His life was filled with desperation. His son was possessed by a demon that caused him to seize, fall, and convulse. Imagine the father’s pleas and prayers. What was happening to his son? Why his precious child? Who could help him? Then hope came in a rumor about Jesus of Nazareth and his disciples.
The distraught father carried his son to Jesus. When he got to the band of disciples, Jesus, Peter, James, and John were gone, so he asked the remaining disciples to exorcise the demon from his son (Mark 9:18). Sadly, “they were not able” to cast it out.
As desperate as the father was, the disciples were equally confident. They had been sent out with the authority to cast out demons (Mark 3:15; 6:7). During the ministry tour “they cast out many demons and anointed with oil many who were sick and healed them” (Mark 6:13). Nothing would suggest they would be unable to cast out this demon. Thus, nothing prepared them for failure.
Whatever hope the man had in his son’s salvation evaporated with the disciples’ faith. The scene was a despondent mess when Jesus arrived from the mountain. When the man recounted the failure, he turned to Jesus in doubt, “But if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us” (Mark 9:22). Jesus challenged the father’s faith by incredulously repeating the father’s doubt, “If you can!” Then he reveals the crux of the matter—faith (9:23). At this point, the father cries out, “I believe; help my unbelief!” (9:24).
Our hearts rip open as the father lays his in the hands of Jesus. He revealed both faith and doubt. Sometimes we think faith is an “all-or-nothing” feeling. We either have faith or we don’t. Yet, Mark exposes us to a man with a sincere conflict between believing and unbelieving. In fact, his reply reflects a common and paralyzing self-doubt many of us have experienced in our own walk with Jesus.
There are a few lessons we can learn from the father’s cry. First, it shows us that real faith recognizes its smallness and inadequacy. Face to face with Jesus and confronted with disbelief he embraces faith. Yet, even in his belief there is unbelief. The same is true of modern Christians, our faith should be strong enough to see how small our faith is, forcing us to seek help in our unbelief.
Second, real faith has no confidence in personal ability, but looks to Jesus to fill in the gap of our shortcomings. The father had exhausted his own personal means to help his son. Then he turned to the disciples who failed. He experienced what Jesus called “poor in spirit,” a recognition that he could not measure up to the needs of his child (Matt 5:3). It is only when the father empties himself of status, power, and import that he sees Jesus can save his son.
Third, real faith looks past its personal doubts and ignorance to rely on God. All the evidence pointed to the conclusion that this demon was too strong to be cast out of his son. The father had only seen failure and in-fighting over his son’s demon. Yet, when Jesus told him to believe—believe against the odds and contrary to the evidence, a mustard seed of faith was planted. We may not understand how God will accomplish what is needed in our lives, but we trust he is able to get it done.
Like the father of the demoniac, our faith is probably mixed and uncertain. This gives us reason to trust more deeply in him. Then we can cry out as the father did, “I believe; help my unbelief.”