In Mark 9:14-24 we read about a man who had a son possessed by a spirit. He brought his son to Jesus’ disciples to have the spirit cast out, but they could not. When Jesus came and the disciples told Him they had failed He asked for the boy to be brought to Him.
The man then asked Jesus to cast out the spirit “if He could” and Jesus replied: “If you can believe, all things are possible for those who believe.” The man then cried out “I believe; help my unbelief!”
Is there a contradiction here? Did the man state in five words that he both believed and did not believe? Or did he think he believed, but then realize that he did not, and take it back? Maybe he thought that Jesus wanted to hear him say he believed, but then realized he had lied?
I do not think there is a contradiction here. The man brought his son to Jesus because he had heard that Jesus could heal him; if he had not believed he would have stayed home. Bringing his son to Jesus was a statement of faith. Why then did he say “help my unbelief?”
Belief in God vs. personal faith
We do not need to look too far to get an answer. Millions of people around the world go to church to hear God’s Word and read the Bible; these acts can be considered statements of faith in what we hear and read. But what about our faith for ourselves? Do we really have faith that God’s Word can be accomplished in our lives? When we hear the verse, “in everything give thanks” (1 Thessalonians 5:18), do we really give thanks in everything, or only the good things we encounter? It is quite easy to give thanks for good things, but we are to give thanks in everything. Or when we hear to not get angry or become bitter, do we really believe we can do that? Learning to control ourselves and not let our anger guide our words and actions is good, and not letting bitterness show when we talk to someone is good, but do we really believe that by God’s grace we can actually not become angry or bitter in the first place? (Ephesians 4:31)
When we come up against our own sinful nature and see just how deep our fallen nature is and how easy it is for us to fall short, then we can have that cry in our hearts. “Dear God, I believe you exist and that your Word is true, but help me to believe that it is possible for me to live according to your Word!” All good things come from God and all problems and bad things come from sin. When we receive faith that we can really live according to God’s Word and stop sinning and actually not become bitter and angry then we can have a truly good life like God intended. (1 John 3:6-9)
Something can take place in you!
I personally was born in a church-going family and have been an active member of my church all my life. I never really struggled with thoughts that the Bible was wrong or fake, but coming to a personal faith that God’s Word and will could be accomplished in my life was a huge step beyond a child’s faith in what he hears. This cry of “help my unbelief” is not a one-time occurrence: it happens every day when we find the sin and human nature in ourselves that would prevent use from aligning our lives with God’s Word and will for us.
Do you have faith that God’s word can be accomplished in your life? Do you believe that the glorious words you read can really take place in you? When we come up against this ingrained lack of faith for ourselves then we can truly cry, “I believe: help my unbelief”. To have this prayer in our lives is not a failure of faith: it comes from a deep need to live a life that is pleasing to God.