The Battle of Unbelief
We tend to believe things about the Bible that, whether we realize it or not, cripple our faith. When we come across a scripture that’s difficult, sometimes impossible, to understand or reconcile to our reality we make a decision regarding that scripture that shoots us off into one of two directions – belief or unbelief.
I love the story of Jesus healing a boy with an unclean spirit. More than the healing of the boy I love the focus on the father when Jesus says, “’If you can! All things are possible for one who believes.’ Immediately the father of the child cried out and said, ‘I believe; help my unbelief!’”
I love the honesty of his seemingly contradictory statement: I believe. Help my unbelief!
According to Merriam Webster, to believe is to “consider to be true or honest, genuine or real; to hold as an opinion.” Synonyms of believe include: consider, feel, imagine, judge, suppose and think.
It’s a balance of the mind and of the heart. I spent most of my Christian life thinking, judging, and supposing that the words of God are true. It wasn’t enough. In 1 Samuel 2:35 God says, “And I will raise up for myself a faithful priest, who shall do according to what is in my heart and in my mind” (emphasis mine).
The mind and heart are separate. It’s not enough to determine that something is true if your heart is unwilling to be open to receive it. It’s not enough to feel something is true if you’re unwilling to set your mind on the truth. We need both, and yet we fail in achieving both.
The longer I follow Christ the more I realize just how much I need Him. Right when I think I’ve gotten to a point of completely believing in my head and heart the truth about Jesus and his heart for me in a specific area (finally!), the Lord reveals to me a much deeper layer of unbelief.
And in the same area I was so convinced I’d mastered!
It’s not about having to master belief in order to achieve salvation or right standing with God. Only through Jesus Christ is right standing ever made possible. Being right with God isn’t about what I do, but about what He’s already done.
In balanced belief there is a level of knowing that results in peace that surpasses understanding (Philippians 4:7). It’s in believing, in both the head and the heart, that insecurity dies, fear evaporates and the true power of the gospel shows up in an undeniable way. So how do we live in the in between? When we believe, but we also have unbelief?
The father saw his son convulsing on the ground and foaming at the mouth (Mark 9:20) and he was afraid. What loving father wouldn’t be? “If you can do anything,” he began to say to Jesus. If. One of the shortest words in the English language with the largest impacts. If.
Jesus responds so beautifully. When the father cries out, “I believe; help my unbelief!” Jesus responds in a way that is so unlike us. He doesn’t ask the father to prove his increase in belief. Jesus doesn’t hold back his miracle until every ounce of unbelief is gone. He doesn’t say he’ll come back in a few days when the father can have time to really think about whether or not he’s sure. He doesn’t even test the father’s belief.
He simply does a miracle. He bridges the gap. He casts out an evil spirit and heals the father’s son.
The longer I follow Jesus the more I realize I’m like that father. My heart cries out, I believe! Simultaneously it whispers, sometimes shudders, sometimes weeps, help my unbelief! To believe in miracles, in healing, in restoration and wholeness while the same heart wrestles with the opposite feels like being torn in half. My mind is set on the Spirit (Romans 8:5-9) and yet my heart wrestles.
The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it (Jeremiah 17:9)? I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart (Psalm 9:1, emphasis mine). Everyone utters lies to his neighbor; with flattering lips and a double heart they speak (Psalm 12:2).
The heart is a mess. And yet it’s what God wants more than anything (Mark 12:33). What we decide to believe with our head and heart determine our relationship with the Father. In the conflict of battling what we believe, we need to stand on the truth.
Because truth is not determined by what you think is true, or what you feel is true. Truth is just truth and it’s strong enough to endure the weight of uncertainty.
We need to remember we’re not alone in this fight. “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words” (Romans 8:26).
We need to remember that, though we fail every day, “Who could ever separate us from the endless love of God’s Anointed One? Absolutely no one! For nothing in the universe has the power to diminish his love toward us. Troubles, pressures, and problems are unable to come between us and heaven’s love. What about persecutions, deprivations, dangers, and death threats? No, for they are all impotent to hinder omnipotent love… There is nothing in our present or future circumstances that can weaken his love. There is no power above us or beneath us – no power that could ever be found in the universe that can distance us from God’s passionate love, which is lavished upon us through our Lord Jesus, the Anointed One!” (Romans 8:35, 36-39, TPT).
This is truth. And it’s strong enough to hold onto you while you stand before Jesus as He peels the scales of unbelief off your eyes. I believe, Jesus. Help my unbelief. The truth, His love for you, is far greater than your belief. Faith the size of a mustard seed can move mountains. You don't need it to be perfect for Jesus to work. You just need to start with what you have, and trust that Jesus will do the rest.
In what areas of your faith do you find yourself saying, “I believe; help my unbelief!” Do you believe your marriage can reflect Christ and the church? Do you believe you can be healed of your trauma? Do you believe you can walk out the calling God has put on your life, though it seems impossible? Do you believe your parents will come to know Christ as Lord? Do you believe your child can be supernaturally healed?
Ask God to help you in your unbelief, and then pursue belief as you ask God: “Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!” (Psalm 139:23-24).