Rib Tattoos and the Beauty of Faith

Last summer, to celebrate being married for five years, Joe and I spent several days in Asheville, North Carolina. We looked in lots of neat shops, ate tons of yummy (and terribly non-nutritious) food, and got tattoos!

We had both been wanting new tattoos for a while; so I got mine one evening and Joe had his done at the same shop the next day. (Side note: It was a great idea to have mine done first. I didn’t think about it at the time, but if I had sat and watched Joe get his—which took much longer than mine—and attempted to empathize with the amount of pain he felt, I’m not sure mine ever would’ve happened!). We were instantly thrilled with our new ink, and we both had heartfelt reasons for getting our tattoos.

 Joe's awesome tattoo of Psalm 73:26

Joe's awesome tattoo of Psalm 73:26

Joe’s tattoo is Psalm 73:26, “My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” It’s a beautiful verse that means a lot to him. And a very good friend of his designed the tattoo, which makes it even more meaningful.

 Mark 9:24b, "I believe; help my unbelief."

Mark 9:24b, "I believe; help my unbelief."

My tattoo is in Koine Greek, and it comes from a passage in Mark chapter nine. The chapter tells the story of Jesus as he travels from his transfiguration back down the mountain. Making his way back to his disciples, Jesus encounters a man who asks him, in desperation, for help.

The portion of Scripture I have is part of this dialogue between Jesus and the man, and it simply says, “I believe; help my unbelief.” This stood out to me years ago, and I’m fairly certain one of the chief reasons I found it so interesting was because of its paradoxical nature. The man, speaking to Jesus, tells him simultaneously, “I believe; help me when I don’t believe.”

The whole story is this: the man seeks Jesus out to help with a problem. He encounters Jesus’ disciples and, since Jesus is gone, asks them to heal his son, who is tormented by an evil spirit. The disciples apparently attempt to get rid of the evil spirit, but to no avail. So when Jesus shows up, the man and the disciples are passionately discussing (maybe even arguing about) the scenario.

Though there is a lot at play here that I won’t discuss (the input of the scribes, the participation of the crowd, the man’s original religious affiliation, and Jesus’ comments toward the crowd, the man, and His own disciples), the situation is actually quite simple. The man is desperate; he has no other options—either because he has exhausted them all, or because he doesn’t believe in any—and so he decides to seek Jesus out. This attitude is expressed best in the man’s comment in Mark 9:22 when he says, “But if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.”  

Jesus’ reaction is incredible. “If you can!” Jesus repeats to the man. “All things are possible for one who believes.” Here, the savior of the world essentially says, “your mental process is limited to understand only what you can perceive. But I’m telling you, if you believe in Me, anything is possible.”

And so Mark 9:24 is a kind of confession of faith from this desperate man, “Immediately the father of the child cried out and said, ‘I believe; help my unbelief!’”

The beauty of this phrase is clear. This one verse says so much about what it means to put our faith in Jesus Christ. We fully believe in who He says He is, and that He is capable of doing everything He is inclined to do. But our finite, human minds get stuck on this world and what we are able to do in it, and all of a sudden, though we know the supernatural power that Jesus possesses, our faith fails because we cannot comprehend more than what we experientially know.

All of this is very simple, and I’m sure you figured it out for yourselves and are wondering why I wrote so much about it. But for the past few months the meaning of this passage—of the tattoo I have on my skin—has slowly grown and changed.

You see, I have always considered the man in this passage: considered his faith, his background, his determination, and his mindset as he encounters Jesus and ultimately says, “I’m all in!”

But what I’ve not ever fully considered is this man’s position as a father.

Today I am 36 weeks pregnant. Soon I will have a little baby. And thinking about this makes me wonder, how terrified was this father? How helpless did he feel? Was he angry? Was he bitter? Had he considered giving up? How often did he pray and ask God to remove that evil spirit? How much did he offer, and to how many people, to save his son’s life?

But the son’s condition never changed, and his life was consistently endangered. And his father could not do a single thing to make it any better.

I cannot imagine what that kind of desperation feels like (though there are parents who can). But I am drawn to this father in a way I never have been in all the times I’ve read this passage.

After their conversation, Jesus heals the man’s son. This is a testament not just to His abilities but to His heart as well. And I bet the relief that the father felt was overwhelming. But I’m fairly convinced that the healing is not the true focal point of the passage. The main point is the man’s commitment to faith in Jesus. And this commitment is challenged and ultimately upheld—at least in part—because of the father's love for his son.

I apologize if this doesn't seem like much of an insight. And I suspect that this passage will mean more to me once our daughter arrives. And will again mean more to me as she grows up.

But still, I am thankful to have experienced the truth of Hebrews 4:12, “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” This passage has grown and changed in my heart and mind as any living and active organism would, and I think that’s incredible! It proves that, the longer I study God’s word, the more I will see in it, take away from it, understand of it, and be compelled by it.

 My belly at 36 weeks!

My belly at 36 weeks!

So, as my belly grows and my baby girl prepares to enter this crazy world—and as Joe and I prepare as best we can for her arrival—my mommy-to-be heart cries out to my heavenly Father, “I believe; help my unbelief!”