Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!”
In Mark 9:14-29 we see Jesus performing a miracle by healing a boy who was possessed by an evil spirit. The same event was also recorded in Matthew 17. In this study, we will analyse the psyche of the boy’s father in an attempt to understand what he felt and what he would exclaim “help me overcome my unbelief”. These are great words, desperate words, and ironically words filled with faith. This is a cry that many of us might have uttered before in our prayers. This is a cry that many of us may utter at some point in the future.
Analysis: Unbelief caused by long-term suffering in the past and present
Jesus asked the boy’s father, “How long has he been like this?”
“From childhood,” he answered.
There was nothing in his past that would probably give him a reason to believe in Christ. He may have heard about a miracle or two that Jesus had performed, but what he would be thinking is simply – well, he didn’t help me. I wasn’t saved from my predicament. My boy wasn’t saved from his suffering. When you are in such a situation, and you hear a people testifying about miracles, it is easy to not believe and be cynical.
Analysis: Doubts caused by the lack of faith of the disciples
“I asked your disciples to drive out the spirit, but they could not.” [Mark 9:18]
Of course, when the opportunity arises for the miracle to happen to you, you’re not going to reject it. You’re likely to try – not so much out of belief but more out of desperation. If you were saved, you will naturally believe. If you weren’t, you would just be more disappointed and bitter, and your unbelief will have a stronger basis. This was the case for this boy’s father, who asked the disciples for help. They weren’t Jesus, but they should have been able to perform the miracle. But they couldn’t.
Then the disciples came to Jesus in private and asked, “Why couldn’t we drive it out?”
He replied, “Because you have so little faith. Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.” [Matthew 17:19-21]
The lack of faith of the disciples disallowed them to drive out the evil spirit, and indirectly caused more doubts to be seeded in the boy’s father’s heart regarding the authencity of the claims regarding Jesus and his group of disciples. What power? What truth? What God, when you can’t even help a poor boy who is suffering?
Analysis: Desperation to believe despite his unbelief
Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed – Immediately. This was probably his last hope. He didn’t believe – how could he? He hadn’t witnessed anything worth his faith in the power of Christ, and add to that the flop of the disciples? Yet he was desperate – it was a situation when he could no longer rely on his own strength or on the strength of other men. It was a situation entirely out of his control. It would take something supernatural to save his boy, and while he didn’t – couldn’t – believe that Jesus could save him when all other men and all other methods had failed, he wanted to hope. He wanted to believe. Because if he did not believe, if he was unable to believe, then he would be helpless and hopeless. Jesus was his last hope. When he heard Jesus questioning his belief, he exclaimed his feelings immediately. This was a sign of his desperation.
Analysis: When we believe
I’d just like to note how important it is for us to believe. Recall Jesus returning to his hometown? He could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them. He was amazed at their lack of faith [Mark 6:5-6]. And he did not do many miracles there because of their lack of faith [Matthew 13:58]. Mark describes it as Jesus could not do any miracles there – isn’t that strange? Why should the power of our Lord be hindered at all? Is his power dependent on our faith level?
Perhaps. But a better way of putting it would perhaps be, there is simply no point in performing miracles for people who do not believe, or people who would obstinately refuse to believe. It is one thing to believe completely that it will happen – that is what we as Christians call blind faith, which is truly hard to have. It is another thing to doubt, to question, and to believe only when it happens. You may disagree, but I’d argue that doing so requires faith as well. When the boy’s father cried out, help me overcome my unbelief, he had doubts, he perhaps did not truly believe – but he had enough faith to want to believe. And that’s crucially the difference between him and the townsfolk of Nazareth, who did not have faith. They didn’t think that their neighbour’s carpenter son would be capable of anything like a miracle. Because they did not have faith, because they didn’t want to believe it, they would likely be obstinate in their assumptions. Even if they witness a miracle – and they did, for Christ still healed people in Nazareth – they wouldn’t believe that it was out of the power of the Lord. It’s a coincidence. There must be a trick somewhere. Because of this lack of faith, there isn’t any point in performing miracles. Because of this lack of faith, Jesus was described as ‘he could not do any miracles there‘.
You may already be a Christian, but you might have gone through times when your faith was weak and you struggled to believe in the power of God. You may already be a Christian, but in this life of yours you may one day end up in a situation in which you have many doubts regarding the power of God. When that day comes, let us humble ourselves down and exclaim, like how the boy’s father did, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!”
Crying that out takes faith. Wanting to believe takes faith. We’re perhaps more blessed that the boy’s father, for we have a past to fall back on. A past where we can see God’s footprints in our lives. A past where we have had a relationship with the Lord. Faith is best built on the past. Our knowledge of God garnered by our experiences and our studies in the past will help us to have hope for the future. And with this hope, built on the faith of the past, we’re able to experience an abundance of God’s love in our lives today. Today will be tomorrow’s yesterday. Today will soon be part of the past. While we are yet to come to a situation in which our faiths are found wanting, let us work to maintain a strong relationship with our Lord, let us learn more about our Lord, so that when the time comes, we will be able to at least have enough faith to cry out, “I do believe, help me overcome my unbelief!”