“Oh Father rescue me from doubt
Deliver me from grief
Let your joy in me abound
Remove my unbelief, remove my unbelief”
These are the words from a song by Jenny & Tyler, titled “When Darkness Falls.” And while the closing line is taken from Mark 9:24, these words strike me this day quite differently than I would normally expect. When I first read these words, I thought they might be from a Psalm, because of the generally poetic nature of the words, which remind me of a Psalm of Lament, and because Jenny and Tyler have several other songs based on the Psalms. But it turns out, they aren’t from a Psalm at all. The closing line comes from a story in Mark, where Jesus casts out a demon from a young boy. The father, who said “Remove my unbelief”, was asking Jesus to remove his unbelief in Christ’s power to heal his son.
However, when I hear these words my thoughts go elsewhere, and not in a way that relates directly to the story in Mark 9. The song is about restless hearts and minds, and about how so often, when the world around us seems peaceful and calming, we find ourselves unsettled and without peace. The words are a lament, singing of the author’s pain (and of many a listener as well), yet they point us back to a God who can be comfort and peace, even when the world cannot. We hear these words in the Old Testament, words of assurance and words of trust amongst the Psalms, in the stories of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs, in times of Exile, like from Daniel. We hear them in the New Testament, in the reassurances of Christ, and in the letters of Paul and the other epistle writers.
The problem is, when we turn to God, we don’t always find the quiet, the comfort, and the peace, that we are promised in scriptures, and in the bridge of this song. Sometimes we turn to God, in the midst of our pain and anguish and find no relief. We feel as though we have been faithful like Daniel, and yet find ourselves being treated more like Job, without help or protection. I have seen and experienced this as most troubling when there is no outward or physical problem, but the problem lies within, in our emotions, in our feelings, in our minds, in our spirit. It comes in the forms of grief, of doubt, of depression, of sickness. In times ancient, and times present, people would, and sadly still do, blame these on a lack of faith. “Something must be wrong with you for you to be feeling the way you do” they will say. Or perhaps, “you just need to get some perspective, and you won’t be so sad”. Or worse yet, “you’re being punished, for something you did or something your family did” (a favorite in antiquity, though it still survives today).
All these fail to acknowledge the reality that sometimes our bodies or minds won’t allow us, on our own, to feel good, or cheery. Sometimes there is a measurable change in the biochemistry of our brains that affects not only our mood but also our physical well being. For all of my adult life I’ve been aware of this reality, and yet on days when I feel like darkness is winning, I sometimes forget. I sometimes think to myself, “Snap out of it, Scott.” Or I’ll ask, “Did you say your prayers this morning? Did you remember to be thankful this morning for all that you have?” In those moments, I do stop and pray, and I do try to remember what I have and all that I can be thankful for. But the important thing for me to remember, the thing that I needto be reminded of, is that emotional pain, grief, sadness, and depression are real. In some cases those are just the tip of the iceberg, as they connect to something much deeper and more complex. The unbelief I suffer from is the unbelief that brokenness can cause real problems in life, ones that may not simply be fixed by a more rigorous set of spiritual practices.
Don’t mistake what I am saying. I believe that prayer does change things. I still believe in the God, who has overcome death and the grave, and the God for whom nothing is impossible. But I don’t think that miraculous healing is the only provision God has made for people struggling with pain and sickness. I believe that the knowledge we have about the way our bodies work is a part of God’s provision. I believe that the many gifted and talented therapists, some of whom I have known professionally and worked with personally, are a part of God’s provision. I believe that the friend, who checks on you to say “how’s it going?” and stays to earnestly listen, is a part of God’s provision. And I believe that the many ways that we now have to help those who are sick and in pain, whether that is physical, emotional, or both, are a part of God’s provision.
A few weeks ago I attended a healing service at my seminary. And as we talked about it, both beforehand and afterward, we were reminded that we were not seeking to perform miraculous healings there, on that day. Instead, we were asking for God’s provision to provide healing for the members of our community, in whatever way that came, and we were asking for the peace and presence of God with them and us until that healing comes.
I live in a troubled community, which is a part of our troubled world, as do many of us. We are not immune to the unexplained tragedies of life, nor are we exempt from the pain, hurt, confusion, and doubt these disorienting events can cause. Despite the many first world comforts that we enjoy, we still have real problems and real pain in the midst of our present circumstances. And while it is important to always be reminded of our privilege and our reasons for thanksgiving, we should never do this in a way that dismisses or fails to acknowledge the reality of the pain within us and in the world around us.
Like the father in the story in Mark, I too suffer from a lack of faith, and want God to remove my unbelief. But my unbelief is that the pain is real, that God is with me in the midst of that pain, even when I don’t feel God’s presence, that God can heal me, but it may not come in the form of a miracle, and that I am not alone in these struggles. In this song I am reminded that in God we can find the quiet, the comfort and the peace that we seek. The road to that healing may be long, bumpy, it may be unpaved at points or seem to disappear right before our eyes. And in those moments, I cry out, “Oh Father rescue me from doubt, deliver me from grief, let your joy in me abound, and remove my unbelief.”
In the darkness, may you find light. And may you be a light to others, that we might all find peace.