“Do You Believe That I Can Do This?”: Faith, Love, and the Endless Possibilities of Knowing God
When He entered the house, the blind men approached Him, and Jesus said to them, “Do you believe that I can do this?”
“Yes, Lord,” they answered Him.
Then He touched their eyes, saying, “Let it be done for you according to your faith!” And their eyes were opened. (Matthew 9:28–30)
When the blind men began to follow Jesus and cry out to him, they did not ask for healing. Their cry, “Have mercy on us, Son of David!” was broader, expressing faith in Jesus’ identity, power, and compassion, but not drawing itself out to a single point — the request that Jesus meet a particular need.
Jesus might well have answered their request for “mercy” with a monetary donation, or with a meal or clothing, or with some act that would dignify them in the eyes of their fellow man.
Perhaps that was all they really dared hope for.
But when they entered the house where Jesus was staying, he looked into their hearts, saw their true desire, and called it out of them.
He challenged their faith to rise to the level of his will.
“Do you believe that I can do this?”
What he wanted to do — what they had not even asked for.
“Yes, Lord,” they said.
And their eyes were opened.
Faith and the Gifts of God
A curious phenomenon meets us during the ministry of Jesus: faith is required on the part of individuals in order for Jesus to work.
This is true to such a degree that in areas where Jesus was not acknowledged as a servant of God, he was unable to do miracles (Mark 6:45–6).
I say this is curious because, when you think about it, it seems to limit the power of God. Why should anything be required on our part in order for God to work? After all, this same God gives us many good gifts without our asking for them, thinking about them, or acknowledging him — the breath in our lungs, the laughter in our days, the sunshine and rain.
Our lack of faith does not prevent God from creating any of these good gifts, or us from receiving them. So why couldn’t Jesus heal without faith on the part of the recipient?
Why bother asking the blind men about their beliefs? Why not just give them what they clearly needed, in a show of power and might?
Surely he could have.
Limits on a Limitless God
The omnipotence of God has led to many a philosophical puzzle. The classic one is, “Can God create a rock so heavy he can’t lift it?”
But questions about what God can and can’t do ultimately come down to recognizing that his omnipotence is limited by love: that he does or does not act in certain ways not because he is technically unable to but because his character forbids it.
A God whose character is truth does not lie. A God whose character is integrity does not change. A God whose character is love does not act outside of love; he is never selfish, never manipulative, never evil.
I believe in free will, and that one of the limits God works within is respect for the free will of the creatures he has created. I believe this to be central to the whole story of the Bible, that if it’s not true, we have a God who does not act in accordance with love.
One of the implications of this belief is that our standing with God is truly relational. Give and take are required on both sides. Faith is a relational word, a word that means trusting in a person more than it means holding to a proposition as fact.
This being the case, Jesus’ question — “Do you believe I can do this?” — calls the blind men not only to a further reach of possibility, but to a higher level of relationship.
Maybe It’s About Love
I sometimes think of faith as a conveyer belt. There is us, on one side, and there is God, on the other. God has something to give us, but for it to reach us, it must travel down a path. That path is faith.
To come to God with faith is to come with our hands open. To come with doubt — not honest questions, but doubt, doubt as to God’s character and intentions, the kind of doubt that is toxic in any relationship — is to come with hands tightly closed.
God might give the gift, but it will not be received. It will bounce off our closed fingers and shatter on the floor.
Something like this is at work in Jesus’ interactions with the faithful and the faithless. But Jesus’ respect for our free will, his desire to build healthy and nonmanipulative, noncontrolling relationships with us, means that he does not pry our fingers open and force into our hands a gift we do not want and will not value.
In other cases, we may want and value the gift, but we must adopt a posture of readiness to receive. I recall watching a father play catch with his two-year-old. Before every gentle throw, he would say, “Are you ready?” The child would open both hands, bend knees, and stand ready so the father could arc the ball straight into his grasp.
Faith does this too: it readies us to receive.
Expanding the Borders of the Possible
Jesus question expanded the blind men’s faith to consider greater possibilities than they had acknowledged before. This is about growing them in God, inviting them into something greater.
Yes, Jesus seems to say, I can show you mercy; yes, I can bring justice on your behalf; but do you believe I can heal you? Do you believe I can restore your sight?
Almost certainly they had dabbled with the idea that Jesus could do this, but he pushes them to commit. He invites them into his world, where far more is possible than we have dreamed of. He asks them to stretch out their faith first, before a miracle has been done, to reach out for the will of God and the power of God and grasp it for themselves.
This kind of challenge-to-faith does more than change our circumstances; it changes us. Better for our eternal souls, I think, that we believe God can give sight to the blind, even though we never see it; than that we see it but refuse to fully trust and believe.
I find that God does this often. I reach the borders of my belief, the limits I have drawn around the world, and hear him asking from beyond, “Do you believe that I can do this” — some new thing, some radical change, some greater breakthrough than I had conceived of before.
The Ground of Faith
In our culture it’s popular to speak of faith as a kind of force within us; a power we can summon by our own will. But biblical faith does not arise through our own power. It is a response, grounded in the word (spoken or written, prophetic or scriptural) of God.
God speaks; his word calls up faith in us. It might be a declaration of his intention or power; it might be a leading question.
Do you believe that I can do this?
When faith begins to stir and to rise in response to God’s word, it is our choice to open our hands or close them tightly.
The blind men said yes.
And their eyes were opened.
Like what you’re reading? Visit rachelstarrthomson.com to get a free ebook on the Lord’s Prayer and keep up with the rest of the series on the gospel of Matthew.
This is Part 131 in a series on the Gospel of Matthew, which you can access here. Unless otherwise marked, quotes are from the Holman Christian Standard Bible.
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Originally published at rachelstarrthomson.com on August 21, 2018.