Is Jesus helpless?

For the last week, I’ve wrestled with an odd verse regarding Jesus, from Matthew 13, “(Jesus) was unable to do many miracles there because of their disbelief.” (vs. 58)

Returning to his home town of Nazareth, some of the locals, who’d known Jesus since infancy, struggled to accept his spiritual authority and power.

“Where did he get this wisdom? Where did he get the power to work miracles?  Isn’t he the carpenter’s son? Isn’t his mother named Mary? Aren’t James, Joseph, Simon, and Judas his brothers?  And his sisters, aren’t they here with us? Where did this man get all this?”  (Matthew 13:54-56)

Due to their doubt and disbelief, Jesus’ was rendered powerless.  According to Matthew’s gospel, Jesus had already performed countless healings and exorcisms.  But, in Nazareth, not so much.  In the next chapter, Jesus miraculously feeds the multitudes and walks on water.  But, on his own home turf, surrounded by family and friends, “He was unable to do many miracles there because of their disbelief.”

Remarkable, isn’t it?  The power of God, enfleshed in Jesus, blocked by disbelief.

I’m reminded of the many times Jesus said, “Your faith has healed/saved you.”

  • The bleeding woman, healed by touching the hem of his robe.
  • Blind Bartimaeus.
  • The Samaritan leper.
  • A blind man in Jericho.
  • The woman who anointed Jesus’ feet.

Jesus clearly identified a spiritual causality, linking a person’s faith in him and the healing they received.  Could Jesus be saying belief is like an open spiritual channel, between himself and a believer, and that disbelief functions like an “off” valve, severing the flow of the spiritual power Jesus offers?  I realize I’m suggesting two, different, opposing propositions.  But, just focusing on the “off” valve scenario for a moment, is it possible we have that much power; that our disbelief disrupts Jesus’ power?  Could our “disbelief” actually negate the possibility of Jesus’ spiritual influence and divine intervention?

Isn’t that what Jesus is saying?

I’m also reminded of Revelation 3:20, Look! I’m standing at the door and knocking. If any hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to be with them, and will have dinner with them, and they will have dinner with me.” 

Jesus doesn’t pick the lock.  Jesus doesn’t kick down the door.  Jesus doesn’t climb through a window, or slide down the chimney.  He stands at the door, and knocks, waiting for an answer.  If the door opens, he enters.  If it doesn’t, he doesn’t.

It seems like Jesus might be knocking on a lot of locked, unanswered doors, these days.

As I’ve shared before, in the days following the Stoneman Douglas High School tragedy, in Parkland, FL, when I served as the pastor of the neighboring First Church Coral Springs, I struggled with deep spiritual questions; “Where was God?  Why didn’t he stop this?  Why didn’t he do something, anything?”

As I’ve previously described, my spiritual beliefs were insufficient for the pain in my heart and the questions in my head.  I doubted God, more than ever before, and I struggled to find answers I could accept.  My beliefs seemed like a line of dominoes, collapsing one-by-one.  I wondered when the last domino would fall, and what then?  Thankfully, as painful and difficult as that time was, the fear of losing my faith, which I hold so dear, prompted me to dig deeper, seek spiritual guidance, study, and lean into the God I doubted and resented, but hadn’t completely abandoned.

While I’m on much more solid spiritual ground, today, I’m shaken again by the recent mass shootings in El Paso and Dayton.  Here we go again.  In just one weekend, 29 more are dead, dozens more injured, and countless more traumatized and grieving.  How can we even attempt to estimate the mounting anger and fear growing in all of us?  How can we estimate the depth of our collective woundedness?

While the debate inevitably turns, again, to gun laws and mental health screening, and investigators search for explanations and people to blame, we’re back in the same hellish place we always are after these unspeakable tragedies…

Heartbroken.  Confused.  Shaken.  Afraid.  Outraged.  Questioning.

And, someone, somewhere, is asking, “Where was God?  Why didn’t he stop this?  Why didn’t he do something, anything?”

I know there’s not a single cause for a person to kill innocent victims.  The reasons are as numerous and varied as the killers.  I’m certain there are “profiles” explaining their mental states and motivations.  I’ve heard all of the theories – troubled homes, doctrines of hate, exposure to violent media, mental illness, bullying and abuse.  I’m certain brilliant people are studying each of the perpetrators, seeking insights that will hopefully, eventually, lead to future prevention.  But, as much as we already do know, the shootings and deaths continue.

May I suggest the issue is spiritual?  Is it naive to think our problem is as simple – though, definitely NOT simple – as spiritual disbelief?

Rather than asking, “Where was God?  Why didn’t he stop this?  Why didn’t he do something, anything?”, should we be asking, instead, “Where is our faith?”

While many continue to claim we are a “Christian” nation, are we really?  Show me the evidence.

Is it possible, these tragedies keep happening, because we’ve rendered God ineffectual by our collective disbelief?  Have we, as a society, drifted so far from God, or believe so little in God, that we’ve effectively shut the door?

“He was unable to do many miracles there because of their disbelief.”

I don’t know how to stop these shootings.  Obviously, no one does.  I’m sure tougher guns laws, better mental health screenings, more stringent security, better trained and equipped police officers, etc. could all help, to some degree.  But, none of that addresses the source of the problem.  What is that?  We’re broken.  We’re undeniably broken.  Our society is broken.  And, we are rapidly producing a seemingly endless supply of broken people, hell-bent on killing the innocent.

How do we address the brokenness?

Call me naive, if you like.  But, I think the issue is spiritual.  I think the answer is a return to faith.  And, if disbelief closes the door on Jesus, imagine what renewed belief could do!

Jesus is knocking.  Someone – ANYONE – please open the door!

Disagree?  That’s fine.  Let me know when you have a better answer.

4 thoughts on “Is Jesus helpless?

  1. Hmm. Much to think about.
    As I read I wondered about prayer … who or what (if anything) do we actually pray FOR … the victims, comfort and healing, certainly … I’m guilty of “band-aid” prayers.
    But what about prayer for a change of hearts – starting with our own – which gets right back to belief / disbelief. Do we believe God can and will act, but don’t want any change in our personal lives and so keep our prayers safe?
    Spiritual renewal … are we willing? I think you’re onto something.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I agree that the problem is lack of faith, lack of parents who practice faith and teach it to their children. Our fallen world, fallen families, people, communities…. all leading to lonely, desperate, angry, hurt, abused and mentally ill people. There are many variables and they all combine to produce sick angry people who commit horrible crimes.

    The question I have is, doesn’t the Bible predict this? Isn’t a fallen world predicted in the Bible as what happens before Jesus returns. That our world becomes a nightmare full of hate, wars and misery?
    Don’t get me wrong. I think what is happening is horrible.
    But if the Bible predicts this as the future of what happens to our world -then why are we shocked? Why do we bother to pray for God to fix this? He’s not going to change what he predicted. The only thing God is going to do is send Jesus for the second time. I pray for Jesus to please come soon. The sooner the better!


    1. If you look back over history, this isn’t the worst of times. Many generations have thought they were living in the “end times,” but weren’t. I don’t think those “predictions” were meant literally, any way.

      But, undeniably, these are bad times.

      And, to say that these are “signs” means that God is somehow responsible for the tragedies. I don’t believe that.

      My argument is that theses tragedies prove how much we need God.


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