A fellow believer took me to task yesterday about the presumptuousness of “expecting” miracles from God in his great response to my post Miracles On the Way to Truth. He and I have carried on a friendly debate about the state of the church and what we should expect from the Christian life for a couple of years. We “met” on another blog discussion where I started asking Christians there, “Where are the rivers of living water Jesus promised? Are you experiencing them, or do you know anyone who is?”
In his response to the Miracles post, he wrote that it would be “presumptuous and arrogant” to say that we “somehow KNOW the will of God and expect that He WILL” perform miracles in a given situation. He also objected to my statement, “A reliable indicator that you are not following the spirit of truth is: you have no need for miracles.”
Should we expect miracles? I think so. If we have no need for miracles, does it indicate that we are doing something wrong? Again, I think so. A brief perusal of Bible stories about faith, Old Testament or New, will show that those who followed God often ended up in situations where they would have been goners unless God came through for them with a miracle. Far from being the exception, ending up in no-win, Catch-22 situations that require divine rescue is characteristic of what happens to followers of God. Maybe one reason Jesus said that there are few who find the small gate, and that many are called but few are chosen, is that most people are too risk averse for a real life with God.
Why do believers let themselves get into such fixes? They follow God into them, sometimes being “told” by God to go into them. How do they “hear” God’s “voice?” In a variety of ways, but all of them via what Jesus called “the spirit of truth.” So, based on Biblical testimony about people of faith, the logical converse would be: if “believers” rarely end up in situations where they need miracles, chances are good that they are not following God’s spirit of truth.
I agree, it would be presumptuous to expect God to do miracles if you had no indication or specific faith that He wanted to. But would it be presumptuous to expect Him to do miracles if He indicated that it was his “will?” No, on the contrary: it would be presumptuous not to expect miracles. And there’s the rub, I believe: Christians are unfamiliar with knowing the mind of God. They love theology and doctrine, which outline the mind of God in general and in theory, but in specific situations–in real life experience where knowing God’s mind matters most–they remain noncommittal, even ignorant, and pray that “if God wills” this or that may happen.
Was “if it’s Your will” the motto of believers we read about in the Bible? Did miracles come as surprises to them? Did they studiously avoid getting into make-or-break situations where God’s miraculous help was their only hope? Hardly. They followed what God showed them in the spirit of truth and allowed Him to lead them into tough situations precisely because they expected that He would save them from them. They didn’t pray, “if it is Your will.” They already knew that it was His will. Consider their attitudes. Read the Psalms of David. They were certain about it.
Take Abraham for example:
Without becoming weak in faith he contemplated his own body, now as good as dead since he was about a hundred years old, and the deadness of Sarah’s womb; yet, with respect to the promise of God, he did not waver in unbelief but grew strong in faith, giving glory to God, and being fully assured that what God had promised, He was able also to perform.
— Romans 4:19-20
So did Abraham expect a miracle? I think so. Or take David:
Then David said to the Philistine, “You come to me with a sword, a spear, and a javelin, but I come to you in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have taunted. This day the Lord will deliver you up into my hands, and I will strike you down and remove your head from you. And I will give the dead bodies of the army of the Philistines this day to the birds of the sky and the wild beasts of the earth, that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel, and that all this assembly may know that the Lord does not deliver by sword or by spear; for the battle is the Lord’s and He will give you into our hands.”
— 1 Samuel 17:45-47
Did David expect God to do a miracle? I think so.
Stories about faith in God like Abraham’s and David’s challenge me to find out how they (and the centurion, and the Syrophoenician woman, and others whose faith Jesus praised) became so certain that God was going to do miracles. How did they know? The same way that we can know, the way that Jesus and Paul and every other writer of Biblical text knew and expected us to know.
Here are a few typical reactions I get from people when I voice that not only should we expect miracles, but we should think like and say and do the same things that the saints, including Jesus, thought, said, and did:
- “But that was Abraham!”
- “Well that was David!”
- “Yeah, but that was Jesus!”
Funny how stressing a little word like “that” can exempt you from so very much! Do we not get the message that the main point of Bible stories about faith–and for that matter the whole point of Jesus’ life and ministry–was that we can and should experience similar things? Jesus didn’t open a “new and living way” just so that we could avoid experiencing the power He promised us.
The writer of Hebrews expected us to “have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus” and that we would “draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith” and “hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering.” In that kind of certainty, he expected us to “consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds.” Heb. 10:19-25 No matter what you make of all his metaphorical language, one thing comes through clearly: this writer expected us to be sure. Compare that attitude of faith with the way that Christians these days talk about miracles, or even more importantly, the difficulty of being transformed and attaining holiness. Actually become like Jesus? Actually think like Him? Actually do the kinds of things that He did using the same power that He had? Little old sinners, us?
Don’t you think that the escalating debate between “believers” and militant atheists like Richard Dawkins and Bill Maher might take a drastic turn if “believers” started demonstrating the power of God right and left? What’s with the infrequency of bona fide miracles? The world needs less talk and more walk, and by “walk” I don’t merely mean the good, moralistic living that Christians love to tout to deflect attention from their lack of real divine power. How would Dawkins argue against oodles of miracles? As things are, he doesn’t have to worry.
Am I saying that miracles are the ultimate measure of real divine power? Of course not. They are the least of it, part of a good start.
Living with confidence, knowing God’s mind, and expecting miracles would only be a beginning. That alone falls short of what the Bible claims we should experience. I have yet to meet Christians who understand what I’m going to say next, and rarely those who even want to understand it. Seminary training and divinity degrees don’t seem to affect the cluelessness on this point. The Bible claims that we should know Jesus and be known by Him. That implies an ongoing, bidirectional, experiential relationship, not just intellectual knowledge, and not just a few encounters with “the divine” some time in the past.
Many Christians are very keen that we must know Him. But how many sermons have been preached or texts written explaining that Jesus will reject even miracle workers and prophets, not because they did not know Him, but because He did not know them? Anyone who knows of good thinking on this topic, please let me know where to find it, because I have found precious little. Most Christians don’t have a clue how the (virtually if not completely) omniscient, risen Christ could fail to know anything, let alone something so important as those who prophesy, perform miracles, and cast out demons. What does He even mean, “I never knew you?”
Don’t you think it’s significant that you were never taught about this in church or Bible school?
According to Jesus, false prophets will claim to know Him, saying, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?” They knew Jesus. They had power. Even they expected miracles, presumably. Jesus’ response? “I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.” Matthew 7:21-23
One more example of the kind of confidence that Biblical believers were familiar with:
By this, love is perfected with us, so that we may have confidence in the day of judgment; because as he is, so also are we in this world.
— 1 John 4:17
Did John write that we would have confidence in the day of judgment because Jesus died on the cross for us, washed us in His blood, and cleansed us from our sins? No. The reasons he gave were that “love is perfected with us” and because “as he is, so also are we in this world.” He didn’t write that love “will be perfected,” but that love is perfected. He didn’t write “so also should we be” or “so also do we hope to be someday, or at least at the Rapture, or maybe after we die.” In this world, not the one hereafter. Us, not someone else, such as saints canonized by the church or Jesus as our proxy. Present tense. We are to be like Him now: the same mind, the same life, the same power, including (but not limited to) miracles.
Compare John’s thoughts to slogans like “Christians aren’t perfect, just forgiven” or “God sees me through the blood of Jesus” or “When God looks at me, He sees Jesus” or any of the countless excuses that “Christians” have devised to avoid the transformation that Jesus promised and the apostles wrote about. Big difference.