Wednesday, September 27, 2006

"I believe; help my unbelief!" -- Mark 9:24

I’m speaking this Sunday at church on Mark 9:14-29, in which a father in a crowd (whose son has been engulfed by terror), says this to Jesus:

"But if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us." And Jesus said to him, "If you can! All things are possible for one who believes." Immediately the father of the child cried out and said, "I believe; help my unbelief!"”

I call that a significant moment in the gospels…

I enjoyed this reflection today on 'Doubt' from Frederick Buechner's Wishful Thinking.

“Whether your faith is that there is a God or that this is not a God, if you don’t have any doubts, you are either kidding yourself or asleep. Doubts are the ants in the pants of faith; they keep it awake and moving.

There are two principal kinds of doubt, one of the head and the other of the stomach.
In my head there is almost nothing I can’t doubt when the fit is upon me – the divinity of Christ, the efficacy of the sacraments, the significance of the church, the existence of God. But even when I am at my most skeptical, I go on with my life as thought nothing untoward has happened.

I have never experienced stomach doubt, but I think Jesus did. When he cried out: “My God, my God why hast thou forsaken me!” I don’t think he was raising a theological issue any more than he was quoting Psalm 22. I think he had looked into the abyss itself and found there a darkness that spiritually, viscerally, totally engulfed him. I think God allows that kind of darkness to happen only to his saints. The rest of us aren’t up to doubting that way – or maybe believing that way either.

When our faith is strongest, we believe with our hearts as well as with our heads, but only at a few rare moments, I think, do we feel in our stomachs what it must be like to be engulfed by light.”
Love, Justin.


Brandon Fibbs said...

I feel that doubt is a necessary and vital part of the Christian walk and any Christian who claims to have never encountered doubt has to be deceiving more than just themselves.

Doubt is human. And when we come out of our doubt, we embrace Christ all the stronger. Which makes us stronger the next time it stops by for a visit.

Doubt, ironically enough, makes us stronger.

Benjamin said...

I suppose that Mr. Buechner has a positive and lovely thing in mind when he spoke of feeling in the stomach that one had been engulfed by light. Contrariwise, I think it would be at least half as terrifying as the other, oppotisish feeling in the stomach. Like the ghostish people in Great Divorce to whom the blades of grass were painful on their bare feet because the grass was so much more real that it simply didn't bend under their weight, I suppose that we live in such unreality and are so, in a way, used to the darkness and the nebulousness that were we to be engulfed by light, assuming we lived through it, we'd be left retching.
Thanks for the photo of Fred. He looks a lot like I had mentally imaged Bebb, which just makes sense, I guess. Here's a lovely excerpt from one of the Bebb books

Benjamin said...

Benjamin said...
oops. the link didn't work. Let me try again. I guess you'd have to paste this line by line into the browser.
Or conversely, it comes up first if you google buechner clarion

byron said...

benjamin, here's the link.

Justin, thought you might find this post interesting.

chelsea said...

Thats a great quote, thanks justin.
I was having this discussion with my girls last week actaully - that doubt makes us stronger, and is actually normal for Christians.
What i love about it is that it shows how relational God is - cos he wants us to interact with him in this way...pretty cool really!

p.s. just listened to 'new york, new york' by ryan adams - that song makes me think of you guys now hehe

DiscuZion said...

Nice reflection. Doubt can indeed make us stronger, because (as the author you quoted seems to imply) it forces our faith the reinvigorate itself constantly, to be dynamic and to be constantly looking for the answers to "respond" to that doubt.

If, in that procces, we turn to Jesus and His word, I agree we will come out of those doubts with a fortified faith. Christ will indeed "Help our unbelief".

God bless!

Benjamin said...

Byron, you rock. I guess it just neve r occurred to me that you could just insert a hyperlind (duh!). Thankyou.

Anonymous said...

i know that i doubt. i prayed for healing today with a girl that has a serious eye disease, leading to potential blindness in the future. I think i don;t have enough faith -i doubt. I don;t feel like my doubt helped one little bit. Did my doubt effect God;s response? I hope not. But i will pray with her next week too, and the next ...

Justin said...

Dear Anonymous,

You keep praying, my friend. I take great (and yet strange) comfort in the fact that Abraham and Sarah waited 25 years before God gave them their heart's desire. And the Parable of the Persistent Widow is designed by Jesus for your very frustration.

I wonder if you asked the father in Mark 9: "Did your doubt help you...even one little bit", I'm guessing he'd say: “Probably not”, just like you. If you asked him: “Did your doubt effect God’s response?”, I’m guessing he would have said: “I hope not”, just like you.

The good thing is here that God is bigger than our doubts. That is the beauty of him. There is nothing wrong with faith burning low if grace burns bright.

Please feel free to keep commenting. Anonymously too.

If anyone reading this feels the need to pray for Anon’s friend this week and next week too, then please do so. Yes?

michael jensen said...

This is one of my favourite verses and a bit of a personal motto: because he believes and throws himself on Jesus in the midst of his unbelief... they are there at the same time... I can identify.

Marion said...

Justin thanx for this. I enjoy reading Buechner.

BTW could you & anyone else inclined pls pray for my bro-in-law (Anglican minister) just diagnosed with epilepsy & on strong medication so things are pretty stressful for my sister & the kids right now.

Justin said...

I will be praying, MArion.

Megs said...

thanks for the comforting words!
i couldn't sleep, assuaged by doubt, and read this! Wow!

benjaminady said...


I love the way your gentle response balances out my obnoxious one. We rock!