Faith is a tricky thing. It comes and it goes. Sometimes just thinking we believe is all we can muster. And sometimes that is enough.
In today’s gospel lesson from the Daily Office (John 4:43-54), Jesus heals the son of a royal official from Capernaum. The son stayed at home, presumably because of his ailment, and the father approached Jesus and begged him to heal his son. What was Jesus’ response? “Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe.” Although he’s right, of course, Jesus’ words don’t seem to reflect the situation. These are the words of a man who never had any children. Have you ever met a parent whose child was near the point of death? Have you ever tried to have a conversation with him or her? Is that the right time to talk about signs and wonders? About belief or not?
After hearing Jesus’ statement, which must have sounded terribly off-point, the father returned to the issue that has dominated his every waking moment (and probably some of his sleeping moments, too): “Sir, come down before my little boy dies.” There was no explicit engagement of faith. There was no acknowledgment of Jesus’ “see-before-you-believe” pedagogy. He just said, “Come quickly before my son dies.” And Jesus replied, “Go; your son will live.”
So the man left. And, on his way home, he is met by his servants who come to tell him that his son’s fever had broken. And, when the man asked when that happened and they replied that it had been at 1pm, they man realized that Jesus had done it—even from far away—and he believed.
Yes, signs and wonders. Yes, belief. But when? Did the man turn and walk away from Jesus confident that his son would be healed? Or did he leave because he knew that he would get nowhere with the less-than-helpful Jesus? I don’t know many parents in that situation who would have abandoned what seems to have been the only hope without getting it, so maybe his departure was one of confidence. But the fact that John records for us that the man believed after hearing from his servants suggests that his coming-to-faith wasn’t complete until he’d seen the healing of his son. And that means that Jesus wasn’t rewarding his faith. He was helping it along.
Sometimes we just know. But often we’re not sure. Sometimes we have faith enough to move mountains. And sometimes we just hope to get through the day. Faith isn’t a light switch—either on or off, either you have it or you don’t. Sure, we need more of it. But what we have isn’t unsubstantial. Maybe if we ask—even if we’re not sure what comes of asking—the act of asking is enough to make it.