"Lord, I believe; help Thou mine unbelief" (Mark ix. verse 24)
In this chapter of the Gospel through Mark, a most striking contrast is presented. It records the transfiguration of the Lord on the mountain height, it portrays this sad picture of degraded humanity at the foot of the mountain, the distressed and helpless father, the tortured and possessed son, the troublesome scribes, the defeated disciples. The scene is suggestive of a far greater one. The Lord's descent of the mountain to bring healing and renewed happiness to those on the plain beneath is a miniature of His Advent into the world. The physical distress of the boy and the futility of the disciples' efforts portray the sickness and helplessness of humanity when unsustained by the Divine Presence, and the Lord's coming to Bethlehem was a descent of omnipotent, saving power to the levels of natural human life with all its manifold spiritual diseases; it was a declaration and exercise of those Divine powers for the well-being of the race. In such wise can there be a descent of the Lord into every life. He is not only a God of the hills, He is God also of the plains. His presence with man need not be only in the lofty spiritual principle and high ideal, it can be a presence soiled with the Just of our lowest, most degraded, earth-fashioned nature, toiling amidst all that is impure and diseased and "lunatic", and restoring health and peace and sanity of mind.
The picture thus presented of the Lord in His glory on the mountain height and of the demoniac writhing at the foot is not only a true picture of what actually happened at the time, it is a picture of what is constantly happening within us. We, too, surely, spend moments with the Lord on the mountain height. Do we not at times, when in prayer or in meditation on the Word, leave the lower levels of life and ascend to a clearer, fuller vision of His true nature ? Do we not, on all such occasions, when the perception of Divine Truth is more vivid or when the soul rises to a more intimate experience of the Divine Love, feel, as did those earlier disciples, "it is good for us to be here?" Do we not inwardly resolve to build tabernacles within heart and mind and life in which to preserve and cherish what we have there received? The vision on the mountain is possible to all true New-Church discipleship, but it does not cover the whole of truly Christian life. There is the plain beneath the mountain. There are those thoughts which we have, not of God, but of men and women with whom we meet in daily life; there are those emotions and desires and affections that are inspired, not by the near presence of the Glorified Lord, but by the "daily round, the common task". To everyone that looks within himself with any degree of frankness, the contrast between the truth and the love made manifest by the Lord, and the state of our natural life, shows how imperative it is that the Lord should descend from the mountain height and exercise His power on the plain. The virtue in vision is that what has been seen may be applied, and in the Lord's descent from the hill we see Divine Wisdom and Love preparing to effect their cleansing and healing powers in the lower, earth-soiled levels of human thought and affections.
Why does this young man, possessed of this dumb spirit, figure in the Word of the Lord ? One reason is, that the power of God might be made known for the sustaining of human faith. But the record is a detailed one, and the details of the Divine Word have each some meaning for man, they are never idle words for the mere adornment of a tale. The incidents recorded in the Word become at once more useful to us and more impressive when we identify ourselves with those whom the Lord rebukes and heals. We, individually, are members of the humanity He came to save, and the Gospel story becomes impressive and effective the moment we have the courage to see in ourselves the blindness, the disease, the poverty, the lameness, the Pharisaism, the coldness and the unbelief He so often healed and reproved. Even as the prophet Nathan declared in parable the evil of David, only to reveal that David was the one he spoke of when David had rebuked the evil described, so must all true reading of that diseased and sinful and ignorant and possessed humanity to which the Lord ministered impress the fact that we are there portrayed. This poor, possessed son, brought to the disciples that he might be healed, is used in the Divine Word as a figure for a universal human railing, a weakness of all human life when it is without the Lord's presence. Let it not be thought that because we are not dumb, therefore, we are not represented here. The physical infirmities -spoken of in the Gospel typify spiritual infirmities.
The blind whom the Lord came to heal are not only the physically blind but those who are spiritually blind. The ear that does not hear is symbolic of the heart that does not obey. And the spirit of dumbness is with all those who are without faith. Voice is given to man, primarily, that he may confess the Lord, and man's speech, whatever may be its immediate purpose and subject-matter, ought always to be a confession of the Lord. Man's spiritual speech is his faith, and where faith is dead, the spirit is dumb. This teaching will recall what is taught in the Writings of the New Church concerning the praise of those in heaven. This praise might be supposed by the more simple-minded to be a perpetual singing to the Lord. But all angelic life and work and social intercourse, whether any actual singing is being done or not, is referred to as song because such life and work and intercourse is the expression of faith and is wrought in faith. The faith of a truly regenerated man or woman, when it is given expression in the purposes and efforts and services of life, rises as a song to heaven, and no song can be sweeter to the Lord than a man's full acknowledgment, sustained by heart and life, that "the Lord God Omnipotent reigneth". Such a song is the submission of every faculty of life to the aspiration of Divine purpose and principle. Our natural, worldly natures, the homes of manifold evils and falsities, are as this tortured boy, possessed with a dumb spirit. We have faith on the mountain height, there are moments when it is strong, glowing and invincible. But have we this faith down on the plain? That is to say, does even the lowest part of our nature exercise this high faith? Or must we not rather confess that the two pictures this chapter presents are true pictures of the sad contrast between our high, inward convictions, and the poverty and helplessness of our lower nature? Must we not, as the chapter is read, have brought home to us the need for reckoning the Lord down from the mountain height, and bringing into the lower reaches of our life His touch and His Word of healing?
Jesus said to the man's father, " If thou canst believe, all things are possible to him that believeth ". And the man straightway replied, "Lord, I believe, help Thou mine unbelief". Nothing is gained by tampering with this reply of the father. To discern a great spiritual principle of wide application in some words of the Gospels is quite a different thing from adding, out of our own minds, something to the record as given. Here it has been suggested that after the father had declared, "Lord, I believe", the Lord gave a reproving or questioning look, whereupon he became more humble and said, "Help Thou mine unbelief". Such an addition is so unnecessary. The man's words, "Lord, I believe", were quite true. Had he not believed, the healing could not have been effected. Wherever the Lord found sheer unbelief, He could do no mighty work. The whole confession of the man, surely, hangs together as a true and consistent one, and one that should be echoed by every one of us. "Lord, I believe; help Thou mine unbelief". It is at once an acknowledgment that we believe in Him and an admission that we do not do so sufficiently. How can we say to the Lord, "Lord, perfect our faith" if we do not already in some measure, believe? Only the man who believes can add, " Help Thou mine unbelief ". Faith is a ladder whose foot is on earth, but whose top is in the highest heaven. We may be on the lower rungs. Our constant prayer as we climb, must be "Help Thou mine unbelief". The faith of some is purely historical they believe that Jesus lived and died for us. They have heard that said, they have seen it printed, they are satisfied the evidence is good. But they have not lived it. And faith, considered in its fulness, is one with love and life. That is not true faith which is mere assertion, or mere knowledge, or mere belief. Faith is the love and the living of all that the Lord in His mercy has made known. We only divide these things of spiritual life while we are yet imperfect, but as the Writings teach, " Faith is an internal acknowledgment of the truth" "Faith, especially, is an obedience of the things which doctrine teaches"" Faith, regarded in itself, is charity". Faith is perfected, then, only as we rise in knowledge and in service and in love. Do we "believe" that God is Love if we do not love? Do we "believe" in His Providence over us, if we do not submit to His laws?
That the works of perfect faith might be wrought, the Lord commands two things, " prayer and fasting ". " This kind ", He said, " goeth not out but by prayer and fasting". Prayer is the aspiration of our inmost manhood towards God. Fasting is our repudiation of self and the world. So is the perfecting of our faith one with the perfecting of our life, " a leaving all to follow Him ", our vision of Him on the mountain height, our constant beckoning of Him into the trials and distresses of our lower natures. When the Lord came to earth, He descended to prove and to apply His Power over all human ills. That Power He will use for us in every true need of life. It is exercised on our behalf. Only, we must believe. There is not one of us but can say, " Lord, I believe ". There is not one of us but has need to add "Help Thou mine unbelief ".