The Christian Soul: Miracles

I doubt there are many believers in Jesus who have not experienced at least one miracle in this life. 

For me, there was the time when my sister was sent to the hospital because she was hemorrhaging internally. The doctors could not stop the bleeding, and things were becoming critical. My parents called for the priest to administer the Prayer for the Sick. Which, if you know anything about Catholic doctrine, you know is the sacrament you often receive just before death. Moments after the priest prayed, however, the bleeding inexplicably stopped.

Or the time I was making my way through Europe as a young adult, during a season in which I was really struggling with my faith. I happened to look up beyond the train platform I was standing on to the city below, and plain as day, upon a wall littered with graffiti written only in German (I was in a German-speaking country), were the words “Don Believe”.

But these are just the tip of the iceberg. What became clear as I became more acquainted with the Christian faith is that miracles like this are quite common. Throughout church history there have been numerous accounts not only of miraculous healing but dramatic demonstrations of the Holy Spirit, similar to what we see in the New Testament.

By saying miracles are common, I do not mean to suggest miracles are necessarily an everyday occurrence. But I use the term necessarily here carefully; by necessarily, I mean that the Christian life does not require that miracles occur frequently in order to be authentic.

Yet the question is whether miracles should be a common, everyday occurrence. I would suggest the answer is a resounding yes. Our position concerning miracles should be that they are so much a normal part of the Christian life that we are surprised by their absence, not their presence.

To deny the miraculous in the Christian life is, to a great extent, to deny the Christian life itself. It does us no good to surrender to God and to the deep work He is performing in our lives if we believe God is not able to accomplish the miraculous. There are often greater mountains on the inside of us than on the outside which God must move, and to allow for one is to allow for the other.

To deny the miraculous in the Christian life is, to a great extent, to deny the Christian life itself. There are often greater mountains inside of us than on the outside, and to allow for one is to allow for the other.

But how exactly do miracles fit in with Christian spirituality? In the revival culture I have been a part of for many years, pursuit of God and pursuit of miracles has become nearly synonymous. That is, Christian spirituality is understood as seeking God for the next miracle; there is little distinction between the two.

The reasoning behind this way of thinking about Christian spirituality is a mindset shaped by well-documented revivals that have occurred in the past several decades, such as the Toronto Revival. These revivals have resulted in numerous accounts of miraculous healing and dramatic manifestations of the Holy Spirit.

If both miraculous healing and manifestations of the Holy Spirit can be called miracles, then the regularity of these miracles had the effect of changing not only people’s expectation of miracles but also their theology. Miracles began to be seen more and more as God’s primary — if not only — way of interacting with humanity. As a result, seeking the miraculous became not only the goal but also the highest — if not only — virtue of the Christian life.

In the revival culture shaped by recent revivals such as the Toronto Revival, miracles have become to be seen more as God’s primary — if not only — way of interacting with humanity.

Now from a certain perspective, this is not entirely incompatible with what we have said in this series about Christian spirituality. For example, we have affirmed that the Christian life is an ongoing supernatural encounter with God, and our responsibility is to cooperate with that encounter. There is a miraculous element to the Christian experience.

But the miracle-based form of spirituality I am talking about is vastly different from this in several ways. For one, it does not leave much room for the process by which we cooperate with God. It does not recognize — or at best, has great difficulty recognizing — the deep work of God taking place in our lives.

And this is understandable. For if God’s desire for humanity — indeed, His only medium of interacting with humanity — is the miraculous, it stands to reason that whatever work God wishes to accomplish in us would best be achieved by a miracle — that is, instantaneously.

This unfortunately has given rise to what I would call a rather insidious form of spiritual intolerance. Because miracles are viewed as God’s only intention and mode of operation within the world, any suggestion of aspects of the Christian life that involve an ongoing process have been viewed with deep suspicion, even regarded as evidence of unbelief.

The problem here is that Scripture does not agree. As we discussed earlier in this series, Jesus says of Himself (and of the Christian life) that He is the true vine, and God the Father is the Gardener who prunes every branch that bears fruit, which is us. He further exhorts us to remain in Him. Not once does He suggest this process should take place in an instant, or the fact it does not is evidence of unbelief.

Jesus says, “I am the vine and my Father is the Gardener who prunes those branches who bear fruit.” Not once does He suggest this process should take place in an instant, or the fact it does not is evidence of unbelief.

Further the apostle Paul tells us that Christ has appointed various leaders to equip believers “so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach the unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.”

It is important to point out that in both these instances, the speaker is an ardent proponent of the miraculous (Jesus and the apostle Paul: You could not find two better advocates). But both believed nonetheless that there are aspects of the Christian life that simply cannot, and should not, be remedied by a miracle.

The problem here is the failure to acknowledge the difference between the miraculous and Christian transformation — what we have called the deep work of God. According to Scripture, miracles can and do occur in an instant, but Christian transformation is an ongoing process that involves our ongoing participation.

And there is good reason for this: The transformation that Jesus and Paul are describing is itself the process by which faith is achieved. We’ve discussed the fact that God’s deep work in us is the restoration of intimacy. God does this by removing incorrect beliefs we have about Him and about ourselves and replacing them with truth. The deep work of transformation is essentially the work of perfecting our faith.

To reject any aspect of the Christian life involving process, therefore, is to essentially reject faith itself — at least, the process by which true, genuine faith is achieved.

To reject any aspect of the  Christian life involving process, therefore, is to essentially reject faith itself — at least, the process by which genuine faith is achieved.

Which is ironic. For the fear behind the spiritual intolerance we are discussing is often a fear of unbelief. Those who are most likely to deny an ongoing process in the Christian life do so because they feel acknowledging we are in process will be used as an excuse for why a miracle does not or cannot occur.

But actually, the opposite is true. If we fail to recognize faith is a process, then we will most likely fail to cooperate with God in that process. We will spend our time pursuing a miracle, all the while neglecting God’s deeper call to faith which is the path to that miracle.

In closing, with all the optimism and freedom I have encountered in the revival culture, there seems to be this fear hiding under the surface that the revival we have enjoyed for so long could come crashing down if we do not watch our step, and that our uncompromising, somewhat militant faith in miracles is the only thing keeping revival going.

If we fail to recognize that faith is a process, we will most likely fail to cooperate with God in that process.

But I believe the situation is quite the opposite: Our faith in miracles did not produce revival; revival produced our faith in miracles.  It also produced the miracle-based spirituality we have been discussing: It was our best effort to make sense of the revival taking place in our midst.

But miracles, though a normal part of the Christian life, are a terrible replacement for genuine Christian spirituality. If we look back to the very beginning, we find that those whom God saw fit to carry revival were not those who believed in advance for the amazing things God did in it, but rather, those who simply did something we have been discussing now for several weeks in this series: They said yes to the work of God and embraced it.

 

4 thoughts on “The Christian Soul: Miracles

  1. Like this post. Confusing subject.

    Have no idea how often miracles occur. I suppose I became a Christian because without God’s interventions the world makes so little sense, but what is a miracle? I am sure there are plenty of definitions, but what it comes down to is that we think we know one when we see one. However, we can see a miracle and still not know it is one.

    To demonstrate His power to the Hebrews and the ancient world around them, God hardened the pharaoh’s heart. A miracle, but we know of it only because God told Moses.

    I think to large extent it is as you say. First comes belief. Then we begin to see just how miraculous the world can be.

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