I Believe! Help My Unbelief!

“And oft-times it hath cast him both into the fire and into the waters, to destroy him: but if thou canst do anything, have compassion on us, and help us.”
And Jesus said unto him, “If thou canst! All things are possible to him that believeth.”
Straightway the father of the child cried out, and said, “I believe; help thou mine unbelief” (Mark 9:22-24).

Desperation can be a powerful driver.

The child suffered terribly from a “dumb spirit” according to Mark 9:17-22. Because of it the child would foam at the mouth, grind his teeth, and become rigid, and that would count for a good day. At other times the demon sought to compel the child to kill himself by casting himself into a fire or into the sea!

This had been going on for some time; the father had seen his son experience this “from childhood.” Perhaps the child was now a teenager or in his twenties; the text does not tell us.

We can only imagine how the father felt when he saw his son experience such suffering and misery. He was powerless to stop it; it must have caused great anguish of soul. It would not be at all surprising if the father had gone to great lengths to find someone, anyone, anything that could somehow alleviate his son’s difficulties. And yet, in all those years, nothing.

He hears that Jesus is nearby, and takes his son. Jesus had been up on the mountain; His disciples attempted to cast out the demons but proved unable (Mark 9:2-18). Yet another disappointment.

Jesus comes upon the scene upon coming down from the mountain. The father makes his plea before Him: if you can do something, please have compassion and help.

Jesus’ answer focuses on the father’s conditional statement: “if you can.” He declares all things are possible for one who believes.

And the father’s answer resounds throughout time: I believe! Help my unbelief!

On the surface, the statement seems contradictory; if he believes, unbelief should not be a problem. If he maintains “unbelief,” how can it be that he believes? If belief were only a matter of mental assent to a proposition, the statement would be contradictory: you either accept the idea that Jesus can help or you do not.

Yet faith has always been more than a matter of mentally agreeing to the truth of a proposition. Faith demands trust and confidence, and the statement makes complete sense when we understand belief as trust.

The way the man phrases his request speaks volumes. “If you can.” He has his doubts, less because of Jesus, and more because of his frequent disappointments. His son has been grievously stricken for years; it is hard to maintain hope or confidence for recovery with every passing seizure and every failed attempt at a cure.

Notice that Jesus corrects but does not upbraid the man. This is not the same situation as when the disciples request more faith (cf. Luke 17:5-6), during which time the disciples doubted how they could accomplish what Jesus was saying. In this situation Jesus finds a man who has, to a large degree, lost faith in the ability of his son to be healed. Jesus wants him to hold onto that faith; that trust is what will help to effect the cure.

The man has some trust in Jesus; he cries out, “I believe!”. But he knows exactly what Jesus is saying; he understands how his trust and confidence must be stronger. That is why he cries out, “Help my unbelief!”.

The man was justified in placing his faith in Jesus; it required much power, and the young man for a moment seemed all but dead, but the demon was cast out, and the young man was made whole (Mark 9:25-29).

This man’s example provides a great testimony for the rest of us. We all experience various forms of challenges in our lives. We might personally suffer or witness the sufferings of loved ones. We may have deficiencies, unfortunate habits, dark secrets, or other spiritual maladies which cause great despair. We may seek healing and redemption from all sorts of places and come up short. With every setback and every failed cure it is easier and easier to lose hope and faith in a cure.

It is easy to describe Jesus as the cure-all. Yes, Jesus provides the promise that all things are possible for the one who believes (Mark 9:23), but we should not try to apply this in simplistic ways. Good people who trust in Jesus still have difficulties, challenges, and forms of suffering.

Yet it remains true that we can fall into the same trap as the man and put conditionals on what God is able to do. God is always able. There are many points in our lives when we can cry out, like this man, “I believe! Help my unbelief!”. It is easy to trust in God when we feel great, things are well, and our difficulties are safely hidden away. The true mark of faith is whether we still trust in God when we are not doing well, when situations seem dire, and when our difficulties and deficiencies are exposed for all to see. Wavering trust is understandable but not ideal. We do well to remember Jesus’ encouragement and to be willing to confess the deficiencies in our trust in God.

God has promised to give all things to those who those who serve His Son, the Risen Lord, and we have confidence in this promise because He has already given us of His Son (Romans 8:32). Will we place our hope and confidence in that promise despite all the challenges we experience, all the frustrations we encounter, and all the disappointments we endure? Or will we begin to put a conditional where God has made an absolute? Let us trust in God, and be willing to confess to God the deficiencies in our trust so that we may learn to trust Him more!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Jesus and Our Weaknesses

“Simon, Simon, behold, Satan asked to have you, that he might sift you as wheat: but I made supplication for thee, that thy faith fail not; and do thou, when once thou hast turned again, establish thy brethren.”
And he said unto him, “Lord, with thee I am ready to go both to prison and to death.”
And he said, “I tell thee, Peter, the cock shall not crow this day, until thou shalt thrice deny that thou knowest me” (Luke 22:31-34).

We appreciate the enthusiasm and bravado of Simon Peter. As a disciple, he is a bit impetuous; you can always count on him to chime up when something needs to be said (or doesn’t need to be said). He may not have the best understanding of how Jesus is the Messiah, but he certainly believes it.

We can only imagine how devastating this idea was to him. He was going to deny the Lord? Never! He was going to go even to death for the Lord! He had come this far with Jesus, and he was not about to abandon Him!

The story, however, is all too familiar. Peter sees Jesus taken away by the guards. Initially, his strength does not fail him, for he follows Jesus afar off (Luke 22:54). And then, the moment of crisis! As he sits around the fire, three individuals notice who he is and recognize him as being with Jesus. Satan is sorely testing Peter. Peter knows that if he confesses Christ now, he likely will end up right next to Jesus in front of the Jewish authorities, and will share the fate of His Lord.

Peter’s fears get the best of him. He denies his connection with Jesus all three times (Luke 22:55-62). Satan sifted him like wheat, and he did not withstand it. All Peter can do is go out and weep bitterly.

None of this was new for Jesus; He knew that it would happen. Jesus’ petition was for Peter’s faith not to fail, and while his faith proved too weak this time, it was not entirely defeated. Jesus knew that Peter would “turn again,” and His wish was for Peter to establish his fellow believers.

Had the story of Simon Peter ended here, all would seem to be lost. John 21 records how Jesus restores Peter to Himself and His work. The book of Acts shows how Peter stood up and preached the first Gospel lesson before the Jews in Acts 2 and then boldly stood before the very Jewish authorities who killed Jesus and spoke in His name in Acts 4 and 5. At a later opportunity, Peter would again be called upon to confess Christ and risk death. He would do so and pay the ultimate price (cf. John 21:18-19). Satan tried to sift him like wheat again, but this time he failed!

We may not be in the exact same position as Peter was, but many times our faith is tested. Unfortunately, many times we fail the test. Our faith may not be dead, but it proved too weak for the temptation. As terrible as those moments are, they do not have to be the end of our story. We can repent of our failures, get up, and keep trying (1 John 1:9). Over time, our faith may grow and mature like Peter’s did, and the next time the temptation rears its head, we could stand firm!

Jesus knows our weaknesses (Hebrews 4:15) and can sympathize with them. He knows that we will not succeed at overcoming every temptation at every time. Nevertheless, His prayer for us is that our faith will not fail, and that we should turn again, encourage one another, and keep growing in our faith (1 John 1:9, Hebrews 10:24-25, 2 Peter 3:18). Let us be like Peter and grow in our faith!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Strength in Weakness

And [Jesus] hath said unto me, “My grace is sufficient for thee: for my power is made perfect in weakness.”
Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Wherefore I take pleasure in weaknesses, in injuries, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong (2 Corinthians 12:9-10).

It is a general axiom that strength is good and weakness is bad. “Only the strong survive.” Humans idolize strength and figures of strength. Weakness is universally maligned. No one wants to be seen as puny, sissy, cowardly, or anything else that normally is associated with weakness.

Yet Jesus and His Kingdom turn many aspects of “conventional wisdom” on their head. In the Kingdom, if we want to be strong, we must be weak!

Strength, after all, has its down side: it often leads to arrogance and self-reliance. Weakness also has its value: those who are weaker are generally more humble and more dependent on others.

Paul himself needed to understand this reality, as is made evident in 2 Corinthians 12. So that he would not get puffed up on account of the revelations given to him, a “thorn in the flesh” beset him, even though he appealed to God for its removal. Whatever this “thorn in the flesh” was, it significantly weakened Paul.

And yet that is how Paul– along with every disciple of Jesus– learns the source of true strength. It is not within our own endeavors or capabilities. We only find strength through difficulty, duress, and weakness. When we have to face our own inadequacies and realize that we by our own efforts can do very little, that is when we humble ourselves and submit to God’s strength and God’s ability.

And that is when wonderful things happen. That is when we find the ability to persevere and grow (cf. James 1:2-5). When we give up our pride, our pretension of self-reliance, and ourselves, God can then use us for His purposes and His glory and imbue us with His strength (cf. Ephesians 6:10).

If we cannot imagine ourselves as weak, humble, lowly, and reliant on others, how can we picture Jesus, who was God in the flesh, and yet humble, lowly, and reliant on the Father (John 1:1; 14, John 6:38, Philippians 2:5-11)? By His weaknesses we are saved. We do not have the time or opportunity to pretend that we are strong and in need of nothing. Let us be weak so that we may overcome through God’s strength!

Ethan R. Longhenry