Inconceivable!

“Inconceivable!”

“You keep using that word.  I do not think it means what you think it means.”  If you’re a fan of The Princess Bride, you already know what we’re talking about, but for those of you who missed this gem of a movie let me fill you in.  Vizzini is the brains behind a motley crew of three mercenaries, along with Inigo Montoya and Fezzik the Giant, who have just kidnapped Princess Buttercup.  As they are taking her to her impending doom, Inigo suspects they are being followed, but Viziini declares that would be “inconceivable.”  When they land in the country of Florin and are scaling the Cliffs of Insanity, there is a Man in Black following them up the sheer cliff face…and gaining on them!  Vizzini sees this and declares, “Inconceivable!”  When they get to the top of the cliffs and cut the rope that guided them up to the top, the Man in Black is hanging by his bare hands on the cliff wall to which Vizzini again declares that to be “Inconceivable!” At which point, Inigo turns to him and says, “You keep using that word.  I do not think it means what you think it means.” 

Inconceivable.

Literally means “not being capable of being imagined or grasped mentally; unbelievable.”[1]  Like a mental roadblock, even when it’s happening before us, our mind cannot comprehend it in its entirety.  That’s what was happening to Vizzini.  His own mind could not accept the reality of what he was seeing before his eyes.  What, to him, was unimaginable was happening right in front of him and he could not wrap his mind around it.  Unfortunately, that happens to us outside of the silver screen, too.  Throughout history we have often had a closed mind on the possibilities in God’s world.  On the lightbulb, the British Parliamentary Committtee remarked back in 1878 “… good enough for our transatlantic friends … but unworthy of the attention of practical or scientific men.”  On the automobile, Literary Digest wrote in 1899, “The ordinary ‘horseless carriage’ is at present a luxury for the wealthy; and although its price will probably fall in the future, it will never, of course, come into as common use as the bicycle.” On the television, American radio pioneer Lee DeForest said, “While theoretically and technically television may be feasible, commercially and financially it is an impossibility, a development of which we need waste little time dreaming.” And on the computer, John Von Neumann wrote in 1949, “We have reached the limits of what is possible to achieve with computer technology.”[2]  In 1949.  I wonder what he would say today.  Maybe, “Inconceivable!”

All of these things were once thought to be worthless ideas

I imagine Peter said the same thing to Jesus – “Inconceivable!”

The disciples are sitting around the table at the Last Supper when in the middle of their talk, Jesus turns to Peter and says in Luke 22, 31 “Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift all of you as wheat. 32 But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.”  Peter (who was also called Simon), must have been confused.  He probably considered himself to be the most loyal disciple.  After all, he was the one who first recognized Jesus as the promised Messiah and he’s been with Jesus right from the beginning. So he tells Jesus, 33 …“Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death.” 34 Jesus answered, “I tell you, Peter, before the rooster crows today, you will deny three times that you know me.”  Peter doesn’t respond, but you can imagine that in his head, he was saying, “Inconceivable!” and yet he does exactly that very thing.  It’s because Peter couldn’t imagine a time when he would ever deny Jesus.  But he also probably couldn’t imagine the true Messiah being duped by someone like Judas.  He couldn’t imagine the Lord and Savior of the Israeli people being captured by the Roman guards and being led away like some commoner.  He probably counted on Jesus to protect him and all the other disciples from the wrath of the high priests.  But then everything seemed to crumble away, and in just a few short hours, too.  Suddenly, Peter did the very thing Jesus predicted and denied him three times. 

The Transfiguration of Christ

There’s another story in the Bible, similar but with a different ending.

It happens right after Jesus takes Peter, John, and James with him to a high mountain top and the three disciples see Jesus not as a human, but truly as the Son of God.  They see him talking with Moses and Elijah, two great leaders of the Jewish people long dead, and they hear the voice of God himself saying, “This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!”  Can you imagine being there and experiencing for yourself the awesome spectacle in front of you?  Watching the dead talk to the living and hearing the very voice of God?  After this, Jesus and the three disciples are coming down from the mountain and this is where we begin our story. 

14 When they came to the other disciples, they saw a large crowd around them and the teachers of the law arguing with them. 15 As soon as all the people saw Jesus, they were overwhelmed with wonder and ran to greet him.16 “What are you arguing with them about?” he asked.

17 A man in the crowd answered, “Teacher, I brought you my son, who is possessed by a spirit that has robbed him of speech. 18 Whenever it seizes him, it throws him to the ground. He foams at the mouth, gnashes his teeth and becomes rigid. I asked your disciples to drive out the spirit, but they could not.”

19 “You unbelieving generation,” Jesus replied, “how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring the boy to me.” 20 So they brought him. When the spirit saw Jesus, it immediately threw the boy into a convulsion. He fell to the ground and rolled around, foaming at the mouth. 21 Jesus asked the boy’s father, “How long has he been like this?”

“From childhood,” he answered. 22 “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.”

23 “‘If you can’?” said Jesus. “Everything is possible for one who believes.”

24 Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!”

25 When Jesus saw that a crowd was running to the scene, he rebuked the impure spirit. “You deaf and mute spirit,” he said, “I command you, come out of him and never enter him again.” 26 The spirit shrieked, convulsed him violently and came out. The boy looked so much like a corpse that many said, “He’s dead.” 27 But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him to his feet, and he stood up. 28 After Jesus had gone indoors, his disciples asked him privately, “Why couldn’t we drive it out?”

29 He replied, “This kind can come out only by prayer.” – Mark 9:14-29

“Help me overcome my unbelief.”

Christ wants us to be open to possibilities that seem impossible.  He wants us to be willing to stretch our minds and embrace the unimaginable.  Napoleon Hill is best known as the self-help author who coined the saying, “Whatever the mind… can conceive and believe it can achieve.”  We are the first stumbling block.  Our own preconceptions get in the way of what’s possible.  Yoda was trying to teach Luke this lesson in the swamps of Dagobah in The Empire Strikes Back.  Yoda, no bigger than the size of a backpack, mentally lifted out Luke’s X-Wing out of the swamp and carried this starship made of tons of metal over to dry land, Luke whispered, “I don’t believe it.”  And Yoda responded, “That is why you fail.”  The father of the sick young boy in our story this morning gets it.  He’s open to the possibility there’s something MORE even if he can’t imagine it for himself and he turns to Jesus for help. “I do believe. Help me overcome my unbelief!”  Opening your mind to new possibilities and recognizing we are sometimes limited by our own preconceptions is how we overcome the inconceivable. 

1980 Lake Placid Miracle on Ice from the Sports Illustrated photo vault

The world’s greatest achievements are great because they seemed insurmountable.

But then someone found a way to overcome them.  Whatever the problem, whatever the challenge, there were people who found a way to achieve what no one thought they could.  I can remember watching the 1980 Olympics at Lake Placid and the Miracle on Ice.  Nobody thought the USA had a chance in ice hockey.  We barely fielded a team. But they just kept beating the odds and counting down those final seconds as the US held on to a 4-3 lead over the Soviet Union was nothing short of amazing.  Or watching Kirk Gibson hit a home run in the 1988 World Series against the world’s best closer, Dennis Eckersley.  With literally almost no leg to stand on after being injured, he came up to the plate after telling manager Tommy Lasorda, “I think I have one good swing left in me,” and cranked it over the fence to give the Dodgers the win.[3]  Humanity is able to do some pretty amazing things.  Sports are filled with stories of triumph but the most amazing stories often happen outside of an arena.  Whether it’s landing on the moon or watching the Berlin Wall come crumbling down or creating a vaccine to save millions of lives in under a year, we can find a way to triumph in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds.  But it starts with hope.  It starts with being able to conceive the inconceivable.   I’m reminded of one of my favorite quotes of all time.  Robert Kennedy once said, “Some men see things as they are and say ‘Why’? I dream things that never were and say ‘Why not’?”[4]  In these tumultuous times, let us not lose hope.  Let us keep our minds open to possibilities we can’t even imagine.  Let us approach each problem with an open mind and an open heart and see where God is leading us.  After all, we follow a God who is used to doing the inconceivable. 


[1] According to Yahoo! 2022-01-25 powered by Oxford Dictionaries

[2] https://theculturetrip.com/north-america/usa/articles/10-inventions-no-one-thought-would-be-a-success/

[3] From Baseball Inning 9 by Ken Burns

[4] Quoting George Bernard Shaw. https://www.forbes.com/sites/joanmichelson2/2018/06/07/dream-things-that-never-were-and-say-why-not-what-innovators-can-learn-robert-f-kennedy/?sh=5573261226cf

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