Help Me in My Unbelief

2020 has been a year where I have been overwhelmed by the goodness of God.

It has also been the year in which I struggled to see it the most.

Because I am a believer, but I struggle with unbelief. There are moments when I am filled with faith and awe, sure I am sitting in the presence of God. And there are other times, overcome with grief, disappointment, and fear, when I struggle to reconcile the God I know with the reality of the world around me.

Nothing has put that in starker contrast than this year. And as we roll into the Thanksgiving holidays, I look back with gratitude in the ways God has provided, guided, and blessed my family over the last few months; I also shake my head at the violence, death, and devastation the world has endured right alongside those blessings.

It doesn’t make any sense. None of it makes any sense. How can the God who is so loving and kind, so merciful and good, be the same One who allowed a pandemic to sweep across the globe, killing hundreds of thousands and causing untold suffering to so many more?

My heart wrestles within me. My faith fights with itself.

I find myself whispering the words of the desperate father in Mark 9: “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24b)

Here was a man who, much like many of us, wanted so desperately to believe. Hardship and misfortune surrounded him; his son had been afflicted by an evil spirit since childhood, rendering him speechless and causing violent seizures. Years of suffering had driven this man to seek out any and all sources of help, only to be disappointed and disillusioned when each “cure” failed time and time again.

Hearing about the miracles performed by these disciples of a man named Jesus, his hope had risen once more, and he’d taken his son to them, begging for them to heal him.

But they couldn’t.

These men, whom Jesus had given “authority over evil spirits” (Mark 6:7) and had “[driven] out many demons and anointed many sick people with oil and healed them” (Mark 6:13), were unable to help this man’s son. (Mark 9:18b)

Another disappointment. Another dead-end.

And yet look at what happens in Mark 9. Despite all hopelessness, despite all the past failures–including the insufficiency of the disciples–the man still approaches Jesus.

I think to truly appreciate this moment, we have to picture the scene as it would have been. There was a large gathering of people. I imagine it was hot, crowded, and loud. Some were pushing to get close to Jesus, to see this man about whom rumors were swirling. Scripture also tells us that teachers of the law were present, arguing and protesting this “false prophet.”

It was chaos. It was confusion. For a man filled with desperation, losing all hope, it would have been easy to walk away. It wasn’t worth fighting the masses, enduring the shouts and tension that could easily erupt into violence. Besides, His followers couldn’t help his son; what reason did he have to hope that this fellow Jesus could?

And yet he pressed forward. He approached Jesus. He spoke to Jesus.

“…if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.” (Mark 9:22b)

Despite everything–despite his despair, despite his waning faith–he still asked Jesus for help.

Notice the pronoun the father used in his plea. He didn’t ask just for healing for his son; he asked for healing for “us.” Because as horrifying as his son’s physical affliction may have been, the father’s spiritual condition was just as bad.

“‘If you can’?’ said Jesus. ‘Everything is possible for him who believes.’ Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, ‘I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!'” (Mark 9:23-24)

I see the doubt in this man’s statement. But Jesus saw his faith.

There was faith in the approach. There was faith in the asking.

Small, fractured, broken faith.

You see, we don’t need perfect faith to come to Jesus. He accepts our imperfections and our doubts while also challenging us to rise above them. This man was openly suspicious about Jesus’s ability to help, and yet Jesus did not rebuke him or scold him or even refuse to help. Instead, He met the man exactly where he was–clinging to only the tiniest shred of faith–and from there, performed a miracle.

The place we need to go when we have doubts about Jesus–when the world is overwhelming and darkness seems to overpower light–is to the very feet of Jesus Himself.

I’m guessing there was a full-up battle raging in this father’s heart that day. He could have stayed home. He could have walked away, given up. Misfortune after misfortune had broken him; he had no real reason to believe Jesus would do anything except let him down.

And yet he approached him anyway. He laid bare his doubts anyway. He was honest in his grief and his disbelief.

And Jesus still answered.

Much like this man, the troubles of this world have led to a wretchedness inside my soul. I grieve, I suffer, I wrestle with my faith…all at the feet of Jesus. Because I know, even my doubt, I am safe with Him. He will not leave. He will not scold. He will not cringe.

Instead, He will meet me where I am. He will love.

And He will heal.

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