Reflection #3 on Mark 9:14-29
Read the introduction: HERE.
Questions, comments, helpful critiques are welcome.
3. Jesus tenderly addresses our faithful doubts.
Doubt is in vogue right now. We live in a post modern world. So interestingly, doubt has become easier than ever -- at least the expression of it. We hear of authors now saying that one of their 'strengths' is their 'capacity to doubt'. Buechner himself defends doubts as 'The ants in the pants of faith keeping faith awake and moving.' Christian leaders are now often saying the obvious truth: 'We don’t have all the answers'. Obviously! Doubt is what our society does best. And Christians want to resonate at this point.
Let me say straight up the doubt can be a horrible thing:
Os Guinness wrote:
“And underneath everything lies trust. From friendships of children to agreements among nations life depends on trust. Enjoying people is trust. Trust is the shared silence, the exchanged look, the expressive touch. Crying for help is trust, shaking hands is trust, a kiss is trust. The highest reaches of love and life depend on trust. Are there any questions more important to each of us than, ‘whom can I trust? How can I be sure’?
That is why when trust goes and doubt comes in such a shadow is cast, such a wound is opened, and such a hole is left. ... It is also why doubting God is so devastating.”
James warns against doubt. We ought not to be flippant about doubt. And we ought to know that when we entertain doubts, we are playing with fire.
So why is this Father treated with compassion? Why is his unbelief seemingly rewarded?
The Father has what I call faithful doubt. (Or even real faith in a real world).
Two things about faithful doubt:
A. Faithful doubt is paradoxically the only way that you can come to God.
What does this father do? He comes to Jesus in the first place with obvious helplessness. That’s what faith is. That’s trust. Trust coming to Jesus even in your unbelief. It's helplessness, not holiness that is the perquisite for coming to Jesus. That is good news. Faith is when you doubt yourself -- even your ability to believe. And go to Jesus anyway.
Faith is not - 'I’ve figured it all out'. 'Now I have faith in you Jesus'. 'Can I have my membership badge, now, please'? That’s not faith in God, that’s faith in yourself.
It is essential in becoming a Christian and staying a Christian that your frailty is right there next to your faith. Because then (and only then) do you depend on God.
It’s OK for me to 'light' on faith, if I come to God knowing he is 'heavy' on grace. Then, and only then, are you (paradoxically) really 'heavy' on faith.
Its one the paradoxes of faith.
Christina Rossetti wrote a hymn -- rarely sung [we sang it at EU AnnCon at Sydney Uni] called "None other lamb". It goes:
My faith burns low, my hope burns low;
Only my heart's desire cries out in me
By the deep thunder of its want and woe,
Cries out to thee.
Lord, thou art Life, though I be dead;
Love's fire thou art, however cold I be:
Nor heav'n have I, nor place to lay my head,
Nor home, but thee.
'My faith burns low'. 'I may be dead'. 'I may be cold'. 'But my heart's desire cried out in me'. It is one of the few hymns that genuinely reflect this paradox of faithful doubt.
You see that this man has a prayer: (‘Prayer’ is the same word for ‘request’, even in old English --- ‘I pray you, come here’ is I request you come here.) He has a prayer (or a request) for Jesus: V22
“If you are able to do anything, have mercy on us and help us.”
That was all that was required. A prayer!
Why couldn’t the other disciples cast out the demon?
The answer is -- because they didn’t pray. They didn’t ask God. It's as simple as that.
V28 -- “Why couldn’t we cast the demon out?”
V29 -- “Because this kind only come out with prayer.”
The disciples were probably trying to do some sort of incantation thing?! When all they needed to do was pray. All they needed was to say: "God, help us."
In the Matthew account, Jesus said that all the disciples needed was the faith of a mustard seed. They could have done this AND moved a mountain ... all before lunch. Which -- I take it -- is a cheeky way of saying that the fact that they haven’t asked reflects that their faith is smaller than a malnourished piece of rice.
But this man apparently has the faith of a little mustard seed. And that’s all he has. And all he needed.
Because he seems to know intuitively that ‘this kind only comes out through prayer.’ That’s what he prays: “If you are able to do anything, have mercy on us and help us.”
The second thing to say about faithful doubt is this:
B. Faithful doubt always sides with faith.
Faithful doubt doesn’t side with the doubt. It sides with faith. Jesus says to the father's faithful request: V23
“'If you are able'. All things can be done for the one who believes.”And the man says -- and again -- I think that the text is slowed up for us: Immediately -- the man -- he cries out -- the pain of this moment --
“I believe, help me my unbelief.”
I have belief, but I’m riddled with unbelief. But I’ll side with faith.
A good friend of mine says that this verse is a motto, and the man a hero. Because he believes and throws himself on Jesus in the midst of his unbelief... they are there -- belief and unbelief at the same time.' And we understand: Not on paper, but we totally get it in the heart.
He is doing what the Psalmists do -- They go to God in faith and tell him their doubts but instead of siding with the doubt, they side with faith. He is doing what the Prophets did: Men like Habakkuk who went to God to tell him their complaints. But instead of siding with the doubt, they side with faith.
Let me conclude:
- I have questions that seem unanswered, but I'll side with faith. And I will hold onto the answers I do have.
- I have objections that stump me, but I'll side with faith. I know that there smart men and women who have my same objections and still believe. I'll rely on their faith for a time, if I need to.
- I have prayers that seem unheeded, but I'll side with faith. I trust that God knows what he is doing. I side with faith.
- I can’t overcome a sin. But I trust that I am loved besides. I side with faith.
- I see so much terror in the world. And I want to give up caring. But I know that God has some cosmic answer to the question of world suffering. And in the meantime, I try to bring peace where I am. I side with faith.
'Siding with faith' is the disciples to Jesus: In John 6, when a large group of people left Jesus because his teaching was 'too hard', Jesus said to them:
So Jesus said to the Twelve, "Do you want to go away as well?" Simon Peter
answered him, "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life."
Here endeth the lesson. Hope you enjoyed...