In the 1990s, there was a band, five o’clock people, a fully-acoustic, coffee-house ensemble that popped up in Portland, Oregon. They were unique and, in many ways, quite good.
One of their songs titled Lunar describes the difficult pursuit of faith as “a lunar endeavor” wherein we constantly grasp for daylight but end up with fistfuls of night. It’s a gut-wrenching, yet apt description of our pursuit of faith.
On the heels of that description, however, the singer asks what I believe to be a profound question, saying, “And I wonder, is doubt the way of faith sometimes?”1
The purist will object and say, “No! Doubt and faith are polar opposites.” But are they?
When they came to the other disciples, they saw a large crowd around them and the teachers of the law arguing with them. As soon as all the people saw Jesus, they were overwhelmed with wonder and ran to greet him.
“What are you arguing with them about?” he asked.
A man in the crowd answered, “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.” – Mark 9:14-18, ESV
I am curious how the events described above resulted in an argument between the disciples and the scribes. Were the scribes taunting the disciples for their inability to exorcise the demon? Were they arguing over the appropriateness of the attempt? Someday I hope to ask the disciples what, exactly, this argument was about. If the situation were not so grave, it could even be humorous.
We know the disciples were able to cast out demons. Jesus had already given them the authority to do so in Mark 6:7 & 13.
The conversation continued, and eventually the demon-possessed boy was placed before Jesus.
Interestingly, we are told that the demon “saw Jesus” and, in response, threw the boy into a convulsive, mouth-foaming fit. The demon did not speak to Jesus, which makes sense because we know from verse 25 that the demon caused the boy to be both deaf and mute.
And here is where the story begins to address our issue of doubt and faith.
Jesus inquired how long these fits and attacks had been happening, to which the boy’s father responded, “From childhood,” describing how the demon would often throw the boy into fire or water, ostensibly to kill him. Then the man said, “But if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.”
The man had brought his son to Jesus looking for a healing or exorcism. From that fact alone, there had to be some level of belief or expectation that Jesus could accomplish that, yet the man said, “if.”
And Jesus said to him, “‘If you can’! All things are possible for one who believes.” Immediately the father of the child cried out and said, “I believe; help my unbelief!” – Mark 9:23-24, ESV
There is a subtle reversal of the conversation in Jesus’ response. Just as the man said to Jesus, “If you can … if you have the ability … ” Jesus says to the man, “If you believe … anything can happen!”
Was the man’s faith wavering because of the failure of the disciples? That had to be frustrating and disappointing. We learn a couple of valuable lessons from this.
- We cannot measure the abilities or authority of the King by the inabilities of his subjects. Our shortcomings are not a reflection on the authority or power of Christ.
- Despite the truth of #1, people will measure Jesus by what they see in us. Thus, we are to “keep our behavior excellent” among the unbelieving.
The question is never Jesus’ power, but my assessment of that power.
To me, the response of the father to Jesus is one of the most profound statements on faith in the entire canon of scripture. “I do believe. Help my unbelief!” I suspect every person reading this can identify with what that man is saying.
Is it an oxymoron? Technically, yes. Practically? Not at all. We get it.
Jesus, we believe. Please help our unbelief!
The cry of the man is βοήθει (boeithei), and it goes far beyond just, “Help me out here Jesus.” βοήθει is closer to the idea of rescue. As a combination of two terms, to cry out and to run, this is the term used to describe running toward the cry of one who is in peril in order to render aid. I do believe Jesus. Rescue me from this unbelief.
1. Five O’clock People, Lunar, from the CD fall, 1997 Independent