Can I be real with you? I have never seen a miracle.
I have heard quite a bit about how God answered someone’s prayers. These almost always have to do with prayers for the following. . .
- Recovery from sickness – this is a natural function of our bodies. We have an immune system that will generally, in time, restore out body back to health from general run of the mill germs. In the case that it doesn’t, our current level of medicine in developed countries generally can restore our health. So simply recovering from either sickness, or even a bad accident is not miraculous.
- Safety from natural or man-made events – As I write this, many wildfires are burning in the western states. Some folks will lose their homes, others will not. To thank God for somehow saving one’s home from being burned down in a fire, is not a miracle, but due to the random nature of the winds combined with the directed efforts of the fire fighters. Today I read a post from a friend thanking God for protecting his son and himself from being hurt when a driver hit their car. I find this to be sincere, but sincerely wrong. Cars are designed with safety beams in their doors, airbags, seatbelts to protect us. But what I really think is that if God was ‘protecting’ him, is that the other driver wouldn’t have hit them at all! Neither of these things are ‘miracles’ nor do I think God had anything to do with either event. It irritates me that God gets all credit for ‘good events’ by claiming that He answered their prayers, or supernaturally protected them from ‘bad events.’ These same folks will try to explain unpleasant or even horrible events away by blaming themselves, claiming that God is trying to teach them a life lesson, God has a specific plan, this bad thing will ‘glorify God’ (really? Is God that needy and proud that He needs our suffering so He can get ‘glory’? How sick is that? ) Or they might even say that sin is alive and well in this world. How about this? God claims to be Sovereign over all, so He gets credit for either way, good or bad. Or what about this? Shit happens. We live in a world full of random, interacting genetics, ideas, cultures, events, different people, some good, some evil. Stuff will happen both ways. I try to influence my personal sphere toward good while avoiding and defending against ‘badness’ by thinking, observing,and planning ahead of myself. And like everyone else, I have no guarantees or absolute control of my life, but I try to do my best within my limited experience and knowledge.
- Career or Financial Advancement – This usually falls into the category of obtaining a job that has the desired parameters, or finding and qualifying for a place to live. Again, both of these items are natural consequence based results. Let me give a quick example of how this should work if it was true. As a commission salesman on an open sales floor supporting a family, I would expect God to direct the better sales to me, His child, above any normal statistical probability compared to other sales professionals. But as we know, that doesn’t happen. I get what I work for the same as anyone else.
And this leads me quite naturally to a very closely related idea – ‘God will provide all your needs, even before you are aware you need them.’ Matthew 6:8 states this idea quite concisely, “Be not ye therefore like unto them: for your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask him.”
And yet I also see in his letter to the Philippians, Paul wrote this. . .“Not that I speak in respect of want: for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content.12 I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound: every where and in all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need.”
So, quite naturally it occurs to me that we have two abrasive ideas contacting each other in such a way that it raises a question in my mind. If God knows what I need even before I ask, then how is it that Paul at times suffered need and hunger? Moreover, in thinking about Paul’s missionary journeys, Paul didn’t travel in the comfort of an air-conditioned jet, not even a nice used car. Here’s what happened to him. . .
“Of the Jews five times received I forty stripes save one.25 Thrice was I beaten with rods, once was I stoned, thrice I suffered shipwreck, a night and a day I have been in the deep;26 In journeyings often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils by mine own countrymen, in perils by the heathen, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren;27 In weariness and painfulness, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness.” 2 Corinthians 11:24 – 27
Paul was beat up, stoned, endured shipwrecks where he could have drowned, he didn’t say exactly what he meant by ‘perils’ but the general sense is ‘danger’, so I think we could safely say that he was in potential dangers from criminals, and other people, he was tired, hurt, hungry, thirsty, cold, and lacking proper clothing.
I have to ask – how did God meet Paul’s needs before Paul even knew what he needed?
Well, the blunt, short answer is that He didn’t. Paul suffered natural consequences of traveling and teaching new ideas in his particular culture and time. I personally wonder if Paul felt so guilty about his prior actions torturing, stealing, and perhaps even killing believers prior to his being converted, that he was a driven man, but that’s just conjecture on my part.
In teaching math, I always define my terms first. To this point, I haven’t done that by choice. Now I define what a miracle is.
A miracle is an event that cannot be explained by any known scientific or natural laws. It falls into the category of a ‘supernatural event.’
And none of the items that I listed prior as being called ‘answers to prayers’ are miracles. Which leads to this thought. . .Does God always have to do a miracle in order to answer a prayer request?
I don’t think so.
Prayers can be answered by either natural means or miraculous means. Paul was thanking the Philippians for meeting his physical needs (a natural process). But to insist that every answered prayer is a miracle is disingenuous because that’s simply not true.
Another item that seems to be a common fallacy in claiming answered prayer is to claim that a natural occurrence or an event with a high degree of probability was answered prayer. Here’s a simple example – My Mother often prays that I will have a good sales week, then ask me how my week went. If I had a good week, she would tend to think that God answered her prayer on my behalf. I would take the view that I had good numbers based on a combination of my attitude, work effort, random chance in whom I talk with, number of customers who walk in, and number of sales people on the sales floor. This is a natural event, not a specific answered prayer for me.
I would like to observe a real miracle that I know has a direct, linear connection to a specific request within a specific needed time frame.
But after 58 years of living, not so much. . .just a lot of pseudo ‘miraculously answered prayers’ as folks recover from a cold, or the flu.
Some days I really miss living inside the shiny, sparkly bubble that promises miracles. But it popped years ago.