In Mark 9:24 a distraught father, at the end of his rope, cried out his final plea to a God who had failed him: “I believe, help me overcome my unbelief.”
That father was in the midst of a crisis of faith. He had tried everything he could think of to heal his son, but nothing worked. He’d even come to Jesus’ disciples who were supposed to be able to do things that no one else could do. When they failed too it seemed like the end for this ever hoping, yet hopeless father.
Then Jesus walked up. He started to dig into what was going on and learned of the disciples’ failure. He made it clear that anything is possible for one who believes.
That statement is life and death.
When faith is easy, it’s a joy to know that God is on your side. It adds to strength to consider that God makes anything possible. When the blessings are flowing, faith flows with them.
But when faith is hard, the idea that anything being possible for those who believe feels like another boot to the back keeping you down. It’s just another indication of how hopeless you really are. If you could simply have enough faith, God would provide. So the failure is yours, not God’s. It’s your lack of faith. Your disbelief. Your failure. Your death.
But that desperate father wouldn’t give up. Even though faith was hard for him and he was filled with unbelief, he didn’t see just two options.
We live in an either/or world that likes to divide things into neat piles. It is either this or that. It’s either here or there. It’s either conservative or liberal. It’s either science or faith. It’s either logical or emotional. It’s either faith or unbelief.
The father refused to be bounded by either/or. He claimed both faith and unbelief. He scattered the neat piles and destroyed the divisions. So Jesus smote him. Smote him good.
No, Jesus loved him.
It’s almost like a Kobayashi Maru, the fictional test for Starfleet officers in the Star Trek universe. It’s a no-win situation. No matter what option you choose in the test it turns out badly. It’s designed as a test of character to determine how potential officers react to real-life no-win situations.
Captain Kirk didn’t accept the rules. He denied that there could be a no-win situation so he found another way. He reprogrammed the test.
The desperate father didn’t accept that there could be an either/or situation. He wanted both/and. And Jesus gave it to him. Happily.
Jesus healed the boy. The father’s son was well. The faithful unbelief of the father was rewarded.
The idea of faithful unbelief isn’t often explored. We usually read the bible from an either/or perspective. Either people are faithful or they are unbelievers. We don’t usually have categories for the both/and, for the faithful unbelievers.
Yet that happens all the time. Faithful unbelief is something that everyone deals with, if they’re honest. Death, loss, divorce, sickness, bankruptcy, unemployment: doubt-causers. For the desperate father it was the incurable sickness of his son. For others it might be years of unemployment. Or mental illness that won’t flee from medicine and therapy. Or a relationship that is so broken mending it seems impossible. Or a death that comes suddenly and leaves broken hearts in its wake.
Doubt-causers will strike every life. Guaranteed.
So what do you do? How do you cope? How do you process through a doubt-causer in a faithful way?
What does Faithful Unbelief look like?
Join us for thirteen conversations exploring faith, doubt, questions, answers, and how to have faithful unbelief.
- Being Uncertainly Certain
- Why what we think we know isn’t always what we know.
- Cognitive Dissonance
- The power and danger of thinking two different things at the same time.
- The Cycle of Learning
- How our reason, experience and emotions combine to create knowledge
- Asking Questions
- Exploring the different motivations for asking questions.
- Asking Logical Questions
- A brief overview of logic, its questions and potential answers.
- Asking Emotional Questions
- How feelings spur questions that logic may not be able to answer and what to do about it.
- Searching for Answers
- Ways to begin processing questions: study, conversation, experience, journaling, meditation, counseling, etc.
- Searching for Meaning
- Touching on the difference between answers and meaning and what each one can offer.
- Discovering Truth
- How will you know when you know what you know?
- Big T Truth versus Little T Truth.
- How finding your truth may or may not have anything to do with Truth.
- How to use both feelings and actions to create change, and why you should do it.
- Cognitive Consonance
- Re-aligning your brain to a new reality is painful and rewarding.
- Re-Engage the Questions
- The cycle of faithful unbelief continues. Learn how to keep the process going in a healthy way.