Help my unbelief

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The longer pilgrims walk on the journey of life towards eternity, the more they realize how much they are lacking to make (and certainly complete) that journey.

We are far from perfect.
We are far from strong.
We are far from wise.
We are far from patient.
We are far from content.

We are far from trusting and believing the way we should.

Mark 9 shows me several lessons. Lessons for a pilgrim who is looking in faith, but who often realizes that my “looking” is dimmed. I believe, but help my unbelief.

The highs and lows of Mark 9. The transfiguration of Jesus, then descending the mountain to find a crowd arguing with the disciples. It didn’t take long for that mountain top experience to be plunged back into the realities of a broken world.

Immediately after the Mount of Transfiguration the scene moves from light to darkness, from glory to sin-wrecked lives. It was a descent from power to helplessness. Jesus’ disciples were at this point impotent in their opposition to Satan and in their ministry to a broken world.

Before Jesus heals a boy with an unclean spirit, a critical lesson on faith is presented.

The father of the boy, and the way he speaks to Jesus is what jumps out for me.

First, he brings the boy to Jesus. He comes at least with the knowledge that Jesus (“Teacher” as he calls him) can heal him (9:17).

Second, after explaining the dire situation of his son’s condition, he says, “if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.”

Most commentaries focus in on the “if you can” statement and seem to gloss over the request for compassion, mercy, and help. It seems that these words are a precursor to his next request.

Third then, the father responds to Jesus’ words that basically say, “I can, but do you believe I can is the question?” Mark says that the father wastes no time (“immediately”), he cries out, “I believe; help my unbelief!”

Here is an honest man, one of the most transparent characters in the Bible. His faith was trembling, imperfect, but real!

A faith which declares itself publicly, and at the same time recognizes its weaknesses and pleads for help, is a real faith.

My imperfect faith (I cannot fool myself into thinking I always trust, always believe with a perfect faith) is at different times mixed with belief and unbelief. This man’s plea acknowledges that without God we cannot believe as we ought to believe.

Trials in life seem to bring out our imperfections. Trials in life seem to heighten our understanding of our weaknesses. Trials in life bring us to new experiences with the power of God to sustain us, uphold us, work in us and through us.

The father’s “if you can” statement and Jesus’ reply also teaches me that God’s capability is not at issue: “Everything is possible for him who believes” (9:23). This affirmation does not mean that faith can accomplish anything but that those who have faith “will set no limits to the power of God.”

Jesus healed the boy, even though the father of the boy showed faulty (and admitted it) faith. This is not the typical pattern in the gospels or in our typical thinking of how God answers prayer.

Lord, I come daily to you declaring that I am in need of mercy. My faith and trust is far from perfected, but you know that well. You know me perfectly, and you still love me. Thank you for your power that is beyond my comprehension. Thank you that your knowledge is perfect (of the past, present, and future) and that your goodness permeates everything that you are doing, have done, and will do. Help me to believe in you even when the life before me is full of unknowns, questions, and messes that are beyond my comprehension. You have me right where you want me.

One comment

  1. Such wonderfully honest writing, brother. Of Paul’s struggles N.T. Wright wrote, “He had sometimes been tempted to wonder whether he had been wasting his time… He played it through the mental loop of Isaiah 49. He carried on through heartache and collapse, but also through moments of great encouragement and celebration.”


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