A crowd had gathered.
That could hardly have been this man’s intent. It was likely the last thing he wanted.
What he wanted he couldn’t seem to get.
This desperate dad loved his son -he loved him desperately. So he had brought the boy to a man he had heard about – a teacher.
Maybe he could help. Maybe he could heal his son. He had heard of this rabbi doing such things.
The son, perhaps a teenager, was seriously, violently and fearfully ill.
We find a description of this tragic case in the Gospel of Mark.
“He is possessed by an evil spirit that won’t let him talk.” With tears in his eyes and grief in his voice, the father explained:
“And whenever this spirit seizes him [“whenever” indicates the sporadic, unpredictable nature of the boy’s horrific illness], it throws him violently to the ground. Then he foams at the mouth and grinds his teeth and becomes rigid” (Mark 9: 17-18, NLT).
These seizures resembled epilepsy.
Jesus listened intently.
“So,” said the dad, “I asked your disciples to cast out the evil spirit, but they couldn’t do it.”(vs. 18, NLT).
Dismissing a “faithless generation”, Jesus asked that the boy be brought to him.
Sure enough, the lad goes into a violent convulsion right at the very feet of the Savior.
Mark tells us that “the evil spirit saw Jesus” (vs. 20, NLT).
As a physician might, Jesus asked the man how long this had been going on. “Since he was a little boy,” he replied. “The spirit often throws him into the fire or into water, trying to kill him” (vs. 22, NLT).
How easy it is to read these words without feeling the broken heart; the anguished hopelessness; the insomniac weariness – the sheer, raw emotion – of this parent.
He watches his precious and beautiful son writhing on the ground, foaming at the mouth.
Suppose this was your son?
Suppose this was your daughter?
A beloved grandchild?
Perhaps it has been. Perhaps it still is.
Alcohol, drugs, depression, loneliness, disability, disease?
Then you know.
Is any pain so great, is any heartache so inexpressible; is any grief or regret as inconsolable as the pain of a suffering child who belongs to you?
It’s impossible to grasp this narrative without somehow appreciating the depth of this father’s unalterable heartbreak.
With tears streaming down his face, the father pleads with Jesus.
“Have mercy on us and help us, if you can” (vs. 22,NLT).
“But if thou canst do anything, have compassion on us and help us” (KJV).
“If you can.”
If there’s anything you can do, if there’s any way you can possibly help us, if you have any power or any ability; if there is any solution or any cure …
“If?” Jesus asked.
Jesus looked at the father with a penetrating yet tender gaze. He studied the man’s bereaved face and took note of his tears.
Then Jesus gently smiled.
He knew this man. Here was a father who cared more than he analyzed. Whose love far exceeded his faith.
“What do you mean, ‘If I can?’ Anything is possible if a person believes” (vs. 23, NLT).
Then the man says something to Jesus that forever endears us to this desperate dad pleading to God for the life of his son.
I don’t know about you, but I’ve said this to Jesus more times than I care to recount.
And he knows I’ve thought and felt it plenty.
Perhaps you have too.
It’s simple. It’s direct. It’s humble. It’s genuine.
It speaks to human frailty even while it grasps for something more sublime.
It moves us by its vulnerability and its authenticity. It acknowledges weakness and hopes for strength.
It is the transparent cry for an undeserved answer; the longing plea for unmerited favor.
Let the King James more fully express its beauty and its pathos:
“And straightway the father of the child cried out, and said with tears, Lord, I believe; help thou my unbelief” (vs. 24).
Here, in the honest tear-stained confession of a mere mortal, this dad speaks for us all.
How many times I’ve had to confess my own lack of faith and ask God to forgive my distrusting heart. How often have you and I prayed with supposed confidence in an almighty God, only to be harassed by that conditional conjunctive:
If only this; if only that; if only …
“If” means “a supposition” and an “uncertain possibility”. The word – and the thought behind it – implies “a condition, requirement or stipulation.”
Dear Lord, I do believe and I need and want to trust you more than I do.
Help thou my unbelief.
Help me to overcome my lack of faith.
Teach me to trust you, “no ifs, ands or buts” – and grant me the strength and courage to do it.
In every situation.
Jesus could have sent the man home with his tragically marred son. For lack of faith, Jesus could have said no. Instead he healed the boy – fully and without condition.
The overjoyed dad hugged his son and they returned home.
It was a miracle not of faith but of grace.
“What do you mean, ‘If’?”
May God bless you and your family.