“Help my unbelief”
Several times, people have asked me which character in the Bible I most identify with. I don’t know the man’s name, but his words to Jesus match the frequent plea of my heart. (And I would bet that you find yourself identifying with his request as well.)
One day a man came to Jesus, pleading for the healing of his son, Jesus said to him, “Everything is possible for him who believes” (Mark 9:23). In reply, the man says to Jesus, “I do believe; help my unbelief” (Mark 9:24). (Or as the NIV puts it, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief.”)
So often, that is my plea: I believe, Lord; help my unbelief!
Why would that man not believe Jesus? Probably because he didn’t know Jesus well enough. He didn’t know Jesus well enough to know whether or not Jesus could be trusted.
Why don’t we believe Jesus? Probably for the same reason: We don’t actually know Jesus well enough to know whether or not we can trust Him.
To a significant extent, the life of faith is like the world of the circus trapeze. Douglas Nason writes,
“Circus history was made…in Tucson, Arizona, on July 10, 1982, when 17-year-old Miguel Vasquez completed the first quadruple somersault on the flying trapeze. It was an amazing accomplishment, one that had long eluded even the greatest of acrobats. But circus people know that the true hero that day was not Miguel—the true hero was his older brother, Juan.
“No flyer spinning at the speed required for a quadruple somersault could ever hope to pull out of the spin and grab on to the bar. Everything ultimately depends on having a catcher—someone who is able to grab hold of the flyer’s outstretched arms, break the spin, and hold on tight. Juan was the catcher, swinging upside down on the receiving bar to catch his brother. Here is how Juan described the event: ‘Hanging upside down, I am swinging toward him as he is hurtling toward me at 75 miles per hour. Now I’m reaching for him; my hands are straining toward his, his hands are straining toward mine. I have him! Our hands are locked and holding.’”
How is it that Miguel could leave the bar he started on and thrust himself into the air to be caught by the “catcher”? Because they had grown up together and worked out together long enough for Miguel to come to know that he could trust Juan to catch him.
William P. Young addresses this truth in his book, The Shack, in a conversation between Mackenzie and God:
“‘The real underlying flaw in your life, Mackenzie, is that you don’t think that I am good. If you knew I was good and that everything…is all covered by my goodness, then while you might not always understand what I am doing, you would trust me. But you don’t.’
“‘I don’t?’ asked Mack, but it was not really a question. It was a statement of fact and he knew it….
“‘Mackenzie, you cannot produce trust…. Trust is the fruit of a relationship in which you know you are loved. Because you do not know that I love you, you cannot trust me.’
“Again there was silence, and finally Mack looked up at Papa and spoke. ‘I don’t know how to change that.’
“‘You can’t, not alone. But together we will watch that change take place. For now I just want you to be with me…. I am good, and I desire only what is best for you. You cannot find that through guilt or condemnation or coercion, only through a relationship of love. And I do love you.” (p. 126)
Trust does not grow out of understanding the circumstances of our lives better but out of developing a closer relationship with God. Trust does not result from figuring things out better but from spending enough time with God to get to know Him well enough to learn to trust Him.
Therefore our plea, “Help my unbelief,” is essentially the plea for a growing relationship with God that will enable our trust in Him to grow. Then we will be able to affirm Oswald Chambers words, “Faith is deliberate confidence in the character of God whose ways you may not understand at the time.”