By Craig Groeschel
“I want to believe God cares about me; I really do,” she told me, wiping tears from under her darkened, bloodshot eyes. Under the harsh fluorescent lights of the hospital corridor, Marci barely resembled the vibrant girl I remembered, that kid I’d watched grow up in our youth group at church. When she was a teenager, Marci was outgoing, fun-loving, and full of life, even as she was growing more and more serious about her faith, coming early to youth group and staying late. No one loved to worship and talk about God more than Marci.
Then, in her early 20s, Marci met Mark, a great Christian guy with a charismatic personality. They fell in love practically overnight, marrying almost a year to the day after they met. Mark’s dynamic personality served him well, helping him land a great sales job. Before long, he was making more money than most other professionals his age. They bought their dream home, and as Mark and Marci served God together at our church, they just knew life couldn’t get any better.
But then it did.
After just two months of trying, they learned they were pregnant with their first child. When beautiful little Chloe was born, my wife, Amy, and I joined Mark and Marci at the hospital to thank God for his blessings. Celebrating with them was amazing, all of us thanking God for this wonderful family that he was growing in his presence.
Back then, none of us could see even a hint of cracks around the foundation of their lives. But as the years ticked by, Mark’s job had him working longer and longer hours and required ever more frequent travel. Even so, when he came home one day and informed Marci that he was leaving her—for one of her closest friends—she never saw it coming. Devastated, Marci found herself battling on two fronts, coping on the one hand with Mark’s betrayal and struggling on the other as a single mom trying to build a new life for herself and Chloe. She took small comfort in thinking that at least things couldn’t get any worse.
Until they did.
Chloe, by then in fifth grade, started rapidly losing weight and feeling tired all the time. When the headaches and dizzy spells began, a series of tests revealed the unthinkable—cancer. In just a few short months, Chloe shriveled from being a healthy, popular girl at school into a pale, bedridden patient on a ventilator. Cancer mercilessly ravaged her already weakened body. Chemo didn’t even make a dent. Her doctors decided to shift their focus onto doing all they could to make her last days as comfortable as possible.
As I stood there in that bleak hospital hallway, the tireless Marci I had once known was long gone, swallowed up by this weary, defeated woman. She was beyond exhaustion, past depression, dangerously discouraged. She grasped desperately for anything even remotely resembling that bottomless faith that used to come to her so easily. But her unshakeable trust in God was nothing more than a sad memory now. She drew a deep breath, fighting back the sobs. As her forlorn gaze pierced me, it took all the resolve I could muster to remain strong for her.
She sighed. “I really want to believe that God is with me right now. I mean, I want to know that he’s good, that he cares. I want that so badly, but . . .” Her voice trailed off. This time there was no stopping the tears.
“But, Craig, when I see my baby girl wasting away in there, in so much pain, how can I surrender to a God who allows this? And on top of everything else that we’ve already been through? I want to trust, but I just don’t know how.”
I Want to Trust
That one little phrase, “I want to trust,” put down roots in my own heart. Everywhere I look, I see people who understand exactly how Marci felt in that cold, sterile hospital. So many people want to believe in God’s presence and goodness, but they just have too many unanswered questions. Something in them longs to trust in God—to know him, to feel his presence, to sink into his peace, to believe he’s there for them, helping them carry their burdens. They want to pray and know that he hears them. They want comfort. They want to know that he’s with them, that he’ll protect them. Deep down, they hope God is more than just some kind of made-up cosmic figure that gullible people naively trust. They want him to inhabit more than retreaded clichés thrown around by politicians, activists, and Jesus freaks.
I believe there are a lot of people like Marci, people who once believed God took an active interest in their lives, but they’re just not so sure anymore. Maybe he exists, maybe he’s sovereign, but does he care? It doesn’t feel like it to them. I’ve even been one of those people myself (more about that later). You may be one right now. Do you ever wonder:
“Where was God when I was being abused? Did he care? If he did, why didn’t he do something about it?”
“Why can’t we have a baby? There are so many unwanted pregnancies, and so many people seem to have kids they abandon or don’t take care of. We go to church. We’re good people. We’ve prayed for years. Why won’t God give us a child?”
“What happened to my marriage? More than anything, I wanted at least that to be good. We used to love each other so much, but . . . And Lord knows, I tried as hard as I could. I trusted him. I prayed every day. But now all I have is broken pieces. Why did God let this happen to me?”
“Why was my child born with a disability?”
“Why did I get laid off?”
“Why is everyone I know married and I’m still alone?”
“Why can’t I seem to get ahead?”
“Why did the cancer come back?”
“Why have my kids abandoned the faith?”
Do you want assurance that God is there when you need him most, but for whatever reason, you doubt he is?
You’re not alone. Throughout the Bible, people questioned God’s involvement in their lives. Even Jesus encountered doubters, one of them his own disciple, the original Doubting Thomas. But there’s one exchange in particular that Jesus had with a spiritual doubter that I’d like us to focus on. Just like Marci, he was a parent who struggled as he watched his child suffering:
Jesus asked the boy’s father, “How long has he been
“From childhood,” he answered. “It has often thrown
him into fire or water to kill him. But if you can do anything,
take pity on us and help us.”
“‘If you can’?” said Jesus. “Everything is possible for
one who believes.”
Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, “I do believe;
help me overcome my unbelief!”
Can you imagine the pain this dad experienced? Over and over again, he had to stand by helplessly as his son convulsed, wrestling with an evil spirit that had taken possession of him years before. This loving father would have done anything to ease his son’s suffering. But no matter what he tried, his boy still lived in anguish.
As a dad of six children, I don’t want to imagine what that must have been like: a powerful evil spirit hurling your child into water like a rag doll or thrashing him into fire. If the father hadn’t dutifully protected his son, it’s possible that spirit might have already killed him.
It’s no wonder this burdened and desperate dad struggled to believe. After trying everything he knew to do, this man said to Jesus the same thing I might have said in his situation: “If you can do anything, take pity on us and help us” (v. 22, emphasis mine).
Some Christians might criticize this question. But this dad was at the end of his rope. After doing everything he could think to do, it’s possible that he’d finally resigned himself to despair and loss.
He had nowhere else to turn.
Nothing left that he could do.
His hope was gone.
His world was dark.
But then Jesus makes things clear, first by repeating the father’s hopelessness in the form of a question—“‘If you can’?”—and then by challenging him: “Everything is possible for one who believes” (v. 23, emphasis mine).
Just think about this. Why didn’t Jesus say, “Well, as a matter of fact, I can help you”? Or why didn’t he say, “I’m the Messiah, the Son of God, and my Father in heaven will heal your son”? Both of those things were true. Instead Jesus put the ball back in the dad’s court. While turning to the one and only true God and asking for his help is always a good idea, Jesus said that the key was having trust—faith—that “with God all things are possible” (Matt. 19:26).
The dad’s response is even more striking: “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24). You hear what he’s saying, don’t you?
I want to believe.
Lord, I want to believe, but I can’t. I’m struggling. Really struggling. Help me overcome my unbelief, my doubts.
It’s a kind of paradox. This man whose son has been possessed by an evil spirit, a force that’s commandeered his son’s body and tried to harm him in every way imaginable—for years—says, “I wish I could believe, but I don’t know how anymore. I’m in such a dark and desperate place, I can’t see how things could change for the better. But I want to. I wish I could. Help me believe again, Lord. Restore my hope.”
Immediately after Jesus has this exchange with the father, he commands the spirit to leave, and the boy convulses as it comes out, then appears to be dead. “But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him to his feet, and he stood up” (v. 27). Here’s what moves me personally about the story: The boy wasn’t the only one healed when Jesus drove out the evil spirit. His father was healed too. Because Jesus drove out the hopelessness that had overtaken him. In the man’s sincere request, Jesus could hear the conflicting messages emanating from his battle-scarred heart.
And God still honors this prayer today, if we’ll only allow him to.
Taken from Hope in the Dark: Believing God Is Good When Life Is Not by Craig Groeschel. Click here to learn more about this title.
Perhaps you’ve thought or said this: “I want to believe, I want to have hope, but…”
Pastor Craig Groeschel hears these words often and has asked them himself. We want to know God, feel his presence, and trust that he hears our prayers, but in the midst of great pain, we may wonder if he really cares about us. Even when we have both hope and hurt, sometimes it’s the hurt that shouts the loudest. Can God be good when life is not?
In Hope in the Dark, Groeschel explores the story of the father who brought his demon-possessed son to Jesus, saying, “I believe! Help my unbelief!” In the man’s sincere plea, Jesus heard the tension in the man’s battle-scarred heart. He healed not only the boy but the father too, driving out the hopelessness that had overtaken him. He can do the same for us today.
As Groeschel shares his pain surrounding the current health challenges of his daughter, he acknowledges the questions we may ask in our own deepest pain: “Where was God when I was being abused?” “Why was my child born with a disability?” “Why did the cancer come back?” “Why are all my friends married and I’m alone?” He invites us to wrestle with such questions as we ask God to honor our faith and heal our unbelief.
In the middle of your profound pain, you long for authentic words of understanding and hope. You long to know that even in overwhelming reality, you can still believe that God is good. Rediscover a faith in the character, power, and presence of God. Even in the questions. Even now.
Craig Groeschel is a New York Times bestselling author and the founding and senior pastor of Life.Church, an innovative and pacesetting church meeting in multiple locations around the United States and globally online. He is the author of several books, including Divine Direction, Liking Jesus, Fight, The Christian Atheist, and It. Craig, his wife, Amy, and their six children live in Edmond, Oklahoma. To learn more, visit CraigGroeschelBooks.com.