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Help Thou My Unbelief

Last week I taught a few Institute of Religion classes at Bolliaden, a Young Adult conference in the Church. The theme of the conference was Walking on the Straight Path. The students brought a good spirit and the participation level was high. Like I often say, I feel privileged to teach in such settings, especially since I feel as though I have been taught just as much – if not more – as my students.

Our discussion came to focus a lot on faith, as being the opposite of fear. A few of the many scriptural references were found in the gospel of Mark. One of the most well known is found in 5:36:

“Be not afraid, only believe.”

What power a sentence like this has. Can you even begin to understand what miracles and giant leaps you can experience in your life if you just put away the fear that keeps you bound, and put all your faith in Christ instead. Turning a few pages in Mark we find in 9:23 another great truth that Jesus spoke:

“If thou canst believe, all things are possible to him that believeth.”

These words were spoken to a desperate man who had carried his son to Jesus, in hope that He would help remove the son’s “dumb [evil] spirit”. Upon hearing Jesus’ reassuring words, the father exclaimed: “Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief” (9:24). Prior to my lesson I had reflected quite a bit on these words. I can understand why the father would say “Lord, I believe”, but why does he add “help thou my unbelief”? Doesn’t it seem like a contradiction?

But then one of the students from Danmark made a comment that bordered on some of my personal thoughts, and I was touched by what he said. He explained that many people came to Jesus to be healed. In fact, at times the rumor of Jesus’ miracles had spread so much that people came from far and wide just to take part in some sign or other. Did everyone that came to Jesus have witness of Him as Lord and Saviour of the world? No. Many of them didn’t even know who he was, just that he was some sort of miracle man, or magician, perhaps. This father may well have fitted into that category of persons, desperate for some help, like so many others.

The student went on to say that after the man had said to Jesus that he believed, there was probably an exchange of glances, a moment where Jesus eyes might have asked the man: “Yes, you may believe I can do this, but… do you really believe in me?” A chord may have been hit in the father, for then he cried out to Jesus to “help his unbelief”.

Naturally, we don’t know all the details in their encounter, but I think both I and the students felt the spiritual meaning of Jesus’ words to this father. We came to realize that many of us are like this poor man; the natural man in us will not turn as often as he should to God, with exception of those moments when he stands in some desperate need, and need immediate help. This saddens me. Jesus wants to be – and needs to be – a part of our everyday life, not just on occasions “suitable” for us. Do we believe in him or do we really believe in him? If not the latter, then we must join in the father’s words:

“Help though my unbelief.”

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