When Jesus Fails

May 4th, 2016 / 11 Comments

Many Christians believe Jesus never fails. But that’s not what scripture says. Our acknowledging that Jesus sometimes failed can help us make sense of life and live more abundantly.

Jesus Cannot Heal AllJEsus in Nazareth

One my favorite examples (among others) of Jesus failing is his attempt to do miracles in his hometown. The people of Nazareth “took offense to him,” says Mark, when they heard his message.  Jesus responded to them by saying prophets have no honor in their hometowns.

Mark concludes this “hometown boy” story by saying Jesus “could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them. And he was amazed at their unbelief.” In other words, Jesus couldn’t heal some people, because they did not believe he was a healer.

This passage in Mark (and repeated in Matthew) indicates that the lack of creaturely cooperation can stymie Jesus in attaining his goals. Jesus apparently tried to perform some miracles, but he failed to get results. Those whom Jesus engaged should be blamed for his failure, because they failed to express cooperative faith.

Lack of creaturely cooperation can stymie Jesus in his efforts to attain his goals. Click To Tweet

First Implication of Jesus’ Failure

This passage has at least two implications for how we make sense of life and learn to live life well.

The first implication arises from the common Christian belief that Jesus reveals who God is and how God acts. “God looks like Jesus,” as many Christians put it. This Nazareth story, therefore, says not only that Jesus failed to achieve the results he wanted. By implication, it also suggests God can fail to achieve some results too.

In my recent book, The Uncontrolling Love of God, I explore this idea. I argue it is helpful to believe God can’t do some things. If God cannot unilaterally prevent evil, for instance, God is not culpable for failing to stop evil. Creatures are to blame. In other words, the God who cannot control others is not to blame for “allowing” evil.

I believe God’s love is necessarily self-giving and others-empowering. Consequently, God cannot fail to provide, withdraw, or override the power and freedom God gives creatures. This means that, like Jesus, God sometimes fails to get the outcomes God wants.

Like Jesus, God sometimes fails to get the outcomes God wants. Click To Tweet

Second Implication of Jesus’ Failure

The second idea I want to highlight from this Nazareth story has to do with creaturely contributions to God’s way of love.

This story suggests that we creatures have an essential role to play in God’s efforts to bring peace, well-being, and flourishing. The kingdom of God requires cooperative servants for love to reign. We must cooperate for at least some of God’s intentions to be fulfilled. We can be co-laborers with our loving Lord.

The kingdom of God requires cooperative servants for love to reign. Click To Tweet

I admit that some people may feel depressed or defeated when they hear the kingdom of God requires our cooperation for it be established in its fullness. “You mean God’s counting on me?” they ask. Instead of seeing themselves as God’s children created in God’s image, sin has distorted their view of self-worth.

But I think this cooperative element is positive and encouraging. It implies that our lives make a real difference. God invites and empowers us to be fellow-workers in making the world a better place. Love can win, if we cooperate with God. As God’s sons and daughters, we can work for the good of the whole family and other creatures too.

Love can win, if we cooperate with God. Click To Tweet

Conclusion

More must be said to articulate clearly what, in the light of Jesus’ failings, God can and cannot do. I’ve done some of this articulation in other publications. But there is always more to be said. Rethinking God’s power in light of God’s uncontrolling love is crucial for making sense of life and how our lives matter.

Rethinking God’s power is crucial for making sense of life and how our lives matter. Click To Tweet

 

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Comments

Martijn van Beveren

So what does this mean for people who want to use this argument to heal others? You know, the grow one leg as long as the other, kinda stuff. Though I do agree that God has given us our own responsibility in the world. And I think that this is a totality thing. Any intervention from His side is defying his own Law. But I do wonder how you would define corporation with us humans.


thomasjayoord

Good question, Martijn! I do think God’s healing requires creaturely cooperation. But I also think there are limits to how creatures can cooperate. And sometimes a few creatures will cooperate and others will not, undermining God’s intentions to heal.


Tom Torbeyns

Martijn van Beveren, belief of the ill person is not required per se but unbelief on his part, can prevent the miracle from happening.


chris

Dr Oord, How would you say your theodicy differs specifically from Greg Boyd’s (esp in Satan and the Problem of Evil?)


thomasjayoord

Chris – Greg and I think similarly on many things. But his view seems susceptible to the claim that God “allows” evil that God could stop. If I read him correctly, God’s power precedes God’s love, at least in the initial creating of the world. By contrast, I say God’s self-giving, others-empowering love is logically prior to power in God’s nature. Greg also affords a greater role for Satan and demons in his account of evil in the world. I’m not against what he says on this, but my view is ultimately neutral on whether Satan and demons are instrumental in causing evil. It could be that such evil is the result of natural causes, including randomness, malfunctions in the processes of nature, and psychosomatic disorders.


Mark Evans

Hi Thomas,
This is Mark Evans (email contact). Is it safe to say that Jesus failed? There were some who were healed (Mark 6.5). Isn’t it possible that the people failed? Therefore, rejecting the reality of His power, rather than limiting His ability to heal. In verse six it says that He marveled at their unbelief. It seems, that even after he healed some people (success), the community failed to recognize the reality of who He was. If His success was based upon convincing others, then, yes he failed. But, isn’t His success based upon the ability to heal/save those, who, in faith come to Him for healing/salvation? If persuasion is the measure for success, then he also failed with the rich young ruler, and countless others. But the beauty of Jesus, is that He only used persuasion, and not force. Isn’t the uncontrolling love of God the capacity for God to love, and for others to reciprocate that love, without the use of force? I am looking forward to reading your book.


Richard Jones

Dr. Oord, Would it not be more accurate to title your post, “WHEN PEOPLE FAIL.” Christ’s power was certainly intact. Christ’s love was certainly perfect. Christ’s wisdom was certainly omniscient. The failure here was not His, it was–and is–ours.


thomasjayoord

Thanks, Richard. I do think people likely failed in this instance. But if Jesus WANTED to heal and could not, then he failed, in the sense of he failed to reach his goals.

I appreciate your comments,

Tom


thomasjayoord

Thanks, Mark. Given what you’ve written, I think you’ll like my book.


Michael

The problem is your view point and obvious misunderstanding. JESUS NEVER failed. Had Jesus at any time wanted to absolutely do something there was no crowd that could EVER stop Him. He never did His all and therefore You can not say he failed. RATHER, He gave us an example and proceed to teach us by showing how He wants us to Handle any of those situations. You are like one who sees the glass half empty by saying he failed. He NEVER failed. He succeeded at showing us how we were to handle the situations He knew His disciples and all who follow whom TRULY, would face. Therefore, he succeeded. He did not fail!


Dart Humeston

You message about cooperative faith is a breakthrough, at least for me. While i cringe every time I read “God failing” I understand that God, while truly all powerful, does not impose His will upon us, He respects our right to be idiots if that is our desire. It also answers the question, “I’m saved. Now what?” to a certain degree.


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