“He was unable to do many miracles there because of their disbelief.” – Matthew 13:58
That sentence is so remarkable. We often think of miracles as simple, unilateral expressions of God’s power: it happens because God decided it should happen and he overrules every other will involved and makes a miracle happen.
But that’s not the witness of the Gospels. Jesus so often tells people their faith has healed them. He can’t do miracles when there is a lack of faith. And sometimes it seems like Jesus isn’t even aware of the miracle until it happens (the woman with the issue of blood, for example).
A lot of harmful theologies have been built on this premise, so don’t hear what I’m not saying, please. But some kind of faith does seem necessary for God to do his work among us.
God’s will and power are made manifest in our midst when faith is present. In other words, God refuses to work unilaterally, overpowering us with what’s best for us. Instead, God insists on mutuality. God invites us to trust him, and then responds to our little mustard seeds of faith by bringing his presence and power to bear on our lives.
It’s not a perfect analogy, but I think about stand-up comedy. Is a comedian funny if no one in the room laughs at the jokes? Comedy doesn’t work like that. A comedian cannot be unilaterally funny. For comedy to work, there must be a mutual participation by both comedian and audience in the set. If there’s no back-and-forth between comedian and audience, there’s no communion, no resonance, no comedy.
That’s why you’ll often hear comedians end their sets by saying something like “You’ve been a great audience tonight!” instead of “I’ve been a great comedian tonight!” There is a recognition that the audience has brought something to the table, not just the comedian.
I think this is why Jesus so often tells people “Your faith has healed you.” rather than “God’s power has healed you.” Jesus honors their faith-filled participation in their own healing.
God saves saves the world, then, through the trembling faith of his people. And faith isn’t a flex. It isn’t something we can get more of by trying harder, squeezing our spiritual muscles to eek a bit more faith out.
No, faith is more of a letting go than a clenching up. Faith isn’t striving, it’s consenting to God’s invitation to trust. And as we consent to God, God consents to us (!), and we are drawn into the very life of God.
And then we hear God’s gracious, smiling benediction: “Go in peace, your faith has saved you.”