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Believe It And Not

One of my favorite verses is Mark 9:24, where a father who has asked Jesus to heal his son has the honesty to say this:

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

I love it! I have faith and no faith. I trust and I don’t. I’m with Jesus and I’m not. All at the same time! I’m right handed and I’m left handed. I’m a Democrat and an Republican. Red state and blue state. Tea Party and progressive. ALL AT THE SAME TIME. Ambivalent, ambiguous, real. Double minded and so very human. So very me. Love it, love it, love it.

Remember where dad is. In the vortex of a battle between life giver and life stealer and life stealer is a lot more obvious in the moment. I honestly think dad has post-demonic stress syndrome. I believe in Jesus until I don’t anymore. It’s all a question of locale. I know he is good; I just don’t know he’s good to me. I believe in God; I disbelieve in me. You’re the same way. You know this dad. You’ve been this dad. Believe. And not.

Which is why Jesus’ response here is such a big deal. Now: he has just said in 9:23 that you gotta believe to get everything, right? So this believing-and-not-believing dad shouldn’t get anything, right? Except remember the scene: this is a battle for authority. Radiant vs. repugnant. Life giver vs. life stealer. Jesus has to show who is the true authority. So in 9:25-29 he heals the boy:

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.”

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

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

He replied, “This kind can come out only by prayer.”

Look at that 9:26 – they thought the boy was dead. Why? So Jesus could demonstrate he has authority over death! So he could foreshadow the resurrection! Mark’s no dummy! Words matter! And so the dad – who is us, remember – doesn’t get punished for his doubts, he gets blessed for his honesty about them. That tells me: if you are honest about where you are, Jesus is faithful to show who he is.

See: dad here is like “I’m not going to pretend, not going to hide, not going to dress it up. I’m on the fence about you Jesus. Just putting it out there. I wish I believed more, but I’ve seen too much. Can you handle it?” And something in that resonates with Jesus. He takes the morsel of uncertain faith and blesses it. It’s clear he prefers honest doubt over pretend faith. His own followers – remember the fighting B teamers? – were doing a lot of pretending and not much truth telling. That’s why dad here gets the blessing and his disciples get the talking to.

Listen: if you’ve never doubted, you’ve only half believed. Your doubts are not your enemy. Pretending is. Think about it: what’s the name of the chosen people? Right! Israel. And what does that name mean? One who struggles with God. The chose ones are the wrestling ones! The Lord loves the struggler and has no patience with the pretender. He wants your honesty, your questions, your uncertainty. He can handle all of it. He’d much rather you question him than ignore him. I’m not recommending this doubt as a place to live permanently, but if you find yourself there from time to time, don’t be frightened. Remember your salvation depends on the cross and not your feeling. His declaration and not your emotion.

You know why I’m so OK with seasons of doubt? Because no doubt ever diminished Jesus’ authority. He didn’t need dad’s permission to heal the boy. He healed the boy despite dad’s uncertainty. Mark includes the story in his bio of Jesus and in doing so highlights dad’s uncertainty to elevate Jesus authority. His sovereignty. He really has that much authority over life. Over death. Over life after death. Believe it. And not.

The above is an excerpt from The Shadow Of A Doubt, published by Abingdon Press and available wherever books are sold.

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