I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!
- Mark 9:24b
This verse comes out of a very rich story. It's a story that I want to tell you right now. Some of you might know it, some may not. Once we familiarize ourselves with it, we can talk about how absolutely freeing this story is for honest people with real problems.
There once was a father who had a son. His son was oppressed by an evil spirit. The spirit would send him into convulsions, throw him on the ground, and even tried to kill him. As you can imagine, the father was desperate for help. He had tried everything, but nothing he did could save his boy. Then, one day, he heard about Jesus and his healing powers. So he took his boy to the place where he heard Jesus was, but Jesus wasn't there, only the disciples. So, he asked them if they could heal his boy. They tried and tried, but to no avail. After a while, Jesus showed up. The disciples explained that they had no power over the evil spirit. Jesus looked around at the Pharisees, the crowd, and his disciples and said, “O you unbelieving generation!” Then, he turned to the father and asked him to explain what had been going on with his son. The father told him everything and finished by saying, “If you can do anything, please take pity on us and help us.” Jesus responded, “If you can? Everything is possible for the one who believes.” At this point, the father exclaimed, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” So, Jesus commanded the spirit to come out of the boy, and the boy was healed.
There's so much in this story for us to learn, but I have just a couple of takeaways for us.
>>> We all have demons.
The boy in this story had a literal demon reeking havoc on his life. The Bible makes it clear that there is a very real, unseen spiritual realm all around us. This is not the place for delving into those depths; I just wanted to be upfront about the literal nature of this boy’s experience. But, I also want to note how we use this idea of “fighting our demons” figuratively all the time. And, I want to point out that every other person in this passage (besides Jesus) is fighting the figurative “demon” of unbelief. When Jesus arrives on the scene, his first words to everyone are, “O you unbelieving generation!” This is a problem every single person has, even the disciples. Dealing with an actual demon like the boy has in this story may be a rarity, but the “demon” of unbelief is one I think we can all relate to.
>>> Jesus is the right person to come to.
So what does Jesus do? He addresses both problems with compassion and grace. The father has said to Jesus, "help us if you can." But Jesus looks at the father and says, “If I can? Everything is possible for the one who believes.” Jesus cares just as much about healing the father’s unbelief as he does about healing the son’s malady. He sees the father’s doubts and his struggle of living in constant fear. And compassionately, Jesus addresses the father's problem first. He calls the man to step out in faith and believe, even in the impossible. And, in a moment of absolute honesty, the father takes the only step he can, crying out to Jesus, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” And that is exactly what Jesus does. The moment he sets the son free from the evil spirit, the father too is healed from the doubts that have plagued him. Both father and son are made whole by Jesus simultaneously.
>>> Jesus wants to free us too.
Your doubts and struggles may seem insurmountable. In the same way that the father doubted whether Jesus could heal his boy, you may wonder whether God cares or even can help you. You may feel overwhelmed by the burden of your unbelief. But, Jesus is safe, he is good, and he is willing to release you from the struggle and increase your faith. Come to him in honesty, confess your doubts, and ask him to help you overcome them. At that point, I wish I could tell you, "You're all good. No more to do here, folks." But the reality is, doubts will come again. So, this is a pattern to follow when they do: come to Jesus, confess your doubt, and ask for help. And if you forget, you'll always have this story to remember and this verse to recite. They should remind you just what to do to fight your own doubt "demons" when they come.
What doubts threaten your faith right now?
How might honestly coming to Jesus with your doubts be just the thing you need right now?
Natalie co-founded Dwell with her sister, Vera. Together, they're committed to helping others connect with God each and every day. Natalie also hosts our weekly podcast, Dwell Differently. She and her husband, Jason, live in Chicago with their 5 kids, where Jason pastors First Free Church.