This post is the result of a failed experiment.
Exactly four weeks ago (yes, my faithful readers, that is how long it has been since I have posted), my college-aged son came to me with a question. It was precipitated by a healing service he had attended at a local church, which had been a positive experience, but which left him wondering: What can we actually expect from God as far as miraculous healing is concerned?
I mean, how do we as upright, sober-minded yet radically faith-filled children of God approach the topic of the miraculous responsibly?
He asked because he has a few miracles he would like God to perform (don’t we all). But honestly — and by saying this I do not wish to suck all the light-hearted air out of the room — one involves a good friend who faces a potentially life-threatening illness.
Well, distressed over the immediate presence of suffering in our world, and also distressed by one no-doubt well-meaning pastor who wrote to his readers that “sometimes God’s perfect plan for our lives is disease and illness” (and by that I can only conclude he also meant life-threatening illness that ends in tragedy), I set out upon the task of definitively answering that question.
And before long, I realized I was writing a book. And if I continued, I dare say, I would never manage to publish another blog post again.
So here instead is my much abridged version of the book that never was (or a preview teaser of the book that might someday be), titled “What Do You Expect? Living with An Absolutely Impossible God.”
Enjoy the five bullet point distillation below. And those of you who are moved (whether by inspiration or sheer guilt for not having done so already), leave a comment!
1. God’s Willingness to Heal is Not a Statistic
When it comes to the question “Does God always wish to heal?” many answer by looking to their own personal experience. If they have never or rarely seen a miracle, they say no.
But this is very bad thinking, I believe, for a couple reasons. The first is that no other aspect of Christian faith operates this way. We do not, for example, conclude God is not interested in saving all of mankind simply because we observe some do not accept Christ. We do not conclude God wants us to sin simply because we may find ourselves struggling with addiction and sin. Truth about God is not designed to describe our present experience; it is designed to transforms it.
The second reason is that believing God is indifferent to human suffering makes the church indifferent to it as well. We become like the ardent Calvinist who believes there is no point is reaching out to the lost because, in his mind, God has already decided. The lie we have believed causes our light to go out.
2. There is Such a Thing as Heartbreak by Faith
I am not talking about circumstances that bring heartbreak. I am talking about a heart that breaks for the lost, the oppressed, and the afflicted.
Those who trumpet the cause of faith often paint a picture that faith always has a smile on its face. I am not sure it always does — and that is a good thing.
I received a prophetic word several years ago that was deeply meaningful to me. In it, the person said she saw me weeping, and God was taking each tear and placing it strategically on a map in his war room. Tears were conquering Kingdoms. From that day forward, I have worked less at convincing myself I should always be happy, and more at allowing myself to feel.
Jesus was full of faith, and yet He wept. He was moved deeply on several occasions. Let Him be our example.
3. Faith is Not The Same as Predicting The Future
Often in our zeal to demonstrate faith, we find ourselves saying something like “God is going to heal you right now, this very minute!” We are not so much convinced he will; we are simply thinking that is what one must say for God to take us seriously.
But this type of approach to faith actually backfires, and here is why: Faith transcends present circumstance. Faith is confidence in God’s intention to do a thing despite what is happening in the present moment — or the next. This is the story of the persistent widow: She was certain she would be granted justice despite her second — and fifth, and ninety-ninth — trip before the judge.
But the moment we make a prediction, everything changes: All eyes are on what takes place in the next moment. In fact, our confidence in God now depends on whether the thing we predicted takes place. Ask anyone who has been told a thing will happen and it doesn’t: It is not a faith moment; it is an awkward moment.
The exception to this rule of course is when you feel God has placed upon your heart prophetically that a thing will take place. If God has given you that assurance, by all means, act on it — as with all things related to God’s leading.
4. Faith is not Getting Our Hopes Up
While we are on the topic of predicting when and how God will do a thing, I want to touch upon a quality of Biblical faith that is not necessarily obvious and much different than what we often practice in the name of faith. It has to do with hope.
In short, faith is hard as a diamond, but hope is fragile as a flower. Hope can be easily crushed; faith withstands every adversity and simply will not yield. It cuts the glass before being cut by it.
Many of us who step out in faith are actually stepping out in hope. You can know which one you are doing by asking yourself a simple question: If any aspect of the circumstances you are presently in do not go as expected, will your confidence in God be shaken?” If the answer is yes, you are walking by hope.
Now when I say “hope”, I do not mean Biblical hope, which is closely related to faith. No, I mean hope as in “getting one’s hopes up.”
It is not wrong to be walking in this type of hope, but it should not be confused with faith. Hope needs things to go a certain way because its confidence in God rests on experience. Faith on the other hand is just the opposite: Faith brings confidence in God into the experience. Because of this, faith is a force to be reckoned with.
Faith is a confidence before which no adverse circumstance can stand. And such faith is surprisingly if not ironically indifferent to it. It is seen in Jesus on the boat in the middle of the tempest.
It is also seen in Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, who declared before King Nebuchadnezzar as they were about to be thrown into the blazing furnace, “If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it. But even if he does not, we will not serve your gods.”
And that leads us to our final point . . .
5. Faith Cannot Be Faked (Please Don’t Try)
Honestly. I want to get a T-Shirt with a slogan that reads, “Please Stop Pretending: You are only making all of us look bad.”
If we are still trying to figure out how we can “demonstrate” faith so we can control our circumstances, meet our own needs, and direct our own destinies, I am afraid we have already lost the race. Or better put, have not actually begun. We are simply engaging in a rather crude form of unbelief.
True Biblical faith has the uncanny quality of being divested of any need to control life’s circumstances, combined with a remarkable authority over those same circumstances. (Think of Jesus.)
Fortunately that faith is already inside us. It is just not found in that part of us that only wants faith for how it will benefit us and give us autonomy to do what we want. We must look deeper. Under the brokenness and insecurity that drives us to try to meet our own needs, below the pain and fear that causes us to remain at arm’s distance from God, true faith lies. It is a diamond, and God’s pleasure is to bring it forth by His great love.
So what can we expect from God as far as miraculous healing is concerned?
Much more I would say than we are experiencing in the present moment. Seriously, in the next breath, there is no telling what the Absolutely Impossible God you live with might do.