Every week as part of our Sunday meeting at church we are reading a chapter in "Letters From A Skeptic" by Dr. Gregory and Edward Boyd. This book is a series of real letters exchanged between a Christian son and his agnostic father, where they forcefully but respectfully banter back and forth over various aspects of belief in God and the Christian faith. The dialogue is fascinating and after we read the chapter we spend some time discussing what we thought of the various points and what we might say if we were in such a conversation ourselves.
This Sunday the topic of miracles was raised in the father's letter. He said (summary mine) that he found some aspects of Christianity compelling, but just couldn't wrap his mind around the fact that Christians actually believe in the miraculous events that are detailed in the Bible. He said the whole miracles thing made it too hard for him to believe, but if God came down and did a miracle in front of him, he'd probably change his mind.
This topic was especially interesting to me because quite out of the blue last week, a sweet friend of mine who had nominally assented to Christianity confessed to me that she didn't really think that she believed in God after all. She was clearly trying to sort out what she believed, and she said that even though she had doubts, if God came down and did a miracle for her she might be able to believe in Him (sound familiar?). I gave her a few things to think about on the topic of miracles, and though I don't know that I changed her mind, at least I was able to offer her a different perspective.
As the topic of miracles was batted around on Sunday at church, I heard a lot of the same observations I had said to my friend being tossed around by our group. They said that if God is the omnipotent creator of the universe, then believing in miracles is not really a problem, so the father's core objection is more than likely really with the idea of God and not so much with the miracles themselves. I had said that to her. They said that many miracles as described in the Bible (Jesus walking on the water, etc) have been mimicked on television by guys like Criss Angel, and that if we saw someone doing those things in our culture today, even if it was truly a divine miracle, we would probably just chalk them up to a human illusion anyway. I had said that to her too. They said that God already did come down and do miracles in front of human beings, as recorded in both the Old and New Testaments, and he's not obligated to do it again. I had definitely said that to her. And finally, they said that while scripture records that many people believed as a result of these miracles, just as many rejected them, and many of those who believed ultimately fell away when their faith was tested later. It seems that miracles, while they may initially impress, are not sufficient to produce a lasting faith on their own because people quickly forget the miracles that have been done for them the next time something else happens that doesn't go their way.
Hmmm. I hadn't thought of that last one.
As I thought back on it later, I realized that the one I hadn't thought of is the one I have had an issue with myself. I definitely believe God can do miracles, but I have discovered that sometimes when I see one, one is not enough for me. The miracle loses its power in my mind because I am prone to quickly forget what God has done and ask for more.
This became clear as I have been reflecting on the fact that this time last year a good friend of ours was in the final stages of a particularly vicious battle with cancer. From the first day I heard his horrific diagnosis I had no delusions about what he was up against, but I also knew who God was and I entreated him with great ferocity to intervene miraculously on behalf of our friend and his family. And He did. There were things that happened during the course of our friend's illness that can truly only be explained as miraculous. And every time God did one miracle, I rejoiced, and then I boldly asked for more.
I did this continually until the morning I got the terrible call saying that our friend had died. And then, in that black and abysmal moment, all of those other miracles fled my mind and all I could see was the massive void left by the one miracle that God didn't do. It wasn't until months later when I was looking back at a prayer journal I had kept during the previous year that I realized just how many of my prayers for our friend had been miraculously answered along the way. Even though the story hadn't ended as I had wanted, my heart had foolishly forgotten a great deal of what God had done. This reminder didn't entirely silence my confusion, grief and anger, but it did help me remember what Hope's voice sounded like in the first place.
I know what it is to desire a miracle. And now that I think about it, I know what it is to see one. But I also know that physical miracles can only ignite or bolster our faith if they are understood in light of God's character. God loves us and He gives us many evidences to trust Him, but He is not a genie or a magician who is required to do parlor tricks when we demand. Receiving a miraculous answer to prayer should remind us who God is just as much as not getting a miracle simply because we prayed for it should remind us who God is. His ways are not our ways, and if we base our decision of whether or not to follow Christ on God's failure to do miracles at our command, it just shows that we lack proper understanding of who He is in the first place.
But that doesn't mean we will never understand. In Matthew 7:7, Jesus promises: "Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened." If you are truly seeking God, He will show himself to you. Maybe it won't be through a physical miracle, but it will be exactly what you need.
(Oh, and a little spoiler alert. We read ahead, and the agnostic father in the book ends up embracing Christianity at the end. And my sweet friend? Well, her story is still being written. But she's stubborn as heck and smart as a whip and I have faith that she will keep seeking until she finds.)