Believing is Seeing: The Miracle of Faith
“Faith does not spring from the miracle but the miracle from faith.”
- Fyodor Dostoevsky
In the previous chapter we discussed the subject of faith in detail. But the fundamental questions remain: Why is faith needed? Why is it important? Why it matters to God? We will consider them now.
God needs faith (in man) to do his work in and through him. Without faith, man cannot be an instrument of Divine purpose and intent. Every work of God can be considered to be a miracle. We, in this material world, consider a supernatural intervention to be a miracle. But for God it is an act like any (of His). Max Lucado underlines that, “In fact the normality of and not the uniqueness of God’s miracles cause them to be staggering. The frequency of the miracles blinds us to their beauty.”
All the works of God that we see around are miracles. But we nevertheless clamor for the Divine intervention that will be startling and a convincing expression of the extraordinary; thus setting it apart from the routine and the usual. We then call them miracles or signs and wonders, and they often become the precondition for our belief. ‘If we see then we will believe’; is the perspective that we form. From God’s perspective however, it is the reverse which holds: ‘If you believe then you will see’. God is laying down His terms: ‘If you have faith then you will see my works, my wonders, my miracles’. “Some things have to be believed to be seen,” wrote Ralph Hodgson. Believing is God’s precondition for action on His part.
How much faith God seeks in us? What is the minimum we should have, which is needed by Him to work something out? Well ‘as small as a mustard seed’ 1 would be sufficient for God to even move mountains. God doesn’t ask much, though if there is more than a ‘mustard seed’, it would be very much welcomed by Him. The point here is that even a little faith is sufficient; but there should be something at least. There must be some faith for God to do His work in a situation.
The gospels are full of references to faith and accounts of faith; highlighting its importance in God’s scheme of things. Jesus stressed much on faith; he applauded where he found faith, but he rued the lack of faith that he often encountered. And he was able to do his miracles where he found faith. In fact he made it a point to shift the focus from himself, the performer of the miracle, to the faith of the one requesting the miracle. It became miracle of faith.
He sought that people should believe in him not just because of the miracles he performed, and therefore he was often perturbed that the people should be insistent in their demand for signs and wonders. He rebuked them: “Unless you people see miraculous signs and wonders, you will never believe.” 2 He was concerned that the focus of the people was more on his giving them miracles, rather than on his words, which were the ‘bread of life’ and the ‘living water’ that he was giving them. He did not want miracles to be the mainstay or the focal point of his ministry. That is why he used to deliberately underplay them (he told those he healed in private not to disclose who had done the act and he used to often withdraw after performing a miracle) and shifted the focus from himself to the faith of the person, as being responsible for the miracle.
But wherever or when he found faith, Jesus was delighted. It did not matter how much it was; the very presence of faith was appreciated by him. And if he found a faith that was extraordinary, he used to make it a point to praise it openly and even marveled at it. There are some remarkable accounts in the gospels of Jesus encountering faith in persons and performing his miracle as a response to it. Let us look at a few of them that are the most striking.
The one which stands out is the account of the centurion in Capernaum, whose servant lay paralyzed (another account indicates that he was in fact on his death bed) at his home. He comes to Jesus for help. Now here is a Gentile coming to the Jewish Messiah for help; an interesting situation and that could have well crossed the mind of Jesus. The Romans were ruling the Jewish nation and had subjected the people to much hardship and suffering. The Jews would have nothing to do with them and the very sight of this senior Roman soldier coming to him for help would have appeared strange to Jesus and also to those gathered there. Am sure the people, especially the Pharisees and the priests among them, would have keenly waited to see how Jesus would respond to the request from the centurion.
But Jesus was more interested in the faith of the man and his love for his servant, which had caused him to take this bold step of coming to Jesus. Jesus offered to go with him to his home and heal the servant. But the response the centurion gave, stumped him. From what the centurion said it became clear that he had great faith in the power of Jesus. He understood that for a Jew (and that too a religious leader) to come to the home of a Gentile (and a high ranking one for that) would be scandalous and ‘unclean’. He believed that Jesus could perform the healing from there itself! And if Jesus was to say the word, he (Jesus) need not ascertain whether the healing had taken place or not; it would certainly take place for Jesus was a man of authority! Absolutely stunning! No wonder Jesus was astonished.
Do you see what the situation has developed into? A Roman official, a man of authority himself, believes that Jesus (a Jew and hence a subject of Rome) has the authority to perform a long distance healing and he need not even have to go and verify it, for it would be done! What was the response of Jesus to this? He was amazed at this show of faith. The centurion’s words would have pleased him no end, and before everyone gathered there, he said of the centurion: “I tell you the truth; I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith.” 3 The centurion’s faith was rewarded. Jesus did as he requested him to. Jesus assured him, “Go! It will be done just as you believed it would.” 4 Just as you believed! These are the catch words. And the servant was healed at that very hour. Miracle of faith!
And then there was this Canaanite woman whom Jesus encountered in the region of Tyre and Sidon. The woman was persistent in her request that Jesus free her daughter from demon possession. The Lord tested her patience and perseverance. He first told her that his mission (his healing) was only amongst his people – the people of Israel. The woman persisted. She would not take no for an answer. Jesus then attempted to dissuade her by telling her that it would be wrong for him to take what belongs to the Jews and give it to other people. The woman’s reply touches him: “Yes, Lord, but even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” 5 What she meant was that she is not seeking to take away the right of the Jews to the Messiah’s largesse; she would be happy with only the crumbs, the leftovers, of his mercy and grace. Jesus yielded to the woman’s faith and said to her, “Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.” 6 The lesson here is; don’t give up in faith but persevere. Sometimes God tests our faith in this way; to see how desperate and persistent we are in our request. Miracle of faith!
Now we come to the faith of the father whose son was possessed by an evil spirit. Jesus accompanied by Peter, James, and John, was coming down the mountain. The three disciples were in a dazed state. They had a short while earlier witnessed the transfiguration of Jesus on the top of the mountain. They had beheld him in his glory, talking to the patriarchs of old – Moses and Elijah. Coming down they came upon the rest of the disciples and a large crowd which had gathered around them. They found that the center of attraction was a man who had brought his son to the disciples to rid him of the evil spirit that possessed him. The disciples had been unable to do so. So now it fell on Jesus.
The boy’s father, discouraged by the disciples’ failure to drive out the evil spirit, says to Jesus, “... if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.” 7 This was not good enough. There was faith but it was the faith of a fence sitter, the faith of a tester. What the man meant was: ‘your disciples have been unable to help my son, but let us now see if you can’. Jesus said to him, “‘If you can’? Everything is possible for him who believes.” 8 The emphasis is on the words, ‘if you can’. Jesus needed to see faith which was full, unadulterated, and unconditional, before he did the healing. The man moved quickly from being a skeptic to an unabashed convert. “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” 9 Now was the right posture; sincere, humble, and pleading. Jesus could work with that. He healed the man’s son and the evil spirit left him. Miracle of faith!
We now come to the amazing account of the woman who had been subject to bleeding for a long time (it was likely the menstrual bleeding). She must have led a difficult life carrying this affliction. Besides the suffering from her bleeding, she would have faced ostracism by her community and family from many social settings. She must have been forbidden to enter the temple and likely even barred from the kitchen at home. With this condition she very likely would not have borne any children; if at all she was married. The social stigma must have dogged her cruelly.
This is the woman, whom no one could heal of her long suffering affliction, who dares to touch the edge of Jesus’ cloak, so that she could be healed. Why did she not go openly to Jesus and request him for healing? Obviously this woman lacked confidence to make social contact, with her status as an outcast. She was afraid that she would driven away and not allowed to meet Jesus. So she must have thought: ‘if I touch only his clothing, touch just his cloak, that would be enough to heal me and Jesus and the crowd would not even know what had happened’. What faith, woman! And when she touched him she was immediately healed. Her faith had extracted the healing from Jesus!
Jesus came to a halt. He wanted to know who had touched him. It was not an accidental touch or brush of the crowd around him, but a deliberate act, for he had felt the power go out from him. I believe the Lord could have left it unexposed. He was hurrying to the house of Jairus to heal his daughter and this diversion could have been avoided. But he chose to bring it out in the open. And for good reason. The woman’s faith had to be made known to the people around. The woman when seeing that she would not remain un-discovered came and fell at his feet and owned up that she was the one who had touched him, narrating the reason for her covert act. She was probably fearing at this time that her ‘stolen’ healing would be taken back. Jesus then said these reassuring words to her, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace.” 10 ‘Don’t be afraid, the healing is now yours for sure, for it is your faith which has won you the healing’. Mark the words: your faith has healed you! Once again the spotlight is trained on the faith of the person. Miracle of faith!
The same words, ‘Your faith has healed you’, Jesus said to Bartimaeus in Jericho when he had healed him of his blindness. And this has been the pattern. God searches those who come to Him with their requests and petitions; do they have faith - even as small as a mustard seed? At Lazarus’ tomb, just before calling the dead man out, Jesus remarks to Martha, “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?” 11 The principle then is clear: Believe and you would see. Miracles need the soil of faith to sprout. They cannot where there is barrenness of faith.
What makes pilgrimage sites holy or places where people believe that their wishes will be fulfilled? God is everywhere, isn’t He? So what is so special about these sites that makes hordes of people to come there to offer their petitions? What makes these places special is faith; faith of the believers which rises collectively as an acceptable and pleasing aroma to God. The presence of faith is so strong and pervasive in these places.
Believing can lead us to see God’s miracles and His signs and wonders. But miracles, by themselves, need not necessarily lead to faith, or to a faith that will last. And that is why Jesus, though had the use for miracles, for they served their purpose in his ministry, did still downplay them; because the faith that would be forged as a result would be ‘miracle’ dependent. It would require periodic dose of miracles to keep it going. Miracles can serve the purpose of awakening faith. But that faith has to be supplemented (and soon enough) with the knowledge of the One who is behind the miracles and also a close relationship with Him, for it to develop into a solid faith. If not, then it will collapse soon.
Miracles alone will not lead to bedrock faith because we are relying only on our sight and not on our heart and mind. When we base our belief mainly on seeing, we are basing it on the works (miracles) of God; on what He does and not who He is. When we stop seeing i.e. when the miracles dry up, or God does not act as we want Him to or are used to Him to act, then faith crumbles; for it is a faith whose foundation is weak. When we believe in God, that is put our faith in the person of God, then usually that faith comes from inside us (we don’t ‘see’ God, do we?); and that faith has a solid foundation because it is based on who God is. That is why Jesus calls them blessed who would believe in him though they have not seen him: “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” 12
We need to stress the point that miracles need not guarantee faith. If it was so, then all who saw Jesus doing his miracles would have come to believe in him. There would have been no exceptions. Everyone would have become his disciple. But speaking in the temple area, Jesus says to the Jews there: “The miracles I do in my Father’s name speak for me, but you do not believe….” 13 Jesus did enough miracles to cause faith to generate in all the people of his time. But not all believed as we know. Especially the Pharisees and the religious leaders of his time; they did not believe basis the miracles he performed, that he was the awaited Messiah. ‘Even after Jesus had done all these miraculous signs in their presence, they still would not believe in him’. 14 We find that the miracles in fact increased the chief priests’ hostility towards Jesus, as they were making him highly popular with the people. They alleged that his power to drive out evil spirits from possessed people came from Beelzebub! Jesus encountered this hostility on many occasions and did even ask them: “I have shown you many great miracles from the Father. For which of these do you stone
In a meeting of the Sanhedrin, after the stupendous miracle of the raising of Lazarus from the dead, the matter of his miracles was brought up. The priests contended: “What are we accomplishing? Here is this man performing many miraculous signs. If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him…. .” 16 It was in this very meeting that it was decided that one man (Jesus) had to be sacrificed to save the nation. The chief priests planned to kill Lazarus too; for after all he was a walking proof of the miracle that had been performed and was attracting large crowds because of that. In fact it looks like that this miracle was the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back, as far as the rulers of the people and the chief priests were concerned. The miracles of Jesus did not produce faith in them but jealousy and insecurity as they considered him a threat to the established religious order of the day, which they presided over. Their hearts were hardened, and Jesus saw coming true in them what Isaiah had prophesied long ago: “You will be ever hearing but never understanding; you will be ever seeing but never perceiving. For this people’s heart has become calloused; they hardly hear with their ears, and they have closed their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts and turn, and I would heal them.” 17
We can also understand the disappointment that Jesus may have felt with the faith that he found in his own disciples. In fact where faith should have been easy to come by; it turned out to be lacking or missing. The disciples had close encounters with the teachings and works of Jesus. He was their Master and they lived and moved with him during his earthly ministry. Of all the people, faith should have come easy to them and in abundance. Yet many a times Jesus was left exasperated for he did not find the faith in the disciples that he expected or desired. He once even chided Peter: “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” 18 Strangely the kind of faith he wanted in his disciples, only came about after he had left the world and not when he was with them. In his home town too he did not find much faith (a prophet without honor in his own home!) and therefore he could not do any miracles in Nazareth, except for some cases of healing. ‘And he was amazed at their lack of faith’. 19
So pestered was Jesus with people’s demand for miracles and for signs and wonders from heaven, and so saddened was he that they should put so much emphasis on them for believing, that he had to tell them: “A wicked and adulterous generation looks for a miraculous sign, but none will be given it except the sign of Jonah” 20; referring here to the three days that he will remain in the belly of death and then be resurrected. That would be the ultimate sign. If you can accept that, then accept; for he knew that no amount of signs can produce in us the faith that God wants.
In fact why only accuse the generation of Jesus’ time. Throughout the Bible we find ample proof that miracles do not result in faith. Take the case of the Israelites; would they have ever rebelled against their God, if miracles and signs were sufficient to produce faith and loyalty? They had ample display of God’s power; the plagues in Egypt including the plague of the first born; God leading them out of the land of slavery – out of mighty Egypt; God parting the sea so that they could cross on its dry bed and escape Pharaoh’s army; the provisions during their time in the desert – the manna from the sky and the water from the rock; the defeat of armies, stronger than they, whom they encountered in the wilderness; and the very fact that they survived as a nation wandering forty years in the desert. And above all, the presence of God in their midst; as the pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night, which went before them during their journey in the desert. And once they arrived at the Promised Land, the rout of their enemies. It was the LORD who won them their victories and gave them the rich and fertile land over there. All this should have produced in them a faith which would have been everlasting. But what do we find? Israel had difficulty remaining faithful to their God for much long. It was rebellious and disobedient; putting God to the test again and again.
Even with us. If we reflect on our lives, we will see how much God has done for us, and we will also see the direct evidences of His working (miracles) in many situations. But unfortunately we all cannot claim to have a rock like faith that pleases God. We forget over time and then we ask for more evidence of His power and His love. We also, obdurate that we are, repeatedly put God to the test. We want to see and see more to keep our faith going. But faith comes from within, as Jesus so strongly established. “A sign is not the same thing as proof; a sign is merely a marker for someone who is looking in the right direction,” writes Philip Yancey. Faith has to come from within to be enduring. If we are looking for miracles so that we may believe, we would be disappointed. If we believe, the miracles will add to that belief.
We have seen how our faith can enable God to intervene in particular situations in our life. But is that all what faith does? Is that why it is important? Does it have any other impact? Does the faith of an individual matter in the wider scheme of things, or at the cosmic level? Well yes it does. God’s uses our faith (the faith of individuals), to do his redemptive work. With faith we can contribute as co-workers with Him in the restoration of creation. My faith counts! Each and every man’s faith is important in the bigger picture of things. It makes God win his battles. It was the lack of faith which Adam and Eve displayed, which made God lose the battle in Eden. Now my every act of faith makes God win that battle. The small acts of faith add up and contribute to the Restoration. God will use the faith in us to restore everything: to turn evil into good, defeat into victory, death into resurrected life.
We touched upon the story of Job in the last chapter. By holding on to his faith, by trusting in the goodness of God in the face of all the calamities that befell him, he won the battle for God. It was his faith which did it. It was Abraham’s faith which did not wilt over the many years of waiting that won God the battle. It was the dance of David before the ark like a mad man and also his repentance when convicted of his sin with Bathsheba that won God the battle. It was Jesus who by suffering the Cross won God the ultimate battle. And we too in our daily lives, in our small ways, can give God His victories. Faith matters. It surely does.
We will end reflecting on these words of Thomas Merton: “We receive enlightenment only in proportion as we give ourselves more and more completely to God by humble submission and love. We do not first see, then act; we act, then see. And that is why the man, who waits to see clearly, before he will believe, never starts on the journey.”
So believe and start on the journey - the journey of faith. And you will surely see!
1. Matthew 17:20
2. John 4:48.
3. Matthew 8:10
4. Matthew 8:13
5. Matthew 15:27
6. Matthew 15:28.
7. Mark 9:22
8. Mark 9:23
9. Mark 9:24
10. Luke 8:48
11. John 11:40
12. John 20:29
13. John 10:25-26
14. John 12:37
15. John 10:32.
16. John 11:47-48.
17. Matthew 13:14-15
18. Matthew 14:31
19. Mark 6:6.
20. Matthew 16:4.