Oct 5, 2007

you asked for it: miracles and denial

Marcia was pondering... Where's the line between denial of a difficult circumstance and faith that God can (and just may) perform a miracle?

Before I even begin to tackle this, I want to acknowledge that this question may be coming from a very tender place. Whether or not Marcia is feeling this way, I believe someone who reads this may... and I have found that this topic isn't always just about faith or biblically-based logic. Way too often we can try to theologically explain away a situation because of our own insecurity... sometimes we just need to acknowledge the emotional side.

Using that metaphor, let's do some math (which, by the way, I don't like math).

If A = average Life

and B = bond with God (intentional on our part through the Messiah/Jesus)

and C = circumstance

and D = Divine intervention

and E = empty ending

Sometimes A +B + C = D.

"Lord, if it's you," Peter replied, "tell me to come to you on the water."

"Come," he said.

Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. (Matthews 14:28-29)

In this instance, Peter had a bond with God/Jesus and through the circumstance Jesus created by walking on water was allowed to experience a miracle.

Sometimes A + B + C = E.

At that time Herod the tetrarch heard the reports about Jesus, and he said to his attendants, "This is John the Baptist; he has risen from the dead! That is why miraculous powers are at work in him."

Now Herod had arrested John and bound him and put him in prison because of Herodias, his brother Philip's wife, for John had been saying to him: "It is not lawful for you to have her." Herod wanted to kill John, but he was afraid of the people, because they considered him a prophet.

On Herod's birthday the daughter of Herodias danced for them and pleased Herod so much that he promised with an oath to give her whatever she asked. Prompted by her mother, she said, "Give me here on a platter the head of John the Baptist." The king was distressed, but because of his oaths and his dinner guests, he ordered that her request be granted and had John beheaded in the prison. His head was brought in on a platter and given to the girl, who carried it to her mother. John's disciples came and took his body and buried it. Then they went and told Jesus.

John the Baptist was called by Jesus as "the greatest" (Matthew 11:11), and yet he is paid off for all his faithfulness with a seemingly empty ending. This doesn't sell so well in the church, so it's often an overlooked part of following the Lord... that sometimes on this side of heaven the ending doesn't feel so fulfilling. It doesn't diminish the importance of faithfulness, though, just like how the tragic deaths of many (Martin Luther King, for example) are wrong and yet their forward posture when they die inspires others to take their next step.

That's really the issue we're talking about in this post... can we have forward posture toward the Lord, no matter what? Even if the "miracle" never comes, forward posture in itself is a miracle.

Sometimes A + B = D.

When Jesus had entered Capernaum, a centurion came to him, asking for help.

"Lord," he said, "my servant lies at home paralyzed and in terrible suffering."

Jesus said to him, "I will go and heal him."

The centurion replied, "Lord, I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. But just say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one, 'Go,' and he goes; and that one, 'Come,' and he comes. I say to my servant, 'Do this,' and he does it."

When Jesus heard this, he was astonished and said to those following him, "I tell you the truth, I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith. I say to you that many will come from the east and the west, and will take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven. But the subjects of the kingdom will be thrown outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth."

Then Jesus said to the centurion, "Go! It will be done just as you believed it would." And his servant was healed at that very hour. (Matthew 8:5-13)

A couple items of note here... the Centurion is a follower of Rome. He's not my main point here, but I want to point out that for him to approach Jesus for healing was to in the same step question if Caesar truly was a/the "god" through whom all men could be "saved." However, in him approaching Jesus is doesn't mean that this question of Caesar is a deep one... for all we know, this may have been a sincere crisis of faith or merely a boss who cared about his employee and wanted to try everything to save him.

A real big miracle here, though, happens in the life of the servant. Again, we know nothing about him other than a few details of his circumstances. However, it is not the faith of the servant that creates the miracle but "the faith of the Centurion." This is an example of God doing a deliberate miracle in the life of someone who hasn't intentionally bonded with Him.

One of the crazy things about God is His ultimate supremacy. That means that even when we have one Scripture that gives us a nice formula we can preach, sell books by, and create an entire theology around there is another that seems to say, "Yeah, but..." As I've shared in previous posts, this isn't a contradiction, just like how Lebron James can live in my area and be a "Cleveland fan" and yet somehow root for the Yankees. You know how this works, right? Or have you never wanted two things at the same time? It's not always contradiction... sometimes it's a tension.

So while we would assume that sometimes God only does miracles in the lives of people who have signed on in Blood, occasionally good things happen to "bad people" (and often more than occasionally). Keep in mind this is never a reward from God to them but always and only to use them as a way of furthering along the cause of God's people.

Sometimes A + B + C = D that feels like E.

In those days Hezekiah became ill and was at the point of death. The prophet Isaiah son of Amoz went to him and said, "This is what the LORD says: Put your house in order, because you are going to die; you will not recover."

Hezekiah turned his face to the wall and prayed to the LORD, "Remember, O LORD, how I have walked before you faithfully and with wholehearted devotion and have done what is good in your eyes." And Hezekiah wept bitterly.

Then the word of the LORD came to Isaiah: "Go and tell Hezekiah, 'This is what the LORD, the God of your father David, says: I have heard your prayer and seen your tears; I will add fifteen years to your life. And I will deliver you and this city from the hand of the king of Assyria. I will defend this city. (Isaiah 38:1-6)
This slice of Hezekiah's life is fascinating to me. Human tears do not go unnoticed by God, and when the proactive Israelite king became deathly ill he began to pray and remind the Lord what a good guy he's been. He wept bitterly on the tail end of this prayer, too... which makes one ask the question "Why?" Was it for himself, or was it for the greater Good?

It seems as though this isn't a weeping over the sin of the nation, but rather a tearful begging for a few more years. And so God is moved and speaks through His prophet that a miracle of fifteen years will happen in Hezekiah's life.

Should feel good, right?

Here's the catch, though... if Hezekiah did not love life here so much that he didn't want to leave it, he would have gone on to be with God three years before he fathered Manasseh. If you don't know what happens, check this out...

Moreover, Manasseh also shed so much innocent blood that he filled Jerusalem from end to end—besides the sin that he had caused Judah to commit, so that they did evil in the eyes of the LORD. (2 Kings 21:16)
All the good and godly things Hezekiah were torn down by his defiant son. So while the people may have enjoyed their nice king for another short-season, the long-term effects were quite bitter for the long haul.

"I will send four kinds of destroyers against them," declares the LORD, "the sword to kill and the dogs to drag away and the birds of the air and the beasts of the earth to devour and destroy. I will make them bhorrent to all the kingdoms of the earth because of what Manasseh son of Hezekiah king of Judah did in Jerusalem. (Jeremiah 15:3-4)

So perhaps the greater question when it comes to miracles is why are we asking for them in the first place. I remember standing over the bed of my youngest son when he was born, looking at his little breathing shield and praying for healing. I found myself desperate for a miracle, and yet in every prayer tried as best as I could to think beyond my selfishness. It is hard, dry, almost-bitter prayer to pray, "...all of that, God... but... not my will but Yours be done."
I think this is why we sometimes are tempted and choose to deny the circumstance or the possibility of a miracle.

Ready for the amazing curve ball, though?

Look who shows up in Jesus' lineage...

"...Hezekiah the father of Manasseh, Manasseh the father of Amon... and Jacob the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus, who is called Christ." (Matthew 1:10, 16)

So if you're praying for a miracle selfishly and don't realize you are...

even if it's not God's preference...
and He intervenes as you ask...

God can still use that.

Because while God can turn miracles into messes, He can also turn miracles into messes that turn into miracles.
"Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done." (Luke 22:42)


Anonymous said...

Asking God for messes to become miracles.

Always love reading and learning from your blog, often with some twists of humor as an added bonus.

Thanks Tony.


Marcia said...


I just got around to reading "my" post. Nicely done! You're right, too—my question came from a tender place. I've got a diagnosis of Parkinson's. I believe in miracles. I've seen miracles. I'm waiting for a miracle.

I was talking with I guy I know (who's paralyzed) about how we learn to find the line where I accept conditions as they are now, so I can live today, while not losing that expectant waiting for a miracle.

What I DO know is that I'm committed to letting God use me however He can do that best—whether it's by healing me or by using my weakness to display His strength.

Thanks again for taking a run at the subject!