Help My Unbelief
In this passage we see someone in a crowd come forth and tell Jesus about a boy who was understood by the people to be possessed by a demon. ʺWherever it seizes him, it throws him down; he foams at the mouth, grinds his teeth, and becomes rigid. I asked your disciples to drive it out but they were unable to do so.ʺ Jesus asks the man about the boy and how long he has suffered so. The man says, ʺ since childhood. It has often thrown him into fire and into water to kill him. But If you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.ʺ To which Jesus replies, ʺIf you can! Everything is possible to one who has faith.ʺ The man then says something that speaks for our own hearts desire, that expresses our own plea to the Lord: ʺI do believe, help my unbelief.ʺ (Mk 9:21-24)
When Jesus ordered the demon to leave the boy, the demon shouted and threw the boy to the ground. To those witnessing this the boy appeared dead. But Jesus ʺtook him by the hand and raised him, and he stood up.ʺ (Mk 9:27) The disciples had been trying to heal the boy before this but had failed and they asked Jesus why they could not drive him out. Jesus told them, ʺThis kind can only come out through prayer.ʺ (Mk 9:29)
The final two phrases of the paragraphs above are tied together. Sometimes we encounter difficulties in this life that seem to be insurmountable. They try our last nerves, and no matter what we do, we get no results. It is at times like this that we are often moved to prayer. And sometimes it seems to us that our prayers are not being heard. We feel as though they are not working and, as a result, we can begin to doubt that God hears us, or that he even cares. These are the moments when our faith is most challenged. This is when we might hear our hearts shouting, Lord I believe, help my unbelief.ʺ
Faith is a matter of trust. In faith, we know that God’s ways are not our ways. We have all heard the aphorism, ʺGod works in mysterious ways.ʺ Though we know this, it is sometimes hard for us to accept it. But the fact is that sometimes we have to let God work in mystery for us. Our problem is that we want OUR answers to OUR prayers. Like children, when we do not get our own way, we can become angry, even bitter, and even foolishly turn away from the only One who truly knows what is best for us.
But when we cry out, in recognition of our smallness, in recognition of our dependence on God for all that is good, ʺLord, I do believe, help my unbelief,ʺ he hears that, and he will not fail to come to our aid. But that aid might be very different than what we expect. That aid may come in a form that surprises us. Instead of answering in the manner that we desire, he may answer by simply strengthening us in patient endurance. It might be in the peace that comes to us when we finally, ʺlet go and let God.ʺ We humans most often want the dramatic, the stunning miracle. But in the economy of God, the real miracles are in the clear ʺahaʺ moments of insight, in the sudden conversion of our hearts, in the growth of our faith. While God can, indeed, give us the ʺmiraclesʺ we seek, and sometimes does, he also gives us miracles that we might not see right away, that we suddenly understand in a moment of insight.
In either case, it is prayer that brings these things about. It is God who knows the deepest prayers of your heart. He knows when our prayers are like those of this man in this passage. He knows our sincerity when we cry out, ʺLord, I believe, help my unbelief.ʺ
Believe, then, that God will answer your prayers. Believe and know that they just may be answered in ways that you do not expect. Believe that when you finally ʺseeʺ his answers, your faith will be strengthened. Amen!