“What do you mean, ‘If I can?'” (Mark 9:23)
Many of us doubt God; not the existence of God, but the power of God. I can understand it. We all have to grapple at some point with one of the toughest existential questions of life: “If God is all-loving and all-powerful, why do evil and suffering continue to exist?”
Sometimes we express our doubts even in our prayers. We pray but we also brace ourselves for non-answers. Indeed, if we get too many “No” answers, we start to wonder if He could give a “Yes” if He wanted to. It’s just the way our finite minds work. Doubts creep in. We’re just not sure.
In Mark 9, a man has a demon-possessed son, and that demon has done the worst things imaginable to the boy; afflicting him since childhood with fits and seizures, and even (at times) throwing him into fire and water to try to kill him. The desperate father cries out to Jesus, “If you can do anything, take pity on us and help us!” And Jesus responds with this question:
“What do you mean, ‘If I can?'”
Have we not all had that same doubt at one time or another? We cry out for help and wonder if we’ve been heard. We need someone to save us, but we’re not sure God’s listening. We ask for a miracle, and feel greeted by silence. Yet, Jesus asks the question, and adds an important qualifier.
“What do you mean, ‘If I can?’ All things are possible to him who believes.”
The story in Mark’s Gospel finishes on a profound and memorable note. Driven to his knees with desperation, and overwhelmed with fear for his son, the father looks up and plaintively replies: “I do believe; help me in my unbelief.”
I have days when I feel ready to conquer the world. My energy levels are high. My faith feels strong. Bring it on! Then there are those other days; those days when life feels rather too large, Christ feels a little far away, and faith wobbles just a bit. On those days, this story has special power.
“What do you mean, ‘If I can?'” Jesus asked.
And suddenly the story takes a turn. This story in Mark’s Gospel becomes enormously powerful. It shows a way forward to all of us who feel spiritually stunted. It gives hope to anyone who can muster only a grain of faith in the midst of a mountain of life. It invites us to respond to Christ with the same honesty as that unnamed father on that unknown date so long ago.
“I believe; help me in my unbelief.”
And Jesus does.