22 June 2021

Not yet ready for miracles.

About a decade ago, a cessationist of my acquaintance, whom I’ll call Izak, wrote about a member of his church whose child had died. The member asked Izak to come pray for the grieving family, so he did.

While he was at the house, Izak decided—kinda on a spur of the moment—to pray God would raise their child from the dead. Yeah, Izak says he firmly believes God turned off the miracles after bible times. He won’t shut up about this, either; he writes pretty frequently about this utter absence of faith in God. Methinks he doth protest too much, because like he said, he did decide to try to raise the dead this one time. Just in case.

Of course nothing happened.

And Izak likes to say, “Of course nothing happened,” because it proves his worldview: God doesn’t intervene till the End Times. Meanwhile we Christians have to believe, really hard, that miracles used to happen; that Jesus rose from the dead because of one… even though God doesn’t do such things now, and the natural conclusion one would usually make to a miracle-free existence is to conclude all the ancient miracle stories are utter fabrications, if not dirty lies. Man alive, has God stacked the deck against all those faithful cessationists.

Okay, so what do I mean by saying “Of course nothing happened”? Have I gone cessationist on you?

Nah. Nothing happened because Izak has no faith. And therefore he’s not ready to see a miracle. It wouldn’t grow his faith; it’d only grow his denial.

Lacking the mustard seed.

Jesus’s students once tried to throw a devil out of a boy, and couldn’t, and had to turn to Jesus, who kinda yelled at them a little for being unable to do it. Mt 17.14-21 Because he expected they should be able to do it. Isn’t that what he was training them to do?

Matthew 17.19-20 KWL
19 Then came the disciples to Jesus apart, and said, Why could not we cast him out? 20 And Jesus said unto them, Because of your unbelief: for verily I say unto you, If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, Remove hence to yonder place; and it shall remove; and nothing shall be impossible unto you.

Likewise Jesus expects us to be able to do such things. Are we not his students as well?

But the reason his students couldn’t, was because they deep down didn’t believe they could. Either they thought this was a Jesus-level problem, which only he could take care of; or they thought this was impossible and no one could cure the boy, for the devil in him was just too mighty.

Isak’s problem is also a faith deficiency. He’s spent his entire Christian life insisting God doesn’t do such things anymore. Used to; could if he really wanted to; still doesn’t. So Isak might imagine he really, really believed God could raise the boy. After all, didn’t he pray for God to do it, despite the cessationism he proclaims to the rooftops?

Yet I remind you Jesus’s students prayed over the devil-plagued boy, and ordered the unclean spirit out of him, and nothing came of it. But didn’t they pray for God to do it? Didn’t this mean they believed God could drive the devil out of the boy? Same as Isak believed God could raise the child from the dead?

Yep, they’re both suffering from the same problem. Deep in their cores, in the pit of their hearts, they didn’t really believe God would do it. Jesus upbraided his students for lacking faith as a mustard seed—a reminder of when he stated in his Mustard Seed story it was the smallest of seeds. It takes very little faith to get results. Yet they didn’t even have very little faith. They had none.

Isak thinks he had faith, but no he didn’t. Faith is trusting God will do something. It’s not throwing a hail-Mary football pass on the slight chance of success; that maybe somebody might be there, and catch it, and get your team a last-second touchdown. It’s not wishful thinking.

In Mark’s version of this story, Jesus even rebuked the boy’s father because he told Jesus, “If you can do anything… help us,” and Jesus responded, “ ‘If you can’?” Mk 9.22-23 NIV That’s not faith; that’s wishful thinking. The man immediately realized he lacked faith—he really didn’t believe Jesus could help him. That was part of the problem as well. Faithless students; faithless petitioner. The only one who had any faith in this story is Jesus.

And y’know, sometimes Jesus can’t do anything because nobody has faith. Mk 6.5 Even though he has more than enough faith for everyone, people simply don’t believe him enough, nor his Father enough, for him to step in and fix things. Most of the reason cessationists never see any of God’s activity, is because none of ’em have the faith to accept God’s activity. If God had raised the child from the dead, I’ve no doubt Isak would simply find some reason to dismiss the resuscitation as mere coincidence: “They claimed their child had died, but as I was praying I noticed the child was clearly alive. What a frightening mistake!”

Hail-Marys versus faith.

The final buzzer sounds at a basketball game. And right on cue, the player with the ball wildly throws it at the basket. Because there’s a chance—a small one, but greater when the player is any good at three-point shots—the ball might actually land in the basket, and get their team three more points. They’re called “hail-Marys” for a reason: They’re a last, desperate attempt to do something, anything, for results.

And sometimes it does. Sometimes it even wins them the game. YouTube has examples.

But when the results come, does anybody thank Mary for answering the last-second prayer? Seldom if ever. More often they praise the player for the impressive skill required to make that basket. Just as often they call it a “lucky shot.” Either the player, or the luck, gets the credit. Not Mary. Nor (’cause Mary doesn’t actually handle sports prayers, y’know) God.

Sometimes skeptics take their ill relatives to church to get prayer. They themselves don’t believe in prayer, but they’re desperate. They tried hospitals, they tried quacks, and they want results so bad they’re now gonna try God. And when the faith healer prays for these people and God actually does cure them, the skeptics never—not even once!—turn to God in awe and repentance, and follow him from then on. They stay skeptics. Their explanation for the apparent miracle? Psychosomatic healing. The person wanted to be cured so bad, they were. God gets no credit.

If miracles cause faith, you’d think the ancient Hebrews whom God freed from Egypt would’ve had the greatest faith ever. You’d think they’d’ve followed the LORD and Moses enthusiastically, wholeheartedly, into Canaan. Instead of, as the scriptures tell time and again, grumbling at anything and everything, and plotting to flee back to Egypt.

If miracles cause faith, the Pharisees who saw Jesus cure people on Sabbath would’ve abandoned their objections and believed in him. Not plotted his death.

Show a miracle to a skeptic, and the skeptic will always come up with a “rational explanation.” True, it’ll often be completely irrational. The simplest explanation is usually correct, and taking God out of the explanation doesn’t yield a simple explanation. But people regularly go to any length to defend unbelief.

As Isak did. He claimed he did believe; he did so have faith. He actually prayed for God to raise the dead! But this was no prayer of faith. This was a desperate hail-Mary. As usually happens, the ball didn’t make it.

No faith? Best you not see miracles.

God has a lot of different reasons for performing a miracle, and in my experience it’s to further people’s relationships with him. Could be the relationship between God and the person asking for help, or God and the person getting help, or God and the person doing the praying… or even God and any bystander witnessing this event. Somebody’s gonna grow closer to God.

But if nobody’s gonna grow closer to God—if in fact they’re gonna ignore the miracle, ignore God, and even mock God—what’s the point?

No, this isn’t a case of God going, “Well if I don’t get anything out of it, phooey on you.” He’s not petty like that. He’s trying to do good, not evil—and when people dismiss God, they harm themselves. It actually hurts them more than they realize. So why would God contribute to their harm if he can help it?

That’s why Jesus refused to perform miracles for mockers and unbelievers. “I’m not giving this generation any such sign,” he stated, Mk 8.12 and cessationists regularly misquote his statement as if it’s God’s response to everyone who prays for miracles: Don’t pray for miracles. But of course they’re taking him out of context. Miracles would’ve done this crowd no good. They had no intention of recognizing him as either a prophet or Messiah, and if he showed ’em a miracle they’d just claim it was devilish, and blaspheme the Holy Spirit in so doing. Way more harm than good. So Jesus gave ’em nothing.

Yes, miracles can grow and stretch the faith of believers. That’s why God has no trouble showing us miracles when we do believe him. Cessationists frequently mock Christians who tell stories of God answering prayer requests which they consider frivolous, or beneath God’s dignity. If the “putting out the fleece” story weren’t in the bible—

Judges 7.36-38 KJV
37 Behold, I will put a fleece of wool in the floor; and if the dew be on the fleece only, and it be dry upon all the earth beside, then shall I know that thou wilt save Israel by mine hand, as thou hast said. 38 And it was so: for he rose up early on the morrow, and thrust the fleece together, and wringed the dew out of the fleece, a bowl full of water.

—cessationists would mock any such Christian who tried any such thing, and claim God would never. Even blame the devil for leading Christians astray… and yep, there they go blaspheming again. Believers may doubt these stories, but we know better than to say God would never, so it must’ve been Satan.

So when people who reject miracles nonetheless pray for miracles, you can see why God rarely gives them what they ask. Because it’s not really what they want. They don’t want a present, available, supernatural God; they’re way happier with a distant and inactive one. (And, weirdly, a present, available, supernatural devil. Go figure.)

If God raised that child, Isak would have to eat a lot of crow, and he’s not that type of person. Not yet; maybe the Holy Spirit will get him to that point eventually, and then he’d be receptive to a bonafide miracle. Meanwhile he’s not ready. And most unbelievers who say, “All right, if there’s a God out there, give me a sign!” aren’t ready either. They have no faith, and God’s not gonna give them some blasphemy fodder. He wants far better for them than that.

So if you’re the skeptical sort who claims you’ll believe if God only showed you a sign: Is that honestly so? And are you being honest with yourself when you say that? Because God knows. If you’re ready for a miracle, he’s game. And if you’re not… he’ll wait.