And Jesus said to him, "'If you can! All things are possible for one who believes." 24 Immediately the father of the child cried out and said, "I believe; help my unbelief!" Mark 9:23-24
Faith and doubt live in constant tension. We want to grow in faith but doubts always seem to accompany faith. Believe it or not, this is not actually a bad thing. But, many of us struggle with the thinking that doubts are wrong and so, we heap guilt on top of our doubts. There is a better way.
In Mark 9, a father brings his sick child to Jesus. The child is deaf and mute. And there is an evil spiritual force at work in his body as well. In his desperation, this father had asked Jesus’ disciples to heal the boy, but they could not do it. So, when the father asks Jesus to heal his son, it makes sense why he has his doubts. If Jesus’ closest followers couldn’t heal his boy, why should he have confidence that Jesus could? So he hedges. He says to Jesus, “If you can heal my son.” Jesus then invites the father to exercise deeper faith in God. The father immediately responds with one of the most honest confessions in the Bible, “I believe; help my unbelief!”
The father starts with an affirmation of faith, “I believe.” He is saying, I trust you Jesus even though I don’t have all my questions answered. But even his final statement of “help my unbelief” is a confession of faith. Don’t miss the fact that he asks Jesus to help his spiritual weakness. He is not just acknowledging his doubts and lack of faith. He is expressing faith in the fact that Jesus can do something about his doubts and lack of faith.
We all have doubts. Some may be doubting God’s goodness; others may be doubting God’s power. Some may be doubting both! We don’t have to beat ourselves up about our doubts. Jesus did not rebuke this father for admitting his unbelief. In fact, he responds to his cry for help and heals his son. This is instructive. Rather than feeling guilty over our doubts or trying to suppress them, we should express them to God. And we should ask God to help us with those doubts.
Could it be that our doubts are not opposed to God’s plan but part of God’s plan to drive us to himself in greater dependence and humility? In talking with other Christians and from the experience in my own life, I have found that doubts are part of what draws us closer to God.
Maybe today you need to cry out to God, help my unbelief! Maybe you need to thank God that your theology is not so nice and neat that it prevents you from desperately seeking God’s face. Maybe you can find some comfort knowing that your unanswered questions are causing you to walk by faith and not by sight. And maybe we can all find confidence knowing that our God cares about every detail of our lives. And one day he will pull back the veil and it will all make sense. And we will stand in awe of the beautiful tapestry he has been weaving through our lives.