When we read the Gospels, we come across all sorts of people who go to Jesus looking for something: things like healing, a fair judgment for some way in which they have been wronged, or how to find meaning in their lives. Things are no different today: we often go to Jesus looking for things as well. In Mark 9, we meet a man who asks Jesus to heal his Son… and Jesus tells him that “everything is possible to one who has faith” (Mark 9:23).
He replies, in beautiful simplicity:
“I do believe, help my unbelief!” -Mark 9:24
Those six simple words are among the most honest and (I believe) the most faith-filled prayers ever spoken. I hear similar words from teens I serve when they tell me: “If Jesus did today for me what He did then, I would believe.” It’s not as poetic and it reflects a little more skepticism, but it can become an honest prayer. The answer to these sorts of prayers is found today as it was 2,000 years ago: in God.
If you’re paying attention, you’ll notice that Jesus is still performing miracles today. Seriously. People pray for things like healing and get them – St. John Paul II was recently canonized based on two miraculous healings. Even the fact that the Christian faith and the Catholic Church still exist today in spite of the sins and scandals which plague our history is a miracle. The Eucharist is a miracle. Places like Guadalupe show us modern day miracles. There are also countless little miracles where against all odds single moms manage to raise good kids, teens break a cycle of addiction, who choose to say no to our self-centered, pornographic culture, or any other number of heroic choices we couldn’t predict. Miracles are those things we can’t explain by natural or scientific means – and our world is full of these things.
But miracles on their own aren’t enough to guarantee faith. Sometimes miracles cause jealousy – because those who don’t get the miracles we pray for are left wondering why. And even those who saw the most dramatic of Jesus miracles in the first century discounted them and doubted – just as many of us do today. Twenty-first century skepticism is no different as that of the first century: you’ll read in the Gospels about people who accused Jesus of having a demon or being a lunatic (John 10:20), who asked for a sign for show (Luke 23:8), while others found what Jesus had to say hard to believe (John 6:60), and walked away (John 6:66). When challenged by skeptics who asked him to tell them who He was, Jesus answered: “I told you and you do not believe. The works I do in my Father’s name testify to me. But you do not believe…” (Luke 10:25-26). The struggle to believe was and is very real.
The good news is that wherever we are, we aren’t stuck in our unbelief. God wants us to turn to him in the same way as the man from Mark 9 did – bringing our honest doubts and concerns to Him. Christianity is not meant to be a religion where we check our intellect at the door and go on faith alone. We use our heads and work out these questions… because faith and reason go hand in hand. We may not be able to understand all of it completely (God is a bit of a mystery that way), but there are ways to make more sense of what we believe than just approaching it with skepticism and doubt.
Along with those questions, turn to God in prayer. Reason is meant to go hand in hand with faith – which is, at its most simple level, a relationship with God. We cultivate that relationship by prayer – so you need to find ways in which you can engage yourself into a relationship with God, talking AND listening to Him day by day – not simply asking for miracles! There are no shortage of books (Learning to Pray by Anthony Bloom and An Introduction to the Devout Life are both excellent) or apps (The 40 Day Spiritual Workout and iBreviary are two of my favorites) to help you do this. In the end, what is key in prayer is that you simply do it – no one else can do this for you. The distinct advantage over those who walked and talked with Jesus and who doubted is this relationship of prayer, that we have the grace of the Holy Spirit, the advocate, who dwells inside of us. The Holy Spirit changed the apostles from cowards on Holy Thursday night & Good Friday to the ones who are willing and able to die for their faith in the following years. This Spirit dwells in you just as it did in them.
God will meet you in your unbelief – just as he did the father in Mark’s Gospel. While he may not always give you what you want – we can trust that He will always give us what we truly need.