It is an episode fraught with mystery; one about which we wish we knew more. A man brought his son, who was possessed of a demon, to the Lord’s disciples. He wanted the Master’s men to cast out the evil spirit, but they could not. Jesus pinpointed the problem; the disciples’ faith was lacking (Mark 9:17-19; cf. Matthew 17:20). Accordingly, the lad was brought directly to the Savior himself. As they came near, the malignant force threw the child into a convulsion, and the boy fell to the ground, foaming at the mouth.
The father subsequently informed Christ that this had been going on for a long time, and the lad had suffered much damage. The gentleman then said to Jesus: “If you can do anything, help us.” Note carefully that “if” (Mark 9:22). The Savior then said, with something of a rebuke, “If you can!” The meaning obviously is: “What do you mean, if I can? All things are possible to him who believes.”
There are two points to be noticed here. First, the Master was saying this to the father: “The issue is not my power; it is your faith!” The man obviously had some faith in Christ or he would not have approached the Lord. On the other hand, his trust was not at the level it needed to be. He still had some doubts. Perhaps he was growing; but the fact is, he was struggling.
Second, the Lord’s affirmation that “all things are possible to him who believes” is limited by the context. The Lord was not asserting that one can do anything he believes he can do. You may be led to believe that you can spread your arms and fly off the Golden Gate Bridge, but regardless of what you believe, you’ll fall straight into the bay. Here is a point that must be understood. The supernatural works that were possible during the ministry of Jesus are not possible today, inasmuch as God himself has removed miraculous phenomena from the church (see Miracles).
In response to Jesus’ challenge, the father cried out, with the sort of agony that only a parent could know: “I believe; help my unbelief” (9:24). What a strange statement. Does it not contain what appears to be a contradiction? “I believe; help my unbelief.” Jesus did not so view the matter; rather, he immediately rebuked the unclean spirit and commanded it to leave the boy—never to enter him again (9:25).
The spiritual confusion of this father is so typical of the intellectual and emotional turmoil that can plague any of us at a given moment in our lives. No one is characterized by a “red-hot” faith around the clock.
We know there is a God who made us. The evidence is so utterly overwhelming that only a foolish person can deny it (Psalm 14:1; cf. Romans 1:20-23). Furthermore, intellectually we know that our Heavenly Father cares for us. The historical fact which demonstrates that he gave his precious Son for us is ample evidence of his boundless love. Nobody can argue that God doesn’t care—in the face of the cross! “He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not also with him freely give us all things?” (Romans 8:32).
Be that as it may, sometimes, when we are hurting so badly (and pain can generate confusion), our hearts may overpower our heads. By that we mean this: our agony forces clear logic to the side, and we begin to “think” with our feelings. We still believe, but we are angry. We feel neglected; we don’t understand why the Lord doesn’t rush to our beckon call. Sometimes we pout. We refuse to talk to him (i.e., we don’t pray). We think we will punish him by refusing to assemble with other Christians for worship. We may even say harsh and thoughtless things to him, almost literally shaking our fist in his face.
At times like these we need to get hold of ourselves and give ourselves a good shaking. We need to cry out, “Lord, help my unbelief!” We need to ask for his patience. We need to weep before him. We ought to analyze our situation and attempt to determine if we have contributed to our own problems; and if so, is there anything we can do to help remedy the circumstance. What we absolutely must not do is give in to our frustration. Once we cease struggling with our faith, and let it slide, we are headed down a slippery slope that may lead to eternal ruin. What a horrible thought to contemplate. Lord, I believe; but help me in my times of unbelief!