Unbelief is one of the most powerful forces on earth.
That may seem odd. But it’s true. There is a section in Mark’s Gospel that makes this so clear. Read it for yourself in Mark 4:35-6:6.
Mark records Jesus calming the wind and sea with a word. The disciples respond to this display of power with fear. They ask one another,
“Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey Him?” (Mark 4:41)
It’s a good question. The demonstration of Jesus’ power is just beginning. The answer will become more and more clear to them.
After this Jesus casts a legion of demons out of a man who lived among the tombs. Jesus also healed a woman who was suffering from a hemorrhage for twelve years. He did this passively. She came up and grabbed His cloak while He was in the middle of a crowd. He knew power came from Him to heal her as a result of her secretly grabbing His clothes.
She was healed passively while He was actively on his way to raise a dead girl to life.
Four encounters. The disciples witnessed Jesus’ amazing power. Power over the natural world. The wind and waves obey Him. Power over the supernatural world. The demons are subject to Him. Power to heal physical afflictions. He can even raise the dead.
In the span of fifty verses the disciples saw more miracles than most see in a lifetime. Jesus was just getting started. From their perspective Jesus could do anything. He showed them His awesome power.
Then Jesus goes back to His hometown.
When Jesus began to teach in the synagogue the people took offense at Him. They knew Him as a carpenter and as the son of a carpenter. Now He is supposed to be a prophet?
Look at what the text says:
He was not able to do a miracle there, except to lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them. And he was amazed because of their unbelief. (Mark 6:5-6a NET)
Their unbelief amazed Jesus. Their unbelief restrained His ability to work in their midst. The Scriptures say that Jesus was not able to do a miracle there. The NRSV translates this verse literally:
And he could do no deed of power there (Mark 6:5a)
If the Bible didn’t say it I wouldn’t believe it. It is hard to believe that Jesus’ power would be restrained by unbelief. The power of both belief and unbelief are contrasted in Mark 9:19-24.
We have to be careful. Some misapply this. They think that belief alone is powerful. It isn’t. Some teach that if you just believe enough you can make things happen. That’s false. The power isn’t in us. It’s in Him.
Others think that we can manipulate God with our belief. We can’t. Jesus is not teaching the power of positive thinking. He is illustrating the importance of belief in the God of the Bible. He is contrasting that with the power of unbelief in the same. It is belief or unbelief in a Person.
God’s power is unleashed when His people are believing. His power is quenched when people are unbelieving. The most likely reason for this (theologically speaking) is that God is unwilling to work in power when people are unwilling to trust in Him.
When Jesus went to His hometown He was still the Messiah. He was still God in the flesh. But His power was restrained from manifesting in their lives because of their unbelief. Unbelief is powerful because it shuts off the unbeliever’s ability to experience God’s power.
This is one of the major reasons why unbelievers fail to see any evidence for God. They see less than God’s full activity because of their unbelief. When they see anything they suppress it in their unrighteousness. Part of the gospel is a command to change your mind. No longer be unbelieving. Believe! (See John 20:27 for example.)
Believers can take comfort knowing that God’s power is able to accomplish whatever He wills. We can get into trouble if we don’t understand that God’s power is not designed to accomplish whatever we will. As we walk with the living God we must always strive to walk by faith not by sight. We must strive to walk according to His will not our own.
My default is to walk by sight. When I do this I think in terms of what is humanly possible. Such thinking is restrictive.
I don’t want to make the mistake of thinking that God’s power exists simply to make my dreams come true, either. Such thinking is foolish.
I want to walk by faith. I want to believe the promises of God and walk according to His will. I want to know that when obstacles appear that may be too big for me they are not too big for Him.
I find myself praying like the man in Mark 11:
“I believe; help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24b NET)
How about you?