In Mark 9 the Holy Spirit gives us the record of what happened when a man brought Jesus a difficult and (humanly) hopeless situation–his son was possessed by a demon who was bent on destroying the boy. Jesus asked him how long it had been this way for the family. The dad said it had been this way for years–since his son was a little boy:
“And often he has thrown him both into the fire and into the water to destroy him. But if You can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.” (Mark 9:22)
Jesus’ answer to the father is at once filled with hope, and (as we can all relate to) kind of despair inducing. Why? Because while Jesus indicates that this is no problem in terms of his own power, he seems to put some of the onus back on the father as well, or at least, that’s how it may have seemed when he heard this answer:
“If you can believe, all things are possible to him who believes.” (Mark 9:23)
If you’ve read this story before, you probably love the father’s reply, because, well, most of us can totally relate to it.
“Lord, I believe;” [He cried out] “Help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24)
In James Edwards’ commentary on the book of Mark, he gives us these helpful thoughts about this passage:
True faith is always aware how small and inadequate it is.
The father becomes a believer not when he amasses a sufficient quantum of faith but when he risks everything on what little faith he has, when he yields his insufficiency to the sufficiency of Jesus, “‘I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!'”
The risk of faith is more costly to the father than bringing his son to Jesus, for he can talk about his son but he must “cry out” for faith. True faith takes no confidence in itself nor does it judge Jesus by the weakness of his followers. It looks to the More Powerful One who stands in the place of God, whose authoritative word restores life from chaos.
True faith is unconditional openness to God, a decision in the face of all to the contrary that Jesus is able.
(The Gospel According to Mark, James Edwards, p. 280)