Last week the son of prominent and much-loved pastor Rick Warren of Saddleback Church in California committed suicide. A news commentator asked: “Why didn’t God heal the young man?” The implication was that God was asleep at the wheel to let this tragedy happen. He could have performed a miracle, why not?
Why doesn’t God heal in answer to prayer, desperate prayer?
It’s a question I asked many decades ago when my husband, father of our four young children, with a fruitful ministry within the church, died after a week in the hospital. Surely we deserved a miracle, or two. I needed one – desperately.
People often almost automatically state that God isn’t doing his job when a child does not get well, when a storm demolishes our home, when a job application is turned down, when a car crashes into yours, when .... “God, you could’ve but you didn’t. Why?”
On the other hand, people tend to hold to the belief that God is working full-strength when they need money desperately and find $500 while jogging. When their school’s team wins. When there’s a near accident in the intersection and they are spared. When their fields aren’t destroyed by the hail that devastates area crops. Ah, yes, then God is good, very good.
Theologians speak of the God of the gaps – God is at work, or given the credit when something occurs that can’t be explained by resorting to natural or behavioral sciences, and yet needs an explanation, especially if it is a dramatic event, like sudden healing, anything that makes stimulating conversation over the dinner table.
In times of difficulty people long for big dramatic miracles like Jesus's healing of the lepers or his stilling of the storm. They want something more than a little upheaval in their spiritual experience. They want something they can, well, almost brag about. Rick Warren’s son’s cure of long-standing depression would have been something worth talking about – and merited at the very least a book and a tour.
I don’t deny God’s miracle-working power, but my lessons in this area have been learned with difficulty over the years.
Missiologist Paul Hiebert writes that when we focus on the dramatic, the unusual, as evidence of God’s working, we set up categories: sacred and secular. To be able to explain an event using scientific proof, moves our thinking into the secular realm. No explanation available? We relegate to the sacred realm. Anything miraculous is sacred, unexplainable, a God-thing. This event I can’t explain must have its origin in God, especially if it is a single dramatic event, like someone turning from alcohol to sobriety.
People rush to hear someone speak about recovery from drug addiction, healing from cancer, and such, oblivious to the fact that God is working all the time in the lives of those who trust him. Living by the light and power of God’s love is sometimes a long-term process, not the dramatic once-in-a-lifetime happening that makes a best seller.
Over the years I have learned to see God’s modern miracles in these ways:
Forgiving the person who has hurt you and starting over again.
Asking for forgiveness. It’s the best way to clean up the past.
I knew a woman once who cared for a paralyzed, mute husband by herself for 13 years without complaining. That is a miracle of love.
Men and women valuing, honoring the gift of sexuality day by day, is becoming more and more of a miracle instead of a mechanical coupling for a few minutes of heady pleasure.
A turning from a life of dissipation to the better way.
Choosing nonviolence over the urge to blast the other person into eternity with blows – or words.
Finding courage when circumstances go against us
Strength to pick up the pieces of life and put them together after a severe illness or death in the family.
Strength to remain faithful to a spouse when tempted to have an affair on the sly.
Courage to stand by children who mess up their lives.
Readiness to work steadily and lovingly for justice in an unjust world, out of range of reporters, commentators, and paparazzi is a Class A miracle.
Joy in being part of the fellowship of believers even when the church seems to have such a small voice in the darkness stands high on my list of miracles.
Now you add yours.