I've always struggled with the meaning of this scripture. Does he believe or doesn't he? We're always told that doubt and faith cannot coexist, so he must either have the belief or the unbelief, not both.
He had to have some faith, because Jesus healed the man's son. So that brings us back to the question: what does this scripture mean?
In a religion class at BYU I learned some interesting things about obedience--especially the difference between blind obedience and intellectual obedience. Blind obedience is obedience because the prophet or someone we trust told us to do it. Intellectual obedience is obedience based on our own knowledge that we should do something, not just because the prophet said it.
This knowledge only occurs after prayer and study.
Maybe the same idea can be applied to the question of belief. Recently I struggled with something that I wanted very much. I prayed hard and long that this thing might be granted to me. I believed, like the afflicted child's father, that the Lord had the power to give me my desire. But, oh help my unbelief! I doubted that the Lord wanted to give it to me.
My thoughts are that blind faith would be faith in the Lord's ability to work miracles, but lacking an understanding of His will. Intellectual faith would be faith based on the Lord's matchless power as well as His will, which is revealed through the Holy Ghost. We must, therefore, study and pray, learning to feel and be guided by the spirit, so that our belief is directed at what the Lord has in store for us.
I think a beautiful example of both blind faith and intellectual faith can be found in the experiences of Alma and Amulek in the city of Ammonihah. The two men watch in horror as the people of Ammonihah put to death the families of the believers. In agony, Amulek turns to Alma and asks, "How can we witness this awful scene? Therefore let us stretch forth our hands, and exercise the power of God which is in us, and save them from the flames."
Amulek knew the Lord had the power to save the innocent from their suffering. What he had not yet learned, was to recognize the spirit, which could help him to know the will of the Lord. Alma, on the other hand, had plenty of experience with the spirit and recognized its guiding influence.
He told Amulek, "The Spirit constraineth me that I must not stretch forth mine hand; for behold the Lord recieveth them up unto himself, in glory; and he doth suffer that they may do this thing, or that the people may do this thing unto them, according to the hardness of their hearts, that the judgments which he shall exercise upon them in his wrath may be just..."
Alma knew the Lord could free the people, but his faith was intellectual, based on what was in agreement with the Lord's will as revealed to him by the spirit.
I believe. But I need to increase my receptiveness to the spirit so that I may know when my desires are in harmony with what the Lord has in mind, so that I can exercise my faith to its fullest.