We have heard it often proclaimed, ‘your faith can move mountains.’ You may have quoted that verse in Mathew 17:20. These are the words of Jesus Christ to his disciples. But did Jesus meant that if we have faith we literally can move mountains?
The context: Faith can move mountains
To understand this passage, it is important we look at the context in which Jesus says these words. The chapter 17 of Mathew starts with narration of Jesus Christ’s transfiguration on the mount Olives. His Disciples had witnessed his glorious transfiguration which made them fall on their face and very afraid. Jesus comes and tells them not to be afraid. Then He charges them not to tell anyone. (Mathew 17:1-13)
Then as they come to a multitude, a man approached Jesus kneeling down and telling Jesus to have mercy on his son who was troubled by an evil spirit which would make the son to fall into fire and into water. The disciples had not been able to cure the son. (Mathew 17:14-16)
Then Jesus turning to his Disciples, he said, “O faithless and perverse generation, how long shall I be with you? How long shall I suffer you? After that he ordered that the son be brought to him. Jesus rebuked the devil and it departed out of the child and child was cured from that very hour. (Mathew17-18)
Disciples ask why they could not cast the devil out. Jesus says it is because of their unbelief for if they had faith as grain of mustard seed, Jesus said, ‘you shall say to this mountain, ‘Remove from here to that place and it shall remove and nothing will be impossible for you’’ Then he says that kind does not go out by prayer and fasting. (Mathew 17:20-21)
The Meaning of faith can move mountains
The Bible employs different genres and forms of literature. From historical narratives, to proverbs to songs to letters to prophetic symbolic books. All these take many forms like irony, hyperbole, personification etc to name a few. It is thus important to understand the passage in its native context and understand the style employed to avoid misinterpreting the scripture.
In this passage, Jesus is not literally meaning that faith can move mountains literally but can overcome great obstacles which he equates being like mountains. The disciples could not heal the young man because of unbelief for if they had a little faith they would have cast out the devil out of the young man.
Therefore the Jesus statement that faith can move mountains does not mean that we can literally move mountains but rather how even weak and small faith -just like the size of mustard seed – can overcome mountaineous obstales in our life.