words leave my mouth, a worm of uneasiness turns over in my belly and makes me doubt everything I say. It doesn’t undercut what I believe, but the anxiety does run parallel to my faith, and that gets more than a little confusing. No wonder Jesus gets exasperated with us. I always picture Him throwing up His hands, maybe even casting a rueful glance heavenward. In the next breath, though, He moves to answer the father’s prayer. He doesn’t judge or condemn the man for his unbelief, but accepts it and saves the boy (something only He could do). This is an act of grace which answers an imperfect, but sincere, cry. So long as I can remember that, my unbelief cannot come between me and God.
This is what I love about scripture. No matter where you are in life, regardless of where you’ve been, the Word always has something to say. It meets you exactly where you are and says exactly what you need to hear, provided you have the ears to hear.
So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows. (Matthew 10:31)