A FEW THOUGHTS ON MIRACLES…
I have really been enjoying Skye Jethani’s new series on his ‘With GOD Daily’ devotional. I just finished up the one titled, ‘Two Mistakes About Miracles’ and was so blessed by it that I just had to blog about it to get my thoughts straight. It’s frustrating to have a strongly held belief for many years but lack the language and framework to articulate it well. This particular devotional has helped me to do that.
Coming from a Pentecostal background and then foraging more deeply into ‘extreme Pentecostalism’ once I started dating my husband, ingrained me with the belief that spectacular signs and wonders should be a frequent and expected part of every church gathering and even everyday life. When the miracles happened, it was stunning to watch. But when I prayed and believed as hard as I could and things didn’t happen the way that I prayed (or seemingly at all), I felt like a false Christian. My lack of ability to heal myself or other people made me question myself all of the time. Did I lack enough faith? Did I not pray enough or use the right words? Did I not study the Bible enough? Was there un-confessed sin in my life that was blocking my prayers? I traveled down so many rabbit trails that it was impossible to find my way back to the basics of what made me believe in Jesus in the first place. At some point, without ever making an outward declaration, I decided that some of what I was experiencing in that faith tradition was real but some of it was theatrics and that I needed to focus on the more practical aspects of living a Christian life.
As my husband and I relocated countless times under the orders of the military, we explored different faith traditions. Being the cerebral, studious, mild-mannered people that we are, we ended up feeling most comfortable in traditions that acknowledged spiritual gifts and miracles but mostly just focused on the nuts and bolts of discipling Believers to maturity. Now we find ourselves preparing to formalize our membership in an Anglican church, more or less decidedly stepping away from our Evangelical upbringing. It should feel like a big deal but it doesn’t and I think it’s because we aren’t rejecting Evangelicalism altogether. Our families and many of our friends remain faithful to various expressions of Evangelicalism and we remain faithful to them. I can’t speak for him, but my motivation has more to do with a strong appreciation for the benefits of participating in Liturgical traditions and wanting to be more firmly rooted in the historical roots of the Christian church. It doesn’t hurt that some of my favorite deceased and living Christian scholars happen to be Anglican either. The fact that there is far less political idolatry of either party going on is the cherry on top!
Getting back to the topic at hand, Skye defines some very helpful terms in this devotional. Here is my paraphrased understanding of the key terms:
Miracle: A dramatic manifestation of the Kingdom of GOD that reverses a particular curse on creation, thereby restoring GOD’s natural order
Cessationism: the belief that miracles no longer happen because their purpose was accomplished in the days of Jesus and the early church; miracles heralded the arrival of the Kingdom and once the church was established were no longer necessary.
Extreme Pentecostalism: the belief that the miraculous should occur frequently and is an expected outcome of prayer and church gatherings; it is the primary evidence of GOD’s power at work in a person and/or situation
Then Skye does something beautiful. He often does this when he speaks and writes and does so effortlessly. He succinctly and almost perfectly articulates an extremely nuanced point in a way that is helpful and difficult to dispute. He says this: ‘So, as we begin to explore the stories of Jesus’ miracles, we must avoid the errors of both extreme Cessationism and extreme Pentecostalism. The former says the kingdom is only revealed subtly, and the latter says it’s only revealed spectacularly. But God’s kingdom, like the warmth of spring, is a gracious mix of both.’ (emphasis added)
Once again, I am struck by the consistent way in which following Jesus comes across as a series of surface paradoxes. When you first come to Christ, things are presented very simply in black and white terms. But as you study scripture and the nature of the Triune GOD, all of these concepts that seem to contradict one another begin to populate in the forefront of your mind: Jesus being fully GOD and fully human, the relationship between faith and works, the first becoming last in the Kingdom, Jesus giving up His power and sacrificing his life to overcome sin and death. None of this makes logical sense. I have a strong hunch that the nature of miracles, falls into this category as well.
As a maturing Believer, I think it’s important to arrive at a point in my walk where I am not always looking to GOD to do the spectacular in my life. It’s not at all wrong to desire it or to pray for it, but I think if my faith itself is tightly wound to the expectation of GOD answering my prayers in this particular way, then I am setting myself up for repeated crises of faith (from which I have thankfully come back from the brink of twice now). It’s easy to lose sight of your place in the universe and make yourself the center of it. It takes work and intentionality to frequently remind yourself that GOD is truly at the center of it all and that His plans are bigger than just redeeming me and my very small orbit. My little universe gets to participate in GOD’s enormous, complicated plan to redeem the entire cosmos and that is a tremendous privilege. ‘For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.’ (Rom 8:20-22)
Once again, I need to thank the Spirit for reminding me that my perspective is skewed and that I have been asking all of the wrong questions. Instead of asking GOD why I am suffering through something, I need to be asking how this suffering might be used to bless or encourage another image-bearer or bring to bear a portion of the Kingdom in my neighborhood. Am I a more faithful witness when my every whim is granted or when I am forced to lean on GOD through trying circumstances? Am I a better Christian having endured and overcome the many traumas in my life, not because GOD orchestrated them, but because this world is badly broken and does bad things to the people who inhabit it? Yes, a thousand times over. By walking faithfully before GOD in my afflictions, I am demonstrating the transforming power of His grace in my life and giving hope to others. This is all speculation, of course, but I truly believe that there are many things in this life that defy explanation and the best thing that Christians can do sometimes is to STOP trying to explain hard things that we don’t understand. That’s not our job, it’s GOD’s. Our job is to be faithful family members, friends, neighbors, and coworkers who can be called on to pray, listen, talk, and grieve with these precious ones in our lives.