Our staff at TBC gathers virtually for Bible study once a month. As a relative newcomer to this group, it can be a little daunting when my turn to lead rolls around. Collectively, there are decades, maybe even a century, of wisdom, study, and experience represented by the small squares on my zoom screen. The idea that I could offer a new insight or bring fresh content to this group feels presumptuous, and yet I’ve always felt welcomed and encouraged by their engagement. Even as I prepare a Bible study I am aware of a tension within myself: there is wariness and eagerness, dread and excitement. I doubt and I believe.
Mark tells a story about how Jesus sees this tension and how he engages it. My bible titles Mark 9:14-32, “The Healing of a Boy with an Evil Spirit.” My favorite part of this encounter is not the healing or the boy, or the evil spirit. My favorite part is the boy’s father. This story is recorded in Matthew, Mark, and Luke, but Mark is the only one that captures the boy’s father’s conversation with Jesus.
To paraphrase: Jesus, Peter, and John have just returned from a mountaintop experience where Jesus was transfigured, and Elijah and Moses appeared. They come down the mountain and join the other disciples who are in the midst of a large crowd arguing with the authorities. A man has brought his son to the disciples hoping they will heal him from the evil spirit that seizes him, throws him to the ground, and robs him of speech. Thus far the disciples have been unsuccessful in the healing. Just as Jesus shows up, the evil spirit throws the boy into a convulsion.
Here I imagine the boy’s father goes to him as a good father would. Maybe he crouches at his head and tries to contain the damage. Maybe the crowd clears a small space for them as the boy rolls around and foams at the mouth. This is the scene I imagine as the father begs Jesus in verse 22:
“If you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.”
“’If you can?’” says Jesus. “Everything is possible for him who believes.” Immediately the boy’s father exclaims, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!”
I want to pause here and underline these words: I do believe, help me overcome my unbelief! If I were a tattoo person, these are the words I’d have inked out somewhere on my body. The father’s words are an apt description of my own faith journey. I see God’s hand in my life, I feel His presence, and I am drawn to worship. But skepticism and my critical nature are right there, too, needling me with suspicion and doubt.
If we were to sketch the father’s faith throughout this story it would look like a roller coaster. But he must have come to the disciples and Jesus with at least a kernel of faith, believing healing for his son was possible. Did his faith falter as the disciples failed to heal him at the start of the story? What about as his boy convulsed in front of Jesus? If we read on, the boy appears dead in verse 26. But Jesus then takes the boy by the hand and he stands up. I imagine the ups and downs the father must have experienced as this scene plays out. He believes! He begs to overcome his unbelief!
This is us. This is me. Exuberant faith side-by-side with stubborn unbelief. Mark tells us that Jesus is not surprised or ashamed of our rollercoaster faith. It is part of what it means to be human. We contain both the dignity of being created in the image of God and the depravity of fallen human nature. Jesus laments the pain it causes us but does not turn away or leave us there. He reaches in to offer healing. The human experience is to come to this holy place over and over again, crouching in the dust, desperate in our experience or witness of pain crying out to Jesus, “I believe! Help me overcome my unbelief.”
Caroline Chambers joined The Barnabas Center in 2020. She earned her undergraduate degree at Wake Forest University and a Master’s in Counseling at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in Massachusetts in 2002. Since then, she’s worked with clients and families throughout the life span from early education to end-of-life issues and has recently taken additional coursework in counseling and theology at the Gordon-Conwell campus in Charlotte.
She lives with her husband, Matt, and their three children. Over the years, Caroline has been blessed by being part of many different faith communities, leading and participating in women’s Bible studies and Spiritual Formation groups. She also enjoys running, yoga, and a good novel.
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