Distilled Unbelief

Skeptics Annotated Bible

“I believe; help my unbelief!”

-Mark 9:24

I’m in seminary, but sometimes I feel like I’m in a crazy house. No, really. There are times when I step back from what I’m hearing in the classroom, all the theology and systematic thought, look around and think, “Do I really believe all this stuff? Am I surrounded by a bunch of crazy people?” Some fellow students and I had a good laugh at this a couple of weeks before the close of the semester; we all agreed that the “crazy house” thought had passed through all of our minds (and we’re future ministers?). Sometimes I just don’t believe, and if I’m honest with myself, this distilled, unadulterated unbelief is a part of my everyday experience. At the heart of every sinful thought, word, and deed is a deep distrust and distilled unbelief in God and His word. Why do I have a hard time putting my wife before myself? Deep down I don’t believe that He is who He says He is, that His word is trustworthy and should be followed. Why do I have a hard time pushing the prideful, fearful, and oftentimes hateful thoughts from my cranium? Somewhere down in me I distrust Him; I don’t believe. Just follow the dots, and they’ll lead you inside yourself to a place of doubt and unbelief in God. Behind every sin is simple, stark unbelief towards Him. In the moment, our own way seems more trustworthy and true, more sure and steadfast, than any God who claims to have been incarnated as a Man. Every sin is a question of belief and allegiance. There’s just no way around it.

I like this guy in Mark’s gospel. Here he is with a child who is demon-possessed, and after explaining the boy’s symptoms, he cries out to Jesus, “But if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us!” (9:22). I like it a lot. More times than not, I find in myself the same hesitancy that this man has. Faith in Christ is trust in a person we have never seen, a person who claims to have been God, to have died, and to have risen from a tomb. This makes faith in Christ the hardest thing in the world. But Jesus is in the business of hard, even impossible, things: “‘If you can! All things are possible for the one who believes,” (9:23). That’s Jesus’ response. So Christ opens up the way for us to participate in the impossible…if we just believe. And then the father’s beautiful statement, “I believe; help my unbelief!” This man is a spiritual schizophrenic, a mixed bag of trust and distrust, obedience and disobedience, faith and doubt. And so am I. What’s the wonderful thing about this passage? Jesus heals the man’s son anyways.

It is a good thing that Jesus never doubted in His Father. It is a good thing that He never lost His faith. Jesus was no spiritual schizophrenic. The phrase, “All things are possible for the one who believes,” is really good news. Why? Because Jesus always believes wholly and completely in what is true, making all things possible for Himself. He is, therefore, able to conquer our stubborn unbelief by His stubborn belief. His faith trumps our doubt, making our salvation certain. This passage calls me back, time and again, to Christ’s willingness to engage me in weakness and uncertainty. While this great statement is most true of Jesus, it is also a challenge to me: I must rebel against my doubt and skepticism and again trust in what I know to be true. But the boy was still healed despite his father’s weakness. And for all those who, by the Spirit’s dispensing, can muster up the mustard seed of faith in the Incarnate God, we will be too, despite many days and nights wondering, “Are we crazy?”.

“I believe; help me unbelief!”

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