Focal Passage: Mark 9:14-29
Our doubts are traitors
And make us lose the good we oft might win
By fearing to attempt.
— William Shakespeare, Measure for Measure, I, 4
Doubts are ants in the pants of faith. They keep it awake
— Frederick Buechner, Wishful Thinking
I think Dr. Buechner and Mr. Shakespeare are talking about
two different kinds of doubt.
One Sunday in the Protestant chapel at Maxwell Air Force
Base in Alabama, Chaplain Robert Moore preached a sermon I’ve never forgotten.
Be thankful, he said, for the honest, healthy and helpful
doubt of the mind. In proper doses it can be a good thing.
Doubt keeps us from being gullible, from falling for every
half-baked idea that comes along, even (especially) those that are deliberately
deceptive. Doubt can save us from being led astray.
Doubt keeps us from settling for hearsay.
It doesn’t matter what somebody else says or thinks about
God. What matters is my own relationship with Him, and what difference it makes
in my life.
Doubt prompts us to learn and grow and seek an ever higher
It recognizes, and is not satisfied with, limited
understanding. It wants more.
But be careful, Chaplain Moore said, about the crippling,
debilitating, paralyzing doubt of the heart.
This is not the doubt that fails to believe; this is the
doubt that fails to believe in — in oneself, in others, even in God.
A person can have all the information in the world, all the
evidence that is necessary, and still be incapacitated by doubts of the heart.
The father in today’s lesson is struggling with his doubts.
He has heard about Jesus. He has even asked the disciples to “cast out the
demon” from his epileptic son, but they failed. He’s not sure Jesus can do much
better. His “if you are able” (9:22) reflects the honest doubt of the mind.
Jesus replies, “If you are able! All things are possible to
those who believe” (9:23). It’s more an invitation than a rebuke.
Jesus is asking the father to move from his head to his
heart, from believing (or not believing) something about Jesus to believing in
The father’s cry — “I believe; help my unbelief!” (9:24) —
is instinctive, immediate and desperate. It clarifies where the power of prayer
is located: in God, not us. You can have doubts the size of watermelons, as
long as you have faith the size of a mustard seed.
Angelus Silesius said it well: “Whoso draws nigh to God one
step through doubtings dim, God will advance a mile in blazing light to him.”