In my daily prayer time, once I've read the day's appointed Bible passage and studied the notes that go with it, it's my habit to take off my glasses. As I did so the other day, it occurred to me that the physical effect of doing this - i.e. not being able clearly to read the words in front of me - reflected the essence of what I had just read.
For many years, I've been following the excellent studies and commentaries provided by Scripture Union in their publication Daily Bread; at present we're working through the middle chapters of Mark's Gospel. Here, Mark follows Jesus' travels around Galilee and in the adjacent Gentile areas, with many stories of miraculous healing and feeding, amidst which Jesus was also trying to teach his disciples.
In the miracle of restoring sight to a blind man (Mark 8:22-26), Jesus led the man out of the village. This meant that the disciples were the main (possibly the only) witnesses. The healing took place in two stages, which one commentator takes to be an illustration to the disciples that they had only understood half of Jesus' message to them.
In answer to His question "Who do you say I am?" (Mark 8:29), Peter proclaimed - possibly as spokesman for the others - that Jesus was the Messiah. When Jesus followed up by explaining that He would suffer, be rejected and killed, and rise from the dead (Mark 8:31 and 9:9), it was clear that they didn't understand this at all. Peter tried to persuade Jesus that no one would kill Him if he, Peter, could do anything about it ... and received the painful rebuke, "Get behind me, Satan" (8:33).
In general, what these chapters reveal is that the disciples' idea of the Messiah and the reality of Jesus' life purpose on earth were two very different things. The disciples expected Him to deliver the Israelites (God's chosen people) from the yoke of Roman occupation; Jesus had come to explain the true nature of being 'chosen people'. The disciples were seeking answers - as many of us do today - to the wrong question. They were asking, 'How?'; they needed to ask, 'Why?'
'How?' presupposes the objective; if that supposition is wrong, then the question is irrelevant. 'Why?' is seeking the motive. The motive determines the objective and leads to a more productive conclusion. We spend many hours in fervent prayer wondering how God is going to solve particular problems, sometimes the world's, sometimes our own. If instead, we were to step back a stage to why it might be that He would do this, we might understand the all-embracing nature of His love.
In his poem The Charge of the Light Brigade, Tennyson wrote, "Theirs not to reason why, Theirs but to do and die". It's usually misquoted in the first person: saying 'ours' instead of 'theirs', which helps our understanding of its relevance here. Once we understand that God loves us and, in Paul's words to the Romans, "works for the good of those who love him" (Romans 8:28), we learn to trust Him to do so in whatever way He will. We should have no need to ask God, or even to wonder to ourselves, 'How?'.
The belief of the blind young man's father in that story of healing was probably similar to that of many of us: it was partial. We need to echo his prayer in Mark 9:24: "I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!". Belief or faith to the extent that can trust the way he did does not come without help. Faith, as the commentary in my Bible explains, "... is a gift from God. It isn't something that we can store away like money in the bank. Growing in faith is a constant process of daily renewing our trust in Jesus."
Who'd have thought that taking my specs off would help me see that more clearly?