For some of you here today my story may resonate with you. Good people have tried to protect you from any type of doubt. They have told you to be careful and to keep you eyes on Jesus. To which you might have replied in your head or with your lips if you were daring, which Jesus? the one who compared a women to a dog or the one who loves children and died on the cross.
Both of these verses along with many other passages do not speak highly of doubt, probably for good reason. A person who allows doubt to prevent them from being obedient to God revelation is probably not leading a holy life.
However, is doubt always wrong? Are there any examples in scripture of people whom God uses in spite of their doubts? Or better yet, are there any people whose doubts lead to a deeper faith? If you have a copy of the Bible please turn with me to Mark chapter 9. (Read the Text)
Directly before our text today, we read that Jesus, James, and John had been together on a mountain where God the Father had spoken, declaring that Jesus was indeed His Son, an event Christians have historically called the Transfiguration.
Our story begins then directly after this: with Jesus and these three disciples coming down the mountain. They are coming from this heavenly experience back to the realities of the world, from a place where God’s Kingdom had arrived in power to a world full of pain and suffering and doubts about God’s ability to fix any of it.
So they come down from this and see a crowd and hear it arguing. This crowd included Jesus’ other disciples, people following Jesus, and the religious leaders and philosophers of the day.
Stepping into the crowd Jesus asks, what are you guys arguing about? The father of a boy speaks up and tells Jesus that his son is being tormented by a spirit. This spirit keeps him from talking and causes him to have something like seizures, foaming at them mouth and grinding his teeth. The Father also tells Jesus that the disciples who weren’t with Jesus on the mountain had tried unsuccessfully to heal the boy.
Mark doesn’t tell us what arguments are being made. We only know that an innocent boy is being tormented and the disciples are powerless to do anything about it. So what were they arguing about?
My guess is they were arguing about why the disciples couldn’t heal the boy or more broadly why doesn’t God stop bad things from happening to good people. A few possible theories were probably thrown around…
Maybe the disciples lacked faith, or maybe God lacked the power to do anything, or maybe God didn’t want to heal the boy. We can’t know for sure what their arguments were but these are some of the answers we give to why bad things happen to good people.
So after learning about the situation from the boy’s father and the context of the argument taking place, Jesus responds in vs 19 “You faithless generation, how long will I be with you? How long will I put up with you? Bring him to me.” Hm… that’s a strange thing to say. Not just strange but rather callous, even cold hearted. He condemns everyone around for their lack of faith. That’s not the Jesus I am comfortable with. Many times I doubt and question God, is this what he thinks of me? Is he angry at me?
Let's take a moment and to try and understand what Jesus is saying. The important question to ask is who was Jesus addressing with this statement, the dad, the crowd, the disciples, the boy?
Most scholars think of this statement as a prophetic utterance.
The Jewish Bible or what Christians call the Old Testament contains many similar statements from God himself, specifically in Numbers, Deuteronomy, and Psalms, usually referring to Israel and their unbelief. Most of these statements come from the mouth of God. By saying this then, Jesus is equating himself to God and affirming that unbelief in him is equal to the unbelief of Israel in their God.
So Jesus’ condemnation isn’t directed at the father, the disciples, or the legal scholars specifically, but is rather a claim that he is equal to God and a condemnation of the unbelief that has been present in the world for a long time in everyone. He is frustrated that this unbelief results in situations where evil spirits can terrorize little Children.
Jesus hates evil and now moves to a solution. Look at the end of vs 19… “bring him to me” Jesus is going to do something about it.
So the crowd brought the boy to him. And the spirit threw him on the ground and he started convulsing. Jesus then asks the man a followup question, how long has he been doing this? The father answers in verse 21, “Since he was as child, it has often thrown him into a fire or into water trying to kill him.” he continues almost as an afterthought, and blurts out “but if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.”
In this statement he expresses his own doubts about Jesus’ ability to heal his son and His compassion. He expresses the question people have been asking for thousands of years, does God care about my situation and does he have the power to do anything about it?
Jesus recognizes this and responds in kind, quoting back to him his own words almost like “Really… seriously… you are really asking me that? He says in verse 23, If you can do anything, all things are possible for the one who believes.” Jesus appears to put the ball back in his court, essentially telling him this issue isn’t me it’s you… you have to believe.
The father responds by uttering words that express the feelings of countless individuals throughout history and in this room today. “I believe, help my unbelief.”
He acknowledges the existence of both belief and unbelief inside of himself. He is saying, Jesus, sometimes I believe and sometimes I don’t. If you are counting on my belief to enable my son’s healing then my son is never going to be healed. I believed enough to bring him to your disciples and then to you, but so far that belief hasn’t been enough.
What does Jesus do? He doesn’t tell the man to believe more or get rid of his unbelief, instead he moves toward the boy and attempts to do what the disciples were unable to do, he commands the spirit to come out of the boy. The spirit shrieks and yells and resists but submits to Jesus’ will. He comes out of the boy and the boy falls to the ground.
It was a frightening experience for the crowd as the boy appeared to be dead but Jesus lifts the boy up to his feet and he goes home with his father. Jesus has proved that unlike his disciples he has the power to heal this boy without perfect belief.
The story then comes full circle as Jesus huddles with his disciples. They ask him why it is that they weren’t able to cast out the demon. Jesus doesn’t say, because they didn’t have faith or because the father didn’t have faith but says, “this kind can only be cast out through prayer.”
This phrase has puzzled commentators, but it seems most likely it was added by Mark as a message to the early church to pray when trying to cast out demons.
So what does this story teach us about doubt and faith…
First, In this story we see that our unbelief, that is our lack of belief that God cares and that he can do something about our situation, can keep God from doing the miraculous.
The Greek word translated as unbelief is only used twice in Mark. Once in chapter 6 and once here in chapter 9. In chapter 6 Jesus is unable to do any miracles because of the unbelief present in his hometown, the same word the father describes himself with. However, in our story it doesn’t keep Jesus from doing the miraculous. So what was the difference?
The difference is that the father offered some belief to Jesus. He was honest about his doubts yet he still acted as if he believed. He sought out help first from the disciples, then from Jesus himself hoping that what he believed about Jesus, that he had the ability and desire to heal his son, was actually true. And it was.
If the man had not brought his son to the disciples he would not have been healed. What he believed and the actions he took as a result of what he believed mattered. Belief and unbelief matter. My father was right. It does matter what we believe and if it does matter then we must not take things that keep us from obeying God seriously.
The son would not have been healed if his father had not believed enough to bring him to Jesus. Likewise people around us need us to introduce them to the love of God as demonstrated in Christ Jesus. They need us to believe for them. To believe that God can heal them. To pray for them. To work for justice, to care for orphans, to bring freedom to the oppressed. This story reveals that nothing is inevitable. The end of God’s story is already written but the middle is yet to be determined.
We cannot buy into the lie that we play no part in what God does. We play a role in whether or not healing comes to our friends and neighbors, to our schools and cities. Believing matters and what we believe matters.
Second, from this passage we learn that doubt isn’t always sin. Lets take a moment to define what I mean by doubt. Doubt, is to wonder whether or not a belief is true. Its asking, does what i believe reflect reality? Doubt is the mechanism by which humans come closer to the truth. It is a gift through which humans have advanced in all areas of knowledge; from science, to history, to astronomy, and medicine.
In this story the father wonders whether or not Christ could heal his son and whether he wanted to heal him. In otherwords he wonders whether or not what he had heard about Jesus, that he could heal his son and that he would want to heal his son is true. Does it reflect reality?
The only way he can find out the answer is if Jesus gives evidence one way or the other. In this story he does. By Jesus giving good evidence, ie raising his son from the dead, Jesus empowers the man to be more sure his beliefs reflect reality.
It is never wrong to doubt if the purpose of it is to find truth.
However, there is another kind of doubt. It is a doubt that doesn’t seek truth but destruction. I have several good friends who have experienced this. They grew up as Christians, had incredible experiences with God went to Christian Colleges and even seminary and started asking questions. They started to doubt what they were taught growing up..
For a while they tried to find answers… They continued to ask questions, to seek answers, to go to church. During this time many well meaning Christians ignored their questions and told them they needed to just believe more, or pray more, or ask God to take away their questions. Eventually they were ignored and dismissed as troublemakers.
Shortly there after many of them gave up their faith as their doubt destroyed their desire for truth. They simply ceased to believe that it was possible to find anything transcendent.
That is the doubt James is talking about when he says, “for the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind. 7 For that man ought not to expect that he will receive anything from the Lord, 8 being a [i]double-minded man, unstable in all his ways”.
This kind of doubt has no end in mind. It doesn’t lead to discovery but to destruction.
Finally, from this story we learn that doubt can lead people to truth.
Let me explain… During Jesus’ day Judaism dominated the culture. The father in our story would have probably learned the Jewish scriptures as a child, he would have been circumcised and probably followed all the dietary laws. He probably would have traveled to Jerusalem to offer sacrifices.
In his religious upbringing he would have been warned about false prophets, and the danger they posed to Judaism. He would have been taught the Shema which is a prayer Jewish people recite everyday.
It is found in our Scriptures and says, “Here oh Israel The Lord is our God and He is one.” It is the proclamation of the Jewish belief in monotheism. There is only one God.
And along comes Jesus, claiming to be the Son of that God… Equal to that God. The God above all other gods. And he doubted… he doubted the truth of the Shema…
Why? Because he was desperate. He wanted his son to be healed even if the healing was done by someone who claimed to be God, in direct violation of the current teachings of Judaism. He thought just maybe God had come down from heaven and was walking in Galilee. His doubt brought him in contact with the Truth.
Today… Seek truth… Act in obedience to what faith has taught you… but Doubt the status que so that God can use you to bring his love and compassion to the world while we wait for his return. Don’t be scared. Be hopeful… God uses our questions, he uses our doubts, he takes whatever we offer him and he uses it to bring healing to the world around us.
So what happened to me after picking up CS Lewis. Sure enough I doubted, I questioned my faith, just as my Father thought I would. I went to Bible college, I sought truth and found that many people weren’t interested, I found that it made people uncomfortable, but I found peace.
I found that I could seek truth and not lose my faith. I have found that my dad was wrong. The only thing that is in danger when you doubt is the status quo. The truth is safe.
So I doubted and questioned and found women to be equal to men in all respects, I found that the Bible was never meant to be a weapon, I found Christians inside Catholic Churches, inside Presbyterian churches, inside Methodist churches, at the Democratic convention. i found that all truth is God’s truth, and that Christianity is not at odds with doubt or rigorous study.
If today you are questioning your faith, doubting your salvation, doubting the resurrection, tell someone, seek answers, don’t be afraid, God can take even the smallest amount of belief and use it to heal those around us. He can take your doubts and use them to bring you closer to the truth. For those here who aren’t struggling with doubts, you probably no someone who is. Love them. Care for them. Pray for them. Invite them into our community. Believe for them until God gives them faith.
Go in Peace.