I do believe; help my unbelief!
Mark’s Gospel is fun—lots of fun. In Mark’s Gospel, do you know what we encounter right after Jesus’ Transfiguration? We encounter a demon-possessed son, a desperate father, and arguing disciples. Right down from glory into the mire Jesus went. The poor young man’s condition was terrifying. His father, “someone from the crowd,” explained, “Teacher, I brought my son to you, for he has a spirit that makes him mute. And whenever it seizes him, it throws him down, and he foams and grinds his teeth and becomes rigid. So I asked your disciples to cast it out, and they were not able” (Mark 9:17,18).
After a little grumbling—even Messiahs can get frustrated—Jesus turned His focus to the poor, miserable child. And the devil knew what he was in for, and so he convulsed the boy something terrible. Jesus was moved, as He so often was by such circumstances in Mark’s Gospel. The father explained that the boy had suffered all this since childhood. Imagine that. Imagine how helpless the father had felt. He had exhausted his resources. He surely had exhausted himself in prayer. And yet, again and again, often, demons cast his son about, even into fire and water, “to destroy him.”
Most of us haven’t suffered to that extent. Many of us don’t even know someone who has. But we have taken our beatings. We have been subject to the devil’s abuse, amplified by our own sinful nature. We’ve been tossed about, shaken. We’ve lost hope. We’ve felt helpless, whether for ourselves or for a loved one. We’ve been desperate—and it is a gift of God when we are, when we realize our lost condition!
“Help him, if you can,” the man pled with Jesus. “If you can?!” Of course Jesus can. But this man wasn’t here to do theology. He couldn’t even think straight. All he knew was that before him stood Hope. And maybe we’ve been there, too. We aren’t entirely sure of all the theological details. Our thoughts are rough and weary, ill-defined and unrefined. And even if we wanted them to be, there is no way for us to get there in the moment. We don’t have time for ideas. Our focus is on a Person, a Hope.
“If you can?!” Jesus makes plain that He is God, that all things are possible for Him. And He adds something else: “All things are possible for someone who believes.” Did this man believe? Perhaps he didn’t even know. He wanted to believe. He certainly had hitched his wagon to Jesus. He had gone to the right Person and he had asked for something entirely within that Person’s capabilities, and so he prays an honest prayer. He begs, “I believe; help my unbelief.”
Amen. We know the feeling. When the devil hurls his accusations, when we survey the aftermath of our sin, when a fallen world swallows us whole, when we reach the end of all hope in ourselves, we know the feeling. We could well pray the same prayer.
Did the man have enough faith? Did the man deserve for Jesus to answer his prayer? Did the man entirely understand the theology behind it all? I used to have a professor that liked to tell me that when I have a Christian on a deathbed who gets caught up in wondering if he or she has enough faith, I should reply, “To hell with such faith.” Faith is not our work, and faith isn’t weak or strong based on our merit. Faith is the gift of God, and it is in a Person, in Christ, and it is as strong as He is. It clings to Christ as He is, for us, and it pleads for the very thing He came to show: mercy.
Christ spoke, and out went the demon. Christ still speaks. He speaks to you, to me, to our brothers and sisters. And when He speaks, sin disappears, the devil flees, and new men and women are born, washed, clothed, restored. He goes to work on doubt, He steadies beggars’ hands.
“And after crying out and convulsing him terribly, it came out, and the boy was like a corpse, so that most of them said, “He is dead.” But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him up, and he arose” (Mark 9:26,27). They thought he was dead. And he was, good as dead that is, dead to sin, dead to the devil, to live again in Christ.
And so are we. And the same Savior that extended his hand to this boy so tormented by the devil reaches out His hand, pierced for our transgressions, to lift us up as well, through the Gospel, preached and administered in the sacraments. Even more, He closes His fingers around ours so tightly that there is no mistaking His love. He will not lose one of those entrusted to His fold, He reminds us—and He’s not joking. And thank God He’s not, because in that we find true freedom and peace. Amen.