For hundreds of years the Church has been taught what could be called a “theology of helplessness.” According to this perspective, believers are generally helpless and can only wait and trust God to move in response to prayer. In fact, we are taught that the weaker we are, the better off we are. The apostle Paul wrote:
2 Corinthians 12:9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
However, the weaknesses of which Paul speaks here involve insults, hardships, persecutions, and difficulties for the sake of the gospel. Even the “thorn in the flesh” which forms the context of this verse is some sort of physical weakness. But in terms of faith, power, and personal holiness, Paul was anything but weak.
Yet the pervasive theology of helplessness leave us feeling that God’s glory and power are somehow positively correlated with our failure and lack of faith. One wonders if this misinterpretation of the Scripture to the Corinthians had its origin in people trying to justify their own failures and personal weaknesses.
Of course there is some truth in this theology. Indeed there are situations we face in which we can only pray and trust the Lord. At such times we are to be still and wait for God to deliver us. The error is applying this to every situation. There are circumstances in which the Lord has given us the authority to act in His name. When we have such authority, we are not simply to pray and wait upon the Lord.
As an everyday example, how would a parent get an active young child to go to bed when it is well past his bedtime? Would the father pray and then wait upon the Lord to move the boy to bed? It’s likely that God would not answer such a prayer. He has already given the parent authority over the child, and the parent should simply tell the child firmly to go to bed. Any parent who would rather pray and trust the Lord to carry out the parent’s responsibility is guilty of stupidity and likely laziness as well.
Yet there are areas in the life of the Church where we have been given authority and the responsibility to act, yet we pray to the Lord and wait helplessly for Him to act for us. Are we any less guilty than that parent?
Luke 9:1 When Jesus had called the Twelve together, he gave them power and authority to drive out all demons and to cure diseases, 2 and he sent them out to preach the kingdom of God and to heal the sick. …6 So they set out and went from village to village, preaching the gospel and healing people everywhere.
Luke 10:1 After this the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them two by two ahead of him to every town and place where he was about to go. …9 Heal the sick who are there and tell them, ‘The kingdom of God is near you.’
In the context of proclaiming the Kingdom of God to the lost, the Church has clearly been given authority and commanded to heal the sick and cast out demons. Nowhere in the four gospels did Jesus teach His disciples simply to pray for the sick as He sent them out to preach the good news. (We acknowledge that in the context of ministering to infirm believers as taught in James 5, prayer can be in order. However, it can be argued that even James taught about healing the sick, not only prayer for the sick.)
Yet because of the doctrine of cessationism (“no more miracles”) as well as the prevalent theology of helplessness, the mere mention of believers “healing the sick” raises eyebrows and suspicions of false teaching. But if one does not subscribe to cessationism, how does one deal with the Lord’s commands in Luke to heal the sick?
Asking God to heal the sick is not vastly different from asking Him to get your child into bed. In neither case is anything likely to happen. We can now understand why miraculous healings are so rare today in contrast to the Book of Acts. In Acts, the disciples were constantly preaching the gospel and healing the sick to bring souls into the Kingdom. Healings are rare in the Church today simply because we have failed to obey Christ’s command to heal the sick as we proclaim the gospel to the lost.
Why have we failed to heal the sick? Cessationism notwithstanding, we have failed to heal the sick and cast out demons generally because we lack faith (Matthew 17:14-20). The disciples’ failure to heal the boy with the epileptic demon elicited a stinging public rebuke from Jesus. He clearly expected them to be able to do the miracle in his name, and when they failed, he was visibly upset and disappointed.
According to the theology of weakness, we would expect Jesus to have been pleased or at least certainly not frustrated upon hearing that his disciples had failed due to their weak faith. Did not their weakness bring glory to God? Didn’t their weakness make them strong in God’s sight? No, because of their weak faith, the demon continued to torment the boy and God was not glorified and Jesus was not pleased. (One cannot argue convincingly that their failure brought Jesus into the picture to promptly heal the boy and thus bring glory to himself. Jesus was in the very process of training his disciples to do the works that he did, and was obviously hoping it was successful.)
Failures in ministry or our personal life due to lack of faith do not in themselves glorify God. This is twisted pseudo-spirituality at its best. Yes, to the glory of God we can be forgiven or restored, but our failures in themselves are generally just that in God’s sight. Lack of faith leading to sin or failure do not glorify or please God.
Hebrews 11:6 And without faith it is impossible to please God…
God is glorified and pleased when by faith His Church uses the authority entrusted to her to obey His commands successfully. Among other things, He commands us to proclaim the Kingdom of God, heal the sick, cast out demons, and make disciples of all nations. We do not ask the Lord to come down from heaven to proclaim the gospel and disciple all nations. That is clearly our job. Why therefore do we ask Him to heal the sick and cast out demons, and after that do nothing but wait on Him?
It is time for the Church to revisit and reconsider the theology of weakness that has paralyzed her and contributed to her failure to complete the Great Commission a very long two thousand years after Christ gave us that mandate.