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This week in our studies, Christ heals a boy whose father was struggling to believe. This son was plagued by a bad spirit that caused him to thrash about, and the father had brought him to the disciples of Christ. Unfortunately, the disciples couldn’t heal the boy. When Christ shows up and is brought up to speed, He tells the father that all things are possible when there’s belief. This happens:
Mark 9:24 And straightway the father of the child cried out, and said with tears, Lord I believe; help thou mine unbelief.
Christ heals the boy.
When we discuss this story, we often talk about the beautiful fact that this man could ask the Lord to help with his unbelief. I think there is even more to unpack in that simple statement. This story is so much more than just healing a boy.
Started with faith
I wonder what the father felt like when he first heard that Christ was coming. I wonder if he had heard the rumors about Jesus having the ability to heal people. Maybe he came home early that day when he heard the news, scooped up his afflicted son, and ran to find Jesus. Maybe he felt full of hope in the beginning; he had not yet been given a reason to doubt.
Jesus was unavailable for a bit, but the disciples were there. How many times did the disciples attempt to heal the boy before giving up? How many times did it take for the father to feel crushed with disappointment? Did the dread rise every time the disciples could do nothing?
The doubt had been introduced.
This is a story about healing a boy, but this is also a story about one of the most important aspects of mortal life: opposition to faith. This father, who was potentially filled with hope in the beginning, had begun to wonder whether Christ’s power was real or exaggerated. Perhaps he simply wondered if Christ’s power extended to him personally. Either way, this man was faced with some serious doubts.
Smoke and mirrors
Sometimes I wonder if we give doubt too much power over us. When doubt is introduced into our lives, it can feel overwhelming and scary. For whatever reason, it’s frightening to face the possibility that we’ve been wrong, and that fear can disallow us to take that doubt for what it is: an opportunity to choose faith. Doubt, when faced with proper action, can make our faith stronger.
But maybe that seems too simplistic.
When we find doubt in our own lives, we may find ourselves feeling a lot like this father. Why should he believe if there is no result? It doesn’t make any sense to continue on a path without any assurances that you’re going the right direction. Why did the father choose to stay in the midst of the failures associated with the disciples? This father had been told of the healing power of Christ; where was it?
We have been told that there are certain blessings associated with the church. Perhaps we have been given reason to wonder if it was all just smoke and mirrors. Why should we be expected to have faith when our feelings are conflicting?
Because Plan of Salvation, of course…
These are big questions, and they are important questions. I may not have the answers to individual situations, but I do believe that a basic understanding of theology surrounding faith and doubt can help us understand why God chose this difficult dichotomy.
The concept of a fallen world is fascinating. The Lord couldn’t create anything less than perfect (because He is perfect) so He created innocence. Adam and Eve brought on mortality and separation from God. Though the Lord couldn’t directly give us fallen natures, He wanted us to have them. Let me rephrase that to be slightly more accurate: He wanted us to have the growth associated with fallen natures. Separation from God was absolutely essential to His goals for the Plan of Salvation: growth.
Now we often talk about the pain and trials that are associated with a fallen world; they were necessary ingredients to growth or unfortunate byproducts of a different necessary ingredient called agency. But doubt is right there on the list next to these other features of a fallen world. I have had so many misconceptions about the gospel and if I had never been faced with the temptation of doubt, I would have never questioned and found answers. I would have never stopped to ask whether I was on the right path or received that answer.
Faith can not get stronger without opposition. In fact, you can’t even choose faith unless doubt is an available option. Though Heavenly Father does not introduce doubt, it was a necessary ingredient for our growth. The doubt that arose in the father as the disciples failed (potentially multiple times) was a gift. It gave him the opportunity to develop a stronger faith and stick around.
Elder Lawrence Corbdrige, in a speech at BYU, taught that the Lord never encouraged us to doubt. Questioning is valid, but the Lord actually commanded us to doubt not. The fact that there is a commandment to not doubt implies that there is a choice. Doubt, in its very nature, can inspire questions. Take those questions, and leave the doubt behind.
Why should I?
So why should I set the doubt aside? Maybe faith and doubt were necessary ingredients to the Plan of Salvation, but that is still just a maybe. What is a valid reason for choosing faith when we can’t really see the answer? If the son isn’t being healed, why on earth should the father stick around?
These are important questions because faith truly is a choice. When coincidences line up in your life, you can choose to believe that it’s the hand of God. When something bad occurs, you can choose to believe that He loves you anyway. The world believes this choice of faith to be foolish. Are we fools for setting our doubts aside?
In order to answer this question, we have to understand more of the nature of faith and doubt. Whatever you choose to feed lives. If you feed doubt, it will easily find you. Faith is harder to keep alive, but feeding it sure helps. If you stand in front of the mirror and say affirmations about how God loves you, it makes it much easier to believe that. However, this still leads back to my original question. Why should we feed faith instead of doubt?
There isn’t a logical, spelled out reason to choose faith; that is the very nature of faith. This may be really frustrating because of the seemingly needless spiritual casualties of this gospel principle. Why would God allow such doubt if He loses so many children to it?
Because there was no other way. He knew that doubt was an essential part of mortality. He can’t take away our ability to choose what we will feed because it would destroy the very Plan of Salvation.
I can’t necessarily answer why you should choose faith. I can’t personally give you the spiritual confirmations that you’ve been seeking nor can I even explain why the Lord has allowed this specific period of doubt.
But I can tell you why I have chosen faith.
If we’re being completely 100% honest about this, sometimes I chose faith because of naivety and fear. I hadn’t faced a lot of doubt, and so I never thought to question it. If I did face doubts, sometimes I was too scared to dwell on it and ask. And then there were times that I chose faith because I did feel like the Lord gave me signposts along the way that helped me along. It was all very situational.
As I’ve spent more time in the scriptures, my reason for choosing faith as I pursue my questions is simple: I speak to God, and He speaks to me regularly.
It’s easy to explain away good, peaceful feelings as happy hormones, but I cannot explain away the conversations that I feel I have with God regularly. When I’m writing in my journal about life situations, I can feel Him guiding my thoughts and giving me new perspectives. I can feel Him teaching me about my own flawed thinking and pushing me to trust Him even when He doesn’t give me answers. When I read the scriptures and try writing about them, He teaches me about things I have never seen before. I know those lessons didn’t come from me.
I do not have answers to a lot of questions. I don’t know why some people are born in the gospel and some are not. I don’t know why some people are born into devastating trauma or why it’s so hard to break cycles of abuse or poverty.
But I do speak to God. He speaks back, and I can’t deny that. Perhaps to some, those words will seem trite coming from someone who really hasn’t suffered all that much in life. But I can’t deny that truth.
If you are struggling to choose faith, then please listen. If you continue on a path of faith, there comes a day when it’s not about choosing faith anymore. It’s about whether you choose to deny the truth that has been laid before you. If you stick around for a while longer, even when the disciples can’t seem to bring the blessings, Jesus will come around the corner with the happy ending. That is the truth. You have felt signposts before; if it was right before, why would it be wrong now? Continue on the path, and Christ will come just as He promised.
I believe in the power of the atonement of Jesus Christ. I know that He can heal any filthy, horrific, traumatizing situation that came as a result of our necessary fallen world. I know that He is a perfect judge that sees all, and I know that He loves us and has a beautiful place prepared for each of us. Faith in Him has changed my life because it has changed me. Faith in Him has eventually led to “knowledge.”