“‘If you can’?” said Jesus. “Everything is possible for him who believes.” Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!”
A father brought his demon-possessed deaf and mute son to the disciples of Jesus. They were unable to help. Jesus came on the scene. The demon threw the boy into convulsions.
We know a lot more about epilepsy today than people did then, and the temptation for some modern readers is to say that Jesus either misdiagnosed the boy’s condition as demon possession or accommodated Himself to folk belief.
However, note that earlier Jesus didn’t treat the deaf and mute man as being possessed of an evil spirit (Mark 5:31–35) but as suffering from a physical condition. Further, in healings there are no evil spirits “coming out” of the person. In the accounts of demonic deliverance, there is an evocative response from the demons clearly identifying themselves as distinct from the person they inhabit (1:26; 5:7; 9:26).
The father had asked Jesus, “If you can do anything . . . help us.” Jesus responded rhetorically, “If you can?” meaning, “Are you really asking Me if I can?” Jesus then answered His own question, “Everything is possible for him who believes.”
Obviously, Jesus believed. He came from the other side of time and space where disease can’t live and death doesn’t exist. He knew that all it took to banish evil was His word.
Unfortunately, we mortals have not yet made it to that world, so our faith fails and fades. We want to believe that evil will be banished, but despite our best efforts it remains. Our faith is feeble.
But, the Lord tells us in this passage to stretch our faith muscles, to reach out and expect good to happen against the very presence of evil. “It is possible,” Jesus says, “but you have to believe.” In other words, “Don’t go passive. Don’t accept things the way they are. Your faith can make a difference.”
The father could have disputed the statement of Jesus. He might have responded, “No, in my own life experience, that is not true. I’ve believed for many things that have not happened.” Or, the father could have ignored Jesus’ statement and made no response, perhaps thinking to himself, That’s preposterous!
However, the father picked up on Jesus’ declaration and responded affirmatively, “I do believe.” Then, recognizing that he really hadn’t told the whole truth, he added, “Help me overcome my unbelief.”
You have to love the honesty here, “I believe . . . but I have unbelief.”
Sometimes we falsely think that we must have perfect faith in order for the Lord to work, when all He really wants is for us to make the effort to have faith.
Jesus’ interchange with this man helps us as we pray. There are some who falsely tell us, “When you pray or ask for something, if you have any doubt at all, you will not get it.” Thus, if we do not receive the answer we wanted, the blame falls on us. It’s far better to be honest with the Lord, as was this father; and to say to Him, “I do believe but I’m not all the way there yet. You’re going to have to make up whatever I lack.”
Jesus would much rather we be honest with Him than try to bluff our way in His presence.
A Prayer: Lord Jesus, I have faith but I also waver and fall short. I’m grateful that the results to my prayers depend on Your power and not my imperfect trust.