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

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