Imagine this scene; notice the hubbub and commotion of the crowds, a suffering child, a concerned father, a little group of faithful disciples, a number of their opponents. There seems to be much argument, dispute and exclamation but sadly little wisdom.
The irony of this narrative is not lost on the reader. The disciples were sent out in twos in Chapter 6 with authority over unclean spirits (verse7). In verse 30 of the same chapter, they gathered around Jesus and told him all that they had done and taught. So successful were they in their mission that they “did not have time to eat” (verse31) and yet here we are three chapters away and there is a claim from a desperate father, a man who sought the healing of his son who had a spirit, that his disciples could not be of any help. But as much as we would like to examine the faith (or perhaps lack of) of the disciples the focus of this narrative is not the great crowds or the arguing scribes or the disciple’s faith but the father of the boy.
The father’s request to Jesus took the form of a tentative prayer. “If you are able to do anything have pity on us and help us”. The Gospels present Jesus giving us a rather sassy response, “If you are able!”. Of course, the Lord is able the question for the father, for the disciples, for the crowds and for us is, do we believe?
Many people live lives of quiet desperation. The desperate father in this passage should be a source of great encouragement to all of us who struggle with our faith. He called on Jesus with the shreds of what belief he possessed, and gave us that mighty prayer, “I believe; help my unbelief!” ‘I believe, help my unbelief’ is one of the best-loved human statements in the gospels. It expresses our own struggle of faith. How often have we been that father, struggling to believe?
The words of the father have been a common prayer for so many people. We are a mixture of faith and unbelief. Doubt can be an important part of belief in God. It is honest. If there are no moments of doubt, the space for us to grow in trust and faith is reduced. We often pray from a combination of faith and doubt. Some days faith is dry and prayer seems useless and we falter in our faith. That’s when we can ask for help; we know we cannot exist on unbelief. In prayer we come as we are, with the different levels of faith, and pray for help. When we pray, we are heard by God. This narrative in Mark tells us very clearly that all we need to bring is the little faith that we have, with all its doubts and limitations. We are met by Jesus just where we are.
Jesus then cured the boy. He later taught his disciples privately that there is no other way to deal with some situations than prayer. Simone Weil, a French-born Jewish philosopher, died aged 34 in 1943. During her final illness, someone said to her, “I can only pray for you”. Simone answered, “Why do you say, ‘only’. That’s the best thing you can do for me”.
Jesus wants to expel anything that keeps you from sight or hearing, any spirit that threatens your peace of mind. When you experience things getting beyond you, do as the father did and bring your problems to Jesus. Be honest with him; beg his help. You will find rest for your aching heart