Mark 9:14-29 I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!

14 When they came to the other disciples, they saw a large crowd around them and the teachers of the law arguing with them. 15 As soon as all the people saw Jesus, they were overwhelmed with wonder and ran to greet him.

16 “What are you arguing with them about?” he asked.

17 A man in the crowd answered, “Teacher, I brought you my son, who is possessed by a spirit that has robbed him of speech. 18 Whenever it seizes him, it throws him to the ground. He foams at the mouth, gnashes his teeth and becomes rigid. I asked your disciples to drive out the spirit, but they could not.”

19 “You unbelieving generation,” Jesus replied, “how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring the boy to me.”

20 So they brought him. When the spirit saw Jesus, it immediately threw the boy into a convulsion. He fell to the ground and rolled around, foaming at the mouth.

21 Jesus asked the boy’s father, “How long has he been like this?”

“From childhood,” he answered. 22 “It has often thrown him into fire or water to kill him. But if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.”

23 “‘If you can’?” said Jesus. “Everything is possible for one who believes.”

24 Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!”

25 When Jesus saw that a crowd was running to the scene, he rebuked the impure spirit. “You deaf and mute spirit,” he said, “I command you, come out of him and never enter him again.”

26 The spirit shrieked, convulsed him violently and came out. The boy looked so much like a corpse that many said, “He’s dead.” 27 But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him to his feet, and he stood up.

28 After Jesus had gone indoors, his disciples asked him privately, “Why couldn’t we drive it out?”

29 He replied, “This kind can come out only by prayer.[a]

I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!

I think that many of us can associate with this desperate man.  Just like Jairus he is thrown upon Jesus as a desperate attempt to obtain healing for his child.  Just like Jairus, he has met with disappointment.  Jesus’ disciples couldn’t do the job.  They were probably using some of the incantations and methods Jesus had used, but they were not using them with a prayerful reliance on God.  The opposition to Jesus in the spiritual realms has increased and faith must increase to match it.  Faith is shown through prayer and petition, but the disciples and the desperate man lack the belief that their own methods are sufficient.  Belief in methods and behavior can accomplish a little of the good we are looking for.  However, faith in the person of Jesus is the source of a powerful life.

“I believe; help me overcome my unbelief!”  gives us hope.  From some of Jesus’ response to unbelief, we might be led to believe that only 100% assent to a proposition means that we believe it.  However, J.P. Moreland spoke at a gathering I was at once about strength of belief.  He challenged the idea that we believe one thing and not another.  When he is asked whether he believes in an old earth or a new earth, he comments that he believes 60/40 in favour of the old earth.  However, this may fluctuate depending on with whom he has just talked.  In a similar way, I often believe something but am conscious that I believe other things that contradict that thing.  I believe that God loves me, but I also believe that I am unlovable at times.  I should pray that the faithful belief wins out.  I can also identify the ‘faithless’ belief and uproot it.

We have this cognitive dissonance all the time.  It is not always in the front of our mind, but sometimes our fears and doubts are buried in wordless chambers of forgetting deep in our subconscious.  Jesus allows events to bring these enemies of faith to the fore and we see them when we are surprised by our own reactions to things.  Then we should see those times as an opportunity for growth.  The desperate man in the passage did.

Prayer

I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!

Questions

  1. From where was Jesus coming?
  2. What kind of prayer do you think Jesus required?
  3. What does ‘cognitive dissonance’ mean?
  4. When have you experienced a doubt and faith at the same time?
  5. How would you address cognitive dissonance?
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About Plymothian

I teach at Moody Bible Institute in Chicago. My interests include education, biblical studies, and spiritual formation. I have been married to Kelli since 1998 and we have two children, Daryl and Amelia. For recreation I like to run, play soccer, play board games, read and travel.
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