Mark 9:17-18, "And one of the multitude answered and said, Master, I have brought unto thee my son, which hath a dumb spirit; And wheresoever he taketh him, he teareth him: and he foameth, and gnasheth with his teeth, and pineth away: and I spake to thy disciples that they should cast him out; and they could not."
This morning, many things in the world can lead us into unbelief. Sometimes we encounter people that show unbelief due to unresolved emotional problems – perhaps they are still enraged over something that happened years ago that they have not ever gotten over emotionally. Still others engage in unbelief as they are dealing with emotional turmoil that has sprung up rather quickly – they begin thinking rashly as the emotional onset has sprung upon them rather quickly. Yet others practice unbelief because they emphasize the wrong details in a situation – they judge evidence improperly. In the study verses above, we read about a man that came to the Lord dealing with all three things. While he approached Christ thinking that only his son needed help, Christ pointed out his unbelief before dealing with his son's problem.
The passage before us relates an account of a man whose son is possessed with a dumb spirit. This spirit makes the child do things of a crazed nature: foaming, tearing about, etc. Putting ourselves in this father's situation for a moment, how would such a family situation affect us? Would we react in anger? Would we react in helplessness? Personally, I cannot imagine the emotional turmoil this man must have been under watching his son in such a pitiful condition. Doubtless, we have all either seen or read about people who blamed God for mental and/or physical afflictions in their immediate families. The commonly repeated question by these people is, "Why would God allow this to happen to me and my family?" Emotional duress can make us react improperly and not exercise the faith-sense that God should receive in our lives.
Furthermore, we understand from this passage that the man has first gone to Christ's disciples to seek help for his son. They were unable to do anything about this unclean spirit (though they were blessed at previous times and then in future times to cast our spirits and devils). Finally, the man comes to Christ, possibly at his wit's end about the situation. When he gets to Christ, he relays his plight and begs unbelievingly for help. The succeeding verses after ours show his unbelief when he doubts the ability of Christ. He essentially tells Christ "if you are able, then help." Friends, no matter how much duress we are under, we should never doubt the ability of Christ. It is never a matter of "if He can," but rather, it is a matter of "please will He." Our prayers to Him for help should be like a leper's prayer who said, "If thou wilt, thou canst make me clean." (Mark 1:40)
How did this man get into this shape of unbelief to doubt the ability of Christ? The answer lies in our study verses, and it is a poignant lesson for us today to not fall victim likewise as this man did. The man admits that his son's illness, affliction, and possession came upon him as a child. We are not given the son's age at this point, but the statement by the father shows that his son has been in this condition for quite some time. Every day this man wakes up, he sees the problems in his son's life. Every day, his emotions are taut – at best – to fraying. So, he has a long-term emotional problem based on his family's situation. Imagine the man's anticipation when he hears about the wonderful works coming in the regions that Christ visits. He possibly hears about lepers being cleansed, deaf hearing, blind receiving their sight, etc. In his mind, he thinks there may be hope for his son.
When he gets to the place where these wonderful works are taking place, he meets the immediate disciples and followers of the wonderful man called Jesus. They have healed people before. Maybe they can heal his son. Alas! They cannot do anything for his son! The past emotional turmoil heightens as his current situation of hope just got dashed because of the shortcomings of this reputed Man's very apostles. If we can, let us try to put ourselves in this man's shoes. I can freely confess to falling victim to just as weighty a sense of unbelief in times' past, and I have not gone through anything that emotionally severe. I can only imagine that my unbelief would have equaled – if not surpassed – this man's unbelief. Yet, the Lord lovingly straightens out his sight and takes mercy on his son.
What is the relevance for us today? Before getting to the main point of our study verses, remember that emotions can often cloud what is truly right and important. Emotional decisions often turn out awry. Because our sense is clouded by the fear, anger, sorrow, etc. we fail to remember what we should, and we recall (sometimes for long periods of time) things that we should seek to forget. By seeing his son's condition, the man failed to see God's power and goodness. Our own lives can be plagued by the same.
However, the problem was compounded by the disciples' inability to help him. How many times do we see this same thing today? Have you ever seen someone expect the minister of the gospel to do something, fix a problem, etc. that he just could not solve or fix for someone? As ministers, we fail quite often in "living up to expectations" of others. Something about us either rubs them the wrong way, or our abilities fail what they thought we could do. Too often, the minister’s failings, shortcomings, inabilities, etc. take an already emotional person and further engages their unbelief. Already frayed in thought and soul, they turn to downright unbelief in the ability and power of God.
Maybe a sermon is not blessed. Maybe a sermon did not have the "punch" that we expected it should have had. Maybe the minister did not answer our question quite like expected. Maybe he could only answer our question with an "I don't know." These and countless other examples could be employed to show that ministers do not always help people in their problems. Perhaps we have been blessed in the past with good sermons, good answers to questions, and good emotional support during hard times. The apostles had healed people before, but this situation did not yield the results the man yearned for.
If there is one message God's people cannot hear enough, it is this: do not judge or limit God's power and ability by the lack of power and ability in His ministers. Judge not the Lord based on the lack of manifestation in His closest followers. Christ will later tell these disciples in Mark 9 that the type of spirit that He just cast out can only be accomplished through prayer and fasting. (Verses 28-29) They could have – through that pattern – done what He did. Sometimes, ministers do not have the answers, support, etc. because there is a pattern of spirituality we are not following at the time. We are men, and we have our fair share of shortcomings.
So, sometimes ministers fail because of our lack of diligence, and sometimes we fail to live up to expectations due to something we cannot do (like raise the dead). However, never look at a minister's mistakes and failings as some limitation of God. Never let emotional stress cloud the sight that God has all power and authority. This man's guilty state of unbelief came from this combination of things. Our unbelief today comes when we become emotionally caught up in things that take our sight from God, and we find further reasons to not believe when our stressed mind is exacerbated by the people of God. Maybe they could have supported better. Maybe not. Maybe the minister could be friendlier or easier to get along with. None of these things is worthy of us doubting God. Friends, He is so merciful to us, even in the midst of our doubting minds. But, sometimes, the things we feel to want and need the most will only be taken care of when we see Him better and admit that we know He is God with all power. The man's son was healed only after the dad admitted his own shortcomings. Many of our problems resolve quickly and fade when we tearfully and prayerfully admit our faults and failures to Him and pray that He be with us in those efforts to better praise Him.