One of the many mysteries of Emily Dickinson’s life is the exact nature of her religious and spiritual commitments. Much like her contemporary Herman Melville, Emily Dickinson apparently could neither believe nor be comfortable in her disbelief, as Nathaniel Hawthorne said about the author of Moby-Dick. In her letters, she often refers to herself as a “pagan,” but she also talks about her life as a “pilgrimage.” Several of her poems refer to the story of Jacob, who wrestled with God for a long agonizing night, ending up with both a blessing and a wound, and Dickinson seems to have identified with this biblical rebel. Unlike doubters today, Dickinson never questioned the fact that God existed, but she spent many hours wondering about God’s nature. I think it is fair to say that she had an intense, but often troubled, relationship with God.
Susan VanZanten, from ‘Mending a Tattered Faith: Devotions with Dickinson’
We all struggle, but not all struggles are the same. Plato famously advised “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a harder battle.” There are many – perhaps you – who are struggling with their faith. It’s difficult to be thankful when life is hard, and our battles seem too difficult for even God to win. Emily Dickinson was certainly a deep and spiritual thinker and even she found her demons to be fierce and relentless.
The Gospel of Mark records a remarkable incident where a father brought his demon possessed son to Jesus for healing. The situation didn’t exactly go as planned. When the man arrived, Jesus was away so he took up the challenge with the apostles who then tried unsuccessfully to heal the boy. So much for praying to the saints! When Jesus arrived he was briefed and seemed exasperated by it all.
The desperate father spoke for us all – “I do believe; help my unbelief!”
Jesus healed the boy, but He gave no easy answers. He didn’t offer the man a thin solution or let the apostles off easy when they questioned Him later. Apparently some demons are more powerful than others, but ultimately, it’s in God’s hands.
Like the little boy’s father, we must take the problem to Jesus.
14 When they came back to the disciples, they saw a large crowd around them, and some scribes arguing with them. 15 Immediately, when the entire crowd saw Him, they were amazed and began running up to greet Him. 16 And He asked them, “What are you discussing with them?” 17 And one of the crowd answered Him, “Teacher, I brought You my son, possessed with a spirit which makes him mute; 18 and whenever it seizes him, it slams him to the ground and he foams at the mouth, and grinds his teeth and stiffens out. I told Your disciples to cast it out, and they could not do it.” 19 And He answered them and said, “O unbelieving generation, how long shall I be with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring him to Me!” 20 They brought the boy to Him. When he saw Him, immediately the spirit threw him into a convulsion, and falling to the ground, he began rolling around and foaming at the mouth. 21 And He asked his father, “How long has this been happening to him?” And he said, “From childhood. 22 “It has often thrown him both into the fire and into the water to destroy him. But if You can do anything, take pity on us and help us!” 23 And Jesus said to him, “ ‘If You can?’ All things are possible to him who believes.”
24 Immediately the boy’s father cried out and said, “I do believe; help my unbelief.”
25 When Jesus saw that a crowd was rapidly gathering, He rebuked the unclean spirit, saying to it, “You deaf and mute spirit, I command you, come out of him and do not enter him again.” 26 After crying out and throwing him into terrible convulsions, it came out; and the boy became so much like a corpse that most of them said, “He is dead!” 27 But Jesus took him by the hand and raised him; and he got up. 28 When He came into the house, His disciples began questioning Him privately, “Why could we not drive it out?”
29 And He said to them, “This kind cannot come out by anything but prayer.”