Was Jesus Incapable of Healing Because of Lack of Faith?

Question:  I read this today in my quiet time, and it’s fascinating me…Mark 6:5-6, And because of their unbelief, he (Jesus) couldn’t do any miracles among them except to place his hands on a few sick people and heal them.  And he was amazed at their unbelief. 

That’s the NLT…I checked the NIV and it says basically the same thing.  What do you think?  It sounds to me Jesus was actually limited by their lack of faith.  The word “couldn’t” is pretty strong here.

Answer:  We know that God can do anything He wants to do, regardless of whether someone has faith or not.  This is made clear, for example, when Ahaz, the king of Judah during the ministry of Isaiah, would not in faith receive God’s sign that He would remove the threat Israel and her allies were to Judah (Isaiah 7:1-17).  God gives him a sign anyway.  But Jesus is operating under another paradigm.  He is God, to be sure, but he chose while here during his earthly ministry to use only the enabling of the Holy Spirit to do what he did.  He did not exercise his deity.  Now, of course, the Spirit can choose to do anything He wants whether someone has faith or not.  He used Paul to make the sorcerer Elymas blind because he was resisting the preaching of the gospel to the local proconsul, Sergius Paulus (Acts 13:6-12).

So we know the “couldn’t” of this verse is not an absolute “couldn’t” but rather a delimited “couldn’t.”  It was the purpose of the Spirit to do miracles of healing only for those who had faith.  Because most didn’t, He didn’t empower Jesus to heal them.  Therefore, Jesus “couldn’t” heal them.  But Jesus was enabled by the Spirit to heal some who did have faith. 

In our own situation, there are times when God won’t heal us unless we have faith.  Someone with the faith to bring healing to another might not be able to heal that person because they don’t have faith, but that is only because God has not chosen to release His power in this situation.  He can heal the person if He chooses to, but He chooses not to.  Faith is a crucial component in almost all situations for a miracle.  God is not going to overwhelm someone, typically (Paul is an exception, Acts 9), with a miracle when they are already opposed to Him (some would argue that Paul wasn’t knowingly opposed to Him, just ignorant that he was opposed to God).  He is a rewarder of those who earnestly seek him (Hebrews 11:6). 

This seems in part an explanation, also, for why He doesn’t just make everyone a believer by obvious acts of power that they cannot deny.  It doesn’t really turn their hearts to Him but results in a grudging acceptance of His power.  God wants our love.  This has implications for how we discipline our children and conduct all our relationships.

Randall Johnson

Related articles:

Jesus, Filled with the Holy Spirit (A Thimble Full of Theology for Daily Living)


Is Failure to Love the Greatest Heresy?

Question:  I read a blog by Greg Boyd recently that took to task guys like John Piper who tweeted, when Rob Bell’s book on hell came out, “Farewell, Rob Bell.”  He said that the greatest heresy in Christianity was failing to love as Christ loved, even and especially more so than having wrong doctrine.

Answer:  I would agree that Boyd makes a good point but would suggest that his point is not explicit enough.  What does he do with Jesus’ denunciation of the Pharisees (Matthew 23) or Paul’s wish that those who taught that circumcision as necessary for salvation would emasculate themselves (Galatians 5:12) and that if they preach a gospel other than what Paul preached they are eternally condemned (Galatians 1:9)?  Sometimes love means loving those who would be endangered by a false gospel enough to warn them of the voracious and hateful attacks of the enemy.   This means exposing the false teachers’ falsity and making clear what is at stake if you embrace their false gospel.

However, Boyd is right that we are too quick to use the term “heretic” when it applies to someone who really doesn’t compromise the gospel.  We ought to engage those who teach things like Bell has on hell to make sure they are not compromising the gospel.  He claims that he still believes that he must preach Jesus as the only way.  He is, in my opinion, dangerously near the edge, but not over it yet.  Here is where Boyd is right on about how we fail to engage one another lovingly and as brothers and sisters before we shoot off about how heretical they are.  To be fair, Rob Bell has been on the doctrinal edge for many years now in the opinion of many.  Great caution is warranted when embracing his views.  But until he repudiates the core of the gospel, he is our brother and needs our love.

Randall Johnson