When Jesus Fails
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 All
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
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