A man in the crowd answered, “Teacher, I brought you my son, who is possessed by a spirit that has robbed him of speech. Whenever it seizes him, it throws him to the ground. He foams at the mouth, gnashes his teeth and becomes rigid. I asked your disciples to drive out the spirit, but they could not.” “You unbelieving generation,” Jesus replied, “how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring the boy to me.”
So they brought him. When the spirit saw Jesus, it immediately threw the boy into a convulsion. He fell to the ground and rolled around, foaming at the mouth.
Jesus asked the boy’s father, “How long has he been like this?”
“From childhood,” he answered. “It has often thrown him into fire or water to kill him. But if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.”
“‘If you can’?” said Jesus. “Everything is possible for one who believes.”
Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!”
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.
There are a number of ways we could analyze this passage and points of focus we could emphasize. But I want to look specifically at this father and the quality of his faith. His seeming contradiction (“I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief,” emphasis added) naturally raises the question, what condition was this man’s heart in? That is, which statement overrode the other? Was he a man of faith who struggled with doubts, or was he a disbeliever trying to muster some small seed of faith? And does it matter?
First, we must make a clarification. There is a difference between doubt and disbelief. Webster defines the former thusly: To waver or fluctuate in opinion; to hesitate; to be in suspense; to be in uncertainty; to be in suspense; to be in uncertainty, respecting the truth or fact; to be undetermined. Disbelief, on the other hand, implies willfulness. One could say a person with doubts is trying to believe or wants to believe, but struggles to do so because faith isn’t always easy, isn’t always natural. On the other hand, a person who disbelieves is trying not to believe, is refusing to believe, regardless of the evidence. While there are warnings against doubting in the Bible, it is this latter form of person Scripture especially condemns.
We tend to fall into the trap of thinking that having faith means never having doubts. But look at the “father” of faith, Abraham, a man who we’re told “did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God” but lived “by faith.” If anybody had perfect faith, it was him, right? Yet in Genesis we find him trying to bring about God’s promise on his own terms and twice passing off his wife as his sister out of fear instead of faith. Even Abraham, the man of faith, struggled with doubts.
So what of the man in Mark’s gospel? “Help me overcome my unbelief.” The Greek word used for unbelief is apistia, and it’s the same word found in Mark 6 when Jesus “was amazed at [many in his hometown’s] lack of faith,” in Hebrews 3 (as noted above) to lament the Israelites who rebelled against God and were denied entrance to the Promised Land, and which Paul used to describe his pre-conversion state. It is also the same word used to define Abraham’s lack of unbelief in Romans 4 (also as noted above). As it pertains to the man in Mark 9, then, it doesn’t seem to be relating to a passing doubt. It seems to be describing someone who is seriously wrestling with who God is. Indeed, what did he say to Jesus—“If you can.”
So we have here a man who expresses faith, but at the same time admits a lack of faith. If we’re honest, I think we can all relate to that at some point and in some way in our lives. I know I can. So to rephrase my earlier question, does his faith cancel out his lack of faith, or does his unbelief cancel out his belief? And what does that mean for us when we find ourselves in the same situation. Are we going to be left on the outside looking in because of our unbelief?
I think we find the answer in how Jesus responds to the man. He commands the spirit to leave the man’s son, then lifts him to his feet healed. Jesus then moves on to talk to his disciples about what has taken place and why they couldn’t drive out the spirit. He turns it into a teaching moment. But as it relates to the man, we see Jesus responding to his faith. Throughout the Gospels, Jesus’ healing is not always based upon a declaration or demonstration of faith. Often we read of Him making a comment to the affect that He is healing in response to faith, but not always. However, we never see Him perform healing in response to a declaration or demonstration of disbelief. In fact, we’re told in one instance that “he did not do many miracles there because of their lack of faith.” Another time He quoted from Isaiah 6, saying “For this people’s heart has become calloused; they hardly hear with their ears, and they have closed their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts and turn, and I would heal them.” Note that Jesus does not heal these calloused people because they exhibit signs of disbelief. These verses open an entirely new conversation on the correlation between our faith and the movement of God, but that is for another time. What I think it tells us in this particular instance is that Jesus looked at this man and his struggle of faith and saw legitimacy in his belief.
We tend to talk about being people of faith, or having faith. And Scripture is clear, a faith response is required on our part to receive God’s forgiveness and salvation. But the issue is not the size, strength, or substance of our faith. It is the size, strength, and substance of the One in whom we have faith. If perfect faith was required to be right with God, no person would attain that right standing any more than if the standard was perfect obedience. But the beauty of the gospel is that God does not require our perfection—either in works or in faith. He simply requires that we have faith. As He told His disciples immediately after the interaction with the man and his son, “Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.” The key seems to be having faith at all, not having perfect faith. Not until, as the old hymn puts it, “the day when my faith shall be sight” will we have perfect faith, and then it will no longer be faith.
So if you relate to this man, as I do, take heart. Your doubts and struggles do not separate you from God. In fact, a doubt implies there is something (a belief) to be doubted. A struggle implies two sides (one of them being faith) are present. This is by no means an excuse to wallow in doubt or unbelief. Perhaps the key word in all this text is “help.” This also clues us in to the man’s true position. “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief” (emphasis added) is a heartfelt, perhaps even tearful request—a plea. If you, like this man, say to Jesus, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” I think you can be confident that your faith “is enough” or is sufficient, as was—as demonstrated by Jesus’ response—his.
 American Dictionary of the English Language “doubt,” accessed April 20, 2017, http://webstersdictionary1828.com/Dictionary/doubt
 See Numbers 14:11-12; Romans 11:20-23; Hebrews 3:12-19
 Romans 4:20
 See Hebrews 11:8-19
 See Genesis 16
 See Genesis 12:10-20 and Genesis 20
 Mark 6:6
 I Timothy 1:13
 See Matthew 9:22, 29; 15:28; Mark 10:52; Luke 17:19;
 Matthew 13:58, emphasis added.
 Matthew 13:15
 Matthew 17:20
 See Mark 9:24 (ESV) and footnote