The modern preachers (especially those on the TV) have popularized a particular version of “faith.” They insist that faith necessary to receive miracles. Some of them teach that that the miracles are proportionate to the size of ones’ faith! That is what is implied by clichés such as “level of faith”, “increase your faith” abundant in their preaching.
They portray “faith” as something that triggers God’s power. These preachers teach that unless we exercise our faith, we cannot receive God’s power through miracles. That implies that the omnipotent God need us to prop him up by our faith.
They are selective in their use of certain Bible stories to support their position. One such story 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 preachers quote Jesus’ statement to the woman with a flow of blood, “your faith has healed you” to argue that it is our faith that works miracles! If faith within the receiver is necessary for God’s power to act, then miracle is an illusion. It’s just a placebo effect.
These stories need to be re-examined. Prior to that, we should also examine other instances where Jesus did miracles for people who lacked faith or were unable to invoke their faith to trigger a miracle! Take the case of Jesus stilling the storm in Lake Galilee. The disciples never imagined that Jesus could calm the sea. Their surprise betrays their unbelief. They said, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?” (Mark 4:41). Jesus was surprised by their unbelief. So, he asked them: “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?” (Mark 4:40) 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. They were asking Jesus to help them to 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, despite their lack of faith.
When Jesus raised Lazarus who ever believed that was possible? Martha agreed 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 11:1-16). 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). Bringing back a partially decomposed body was impossible. But it happened though all of them lacked faith in Jesus’ power to do that.
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 could not exercise their faith.
Jesus also helped people who had no knowledge of him or his healing powers. The man at the Bethesda pool did not know that Jesus can heal him. His response to Jesus’ question “do you want to be healed” was one of despondency rather than faith (John 5:7). He believed that he can be healed by the pool and his complaint was that he had nobody to help him to enter the pool at the right moment. He fixated his faith 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 did not 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. Faith is the product of miracles not vice versa. One of the essential components of the miracle stories in the Gospels is the faith that it generated in those who witnessed them.
If then what is the role of faith in Christian experiences of God’s power? Faith is that turns a person to God. First, it is something that draws a person to God. The woman with an 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 centurion’s faith was much stronger. He knew that a word from Jesus was enough to heal his servants.
There are several people who do not draw to him, and they miss miracles. Their doubts and questions deprive him the opportunity to do miracles for them. This is what happened when Jesus visited his own hometown. 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. Unless we have the faith to draw us to Jesus, there will not be any miracles.
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 (Exodus 3:1-7). God does what he wants 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 good news 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.