Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Miracles: We Don’t Know what we Need

Life is tough! Why doesn’t our God nourish us with a steady stream of miracles to encourage us through the doubts and doldrums? On top of our perplexity about this, we must also suffer the taunts of the atheist:

  • “Well, if you’re God really cares about saving us, He’d provide us with enough miraculous evidences so that we could believe in him and not have to suffer hell.
However, even though Scripture assures us that we already have enough evidence (Rom 1:18-20; 2:14-15; Acts 14:17; Psalm 19), it never seems to be enough. However, Jesus instructs us that we are blessed with this miracle-lean diet.

The Apostles, with the exception of Thomas, had been blessed with a miraculous and unexpected visit by the risen Christ. He suddenly appeared to them as they shivered with fear behind locked doors. To prove to them that it was He, He showed them His pierced hands and side, and they rejoiced (John 20:20).

However, when they reported this visitation to Thomas, he stubbornly refused to receive their testimony. Instead, he insisted that he should be granted the same visitation. Otherwise, he refused to believe.

Amazingly, Jesus condescended to grant the defiant Thomas his request. Thomas then believed. However, Jesus reprimanded him:

  • Then Jesus told him, "Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed." (John 20:29) 
Who was it who believed without seeing? Everyone had seen! It seems that, after the humiliation of the Cross, seeing was necessary for believing. All had abandoned Jesus and even the faith. The Apostles were running scared! They needed the evidence of Jesus’ resurrection appearances to restore their faith, and that’s exactly what they had been granted:

  • After his suffering, he showed himself to these men and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God. (Acts 1:3)
Besides, those who subsequently came to faith did so through the miracles performed by the Apostles’ (Acts 2:43). Who then believes without seeing? Us!

Right afterwards, John refers to those who would believe, not on the basis of seeing, but on the basis of apostolic testimony:

  • Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. (John 20:30-31)
There would be a change. John wrote his Gospel so that we would believe. He didn’t anticipate a plethora of future post-resurrection appearances. Instead, faith would thereafter rest primarily on Scriptural – testimonial - evidences rather than on seeing miraculous evidences.

This sounds like discouraging news – a step in the wrong direction.  However, Jesus assures us that “blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed" (John 20:29)! How can this be?

This certainly doesn’t mean that we will never have miraculous evidence. Before I was brought to faith in the Messiah, I had a miraculous Divine encounter as I was bleeding to death from a horrible chainsaw injury. I was so overwhelmed by the presence of God that nothing mattered to me but Him and that He was there to protect and love me.

I was miraculously rescued and spent the next four days in the hospital. Meanwhile, I knew that this unknown Savior was with me. Therefore, on the following day, when my surgeon instructed me to exercise my half-cut-off wrist or loose its mobility, I blew-off his instructions. I knew correctly that God – whoever He was – was all-powerful. Therefore, I wouldn’t listen to the surgeon.

Miracles can prove costly. I was foolish. I made a wrong assumption - even though I was given a strong dose of God’s truth during this encounter - and lost the mobility in my hand. Although I needed this miraculous encounter, I lacked the knowledge to handle it. I didn’t understand that although God is omnipotent, this doesn’t negate our responsibility to act prudently, as I had wrongly assumed.

Subsequently, I came to a faith in Christ. However, I never had another encounter. I certainly wanted one and prayed for many, but it was not to be. Consequently, as I experienced great trials through my faith-walk, I began to believe that I had made a wrong turn somewhere, or perhaps God didn’t love me I had initially believed. I needed miraculous reassurance, but it wasn’t to be found.

I therefore had to settle for what I had regarded as “second best” – the Words of God. However, these seemed to be a poor flimsy substitute for the “real thing” – an encounter with God Himself. Often, reading the Bible seemed hollow and sometimes confusing, but there was no other place to turn.

In retrospect, 36 years of it, I now see that this – depression and a miracle-lean diet – is exactly what I needed to enable me to absorb that growth-food that we all require but fail to esteem.

If I had been able to live out my Christian life by the seeing of the miraculous, I would have gladly done so. However, what gladdens us is not necessarily good for us. The Apostle Paul warned us that “we walk by faith not by sight” (2 Cor. 5:7). Why? When we grope our way through the painful “Valley of the Shadow of Death,” we learn valuable lessons. David thanked God for these:

  • It was good for me to be afflicted so that I might learn your decrees. (Psalm 119:71)
Why do affliction and a miracle-lean diet grow the most fragrant roses? Because they teach us to turn from self-trust to God-trust:

  • We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about the hardships we suffered in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life. Indeed, in our hearts we felt the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. (2 Cor. 1:8-9)
A miracle-rich diet breeds complacency, and complacency does not breed a self-examination that humbles and ultimately edifies. We are made to eat humble-pie until we learn a necessary lesson – that it’s all about our Savior:

  • But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. (2 Cor. 4:7-10)
We do not know what is good for us. We think that winning the Lotto will make us happy, but it usually destroys those it touches. We are convinced that miracles will grow us spiritually. However, a miracle-rich diet is like living in a palace where we never learn and are never challenged to grow and dig deeper. It’s like feeding an Olympic athlete on a diet of ice cream and cake. It’s to be surrounded by gold and not growth-promoting clay.

Peter was chosen by His Lord to feed His sheep. However, Peter had to first know what it was like to live in a jar of clay. He needed to have his self-confident wings clipped by denying his Lord three times. This taught him humility. However, that would not be his last lesson. Jesus promised that he would grow old and loose his self-sufficiency along with his confidence, and then face martyrdom (John 21:18).

Our reaction is “Why me?” Peter asked about John - whether he too would have to suffer martyrdom? We want the answers. We want to walk by sight and not by faith. We want to be in control, but jars of clay are not supposed to be in control.

A miracle-rich diet makes us fat and self-satisfied. It answers all of our questions and doesn’t force us to dig deeply into the word for answers. We cannot handle all of the blessings that our Lord wants to ultimately give us. Money can make us proud and self-satisfied. Success leads to self-trust. A steady diet of miracles can numb the mind and growth. No wonder that we are more blessed without them.

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