The modern preachers (especially those ones on the TV) have popularized a particular version of ‘faith.’ According to them we need faith in order to God to do miracles. Some of them even tend to preach that the miracles are proportionate to the size of ones’ faith. This is often implied in expressions like ‘level of faith’ etc that we often hear on the TV.
In this popular conception ‘faith’ is portrayed as something that triggers God’s power. Unless we exercise our faith we cannot receive God’s power through miracles. Doesn’t this imply that the omnipotent God is helpless to do a miracle for us! Certain stories in the Bible are used to support these positions. Often quoted is the faith of the woman suffering with a flow of blood who received her healing by touching Jesus’ garments secretly (Mark 5:24-34). The faith of the centurion is also often cited (Matthew 8:5-13). He received a miracle because he ‘exercised’ his faith.
Often times preachers quote Jesus’ statement to the woman with a flow of blood, ‘your faith has healed you’ to say that it is our faith that works miracles! If faith that is situated in the receptor is the condition for the power of God to act for the benefit of someone then the miracles looks like an illusion. If faith is something that makes a person just believe that the miracle has happened then faith is similar to to the effect that placebo has on a patient.
These stories need to be re-examined. But before that we also need to look at other instances where Jesus did a miracle for those who did not have any faith or were unable to exercise their faith to trigger a miracle! What about Jesus stilling the storm in Lake Galilee? From the statement of Jesus, ‘Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?” (Mark 4:40) it is reasonable to conclude that they did not expect a miracle from Jesus. Their surprise confirms the fact this fact (4:41). They never knew that Jesus had control over the storm, the sea and the waves until he stilled the sea! The disciples had cried out to Jesus who was sleeping at the helm of the boat: ‘Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?’ This was not a request but a complaint. Actually, they were asking Jesus to help them bail out water as the waves were dashing against the boat. They never believed that Jesus had the power to still the storm. Still there was a miracle, in spite of their lack of faith.
When Jesus raised Lazarus who ever believed that was possible? Martha agreed saying that he will certainly raise up in the resurrection at the end times but not now (John 11:24). The disciples did not believe that it will be possible (John 11:12-16). They also pointed out that it has been four days now since he is buried. Martha even pointed out that, ‘Lord, by this time there will be an odor, for he has been dead four days’ (John 11:39). This miracle happened in the context of utter lack of faith in Jesus.
Then there are a host of people who were not in a mental state to seek Jesus’ help or had nobody to seek God’s help for them. The demon-possessed resisted healing (Mark 5:7). The dead people whom Jesus raised couldn’t exercise their faith.
Jesus also helped people who had no knowledge of him or his healing powers. The man at the Bethseda pool didn’t know that Jesus can heal him. He believed that he can be healed by the pool and his complaint was that he had nobody to help him enter the pool at the right moment. His response to Jesus question ‘do you want to be healed’ was one of despondency (John 5:7). His faith was fixated on the healing power of the pool. However, he had come to accept the fact that there are logistic difficulties for his healing. He was losing his faith in the miraculous power of the pool and had no faith in the healing power of Jesus who was standing nearby. He probably didn’t know who Jesus was and what he is capable of. Still he was healed. Who exercised faith and whose faith healed him?
These observations lead us to certain inevitable conclusions. Our faith is not the basis for the miracles. God works miracles whether we have faith or not. God’s power is not triggered nor dependent on our faith. Simply put, God cannot be manipulated by our faith! God works as he wills, unconditionally.
A second observation is God does miracles with a purpose. The main purpose is that it will create and nurture faith in those who received and witness the miracles. In other words the purpose is that we may put our trust in him. Thus viewed faith is the product of miracles not vice versa. One of the essential components of the miracles stories in the Gospels is the faith that it generated in those who witnessed them.As it generated faith in God it also made the witnesses and those who received the miracle to glorify God. This is very well summarized in Matthew 15:29 as: 'And great multitudes came unto him, having with them some lame, blind, dumb, maimed, and many others, and cast them down at Jesus' feet; and he healed them; insomuch that the multitude wondered, when they saw the dumb to speak, the maimed to be whole, the lame to walk, and the blind to see. And they glorified the God of Israel.'
If then what is the role of faith in Christian experiences of God’s power? Faith is that connects a person with God. First of all, it is something that draws a person to God. The woman with a issue of blood came closer to Jesus enough to touch him because he had ‘reports of him.’ She believed that Jesus could heal her if she just touched the edge of his garments. Faith drew her to Jesus. The centurions faith was much stronger. He knew that a word from Jesus was enough to heal his servants. There are a number of people who don’t draw to him and they miss a miracle. They don’t draw to him but their doubts and questions deprive him an opportunity to do miracles for them. This is what happened when Jesus visited his own home town. The Bible says, he ‘couldn’t do’ any miracles in that place because of their unbelief. Since people knew him as a carpenter and as the son of an ordinary woman like Mary they did not bring their sick and demon-possessed to him. Thus they denied him an opportunity to help them. That is why ‘he could not do’ any mighty works there. Faith that draws us to God is essential.
The second aspect of faith is that it is a response to God’s power displayed through miracles. In another sense it draws us closer to God. Moses had no knowledge of faith in Yahweh when he saw the burning bush. But he drew close to the bush (in fact to the presence of God) to see what is going on—why the bush burns but is not consumed (Exod 3:1-7). God does what he want to do irrespective of or unbelief. But he expects us to respond to him in faith. The people who were healed by Jesus went around sharing the goodnews about Jesus. The people who witnessed miracles put their trust in Him. They became of people of faith because they experienced the power of God in their life. It is not faith triggering God’s power but God’s power triggering our faith. And faith thus triggered grows on its own even when there are no miracles.