- Religion and Philosophy
I Want God to Show Up With Miracles and Other Fun Things
There's a fascinating chain of events in this ancient prophet's life that makes my head spin. It also makes me a little jealous. Elisha lived almost 900 years before Christ and worked in the northern kingdom of Israel. It was a period of unprecedented wickedness following the reign of Ahab and his infamous wife, Jezebel. Elisha's predecessor and mentor was Elijah who was caught up to heaven in a chariot of fire, one of two Bible characters who are now in heaven without having first suffered death. The other is Enoch.
And day in the life of...
Actually it's a chapter in the life of the prophet Elisha. Scripture has a habit of telescoping events that occur over months and years into what appears to be a very short time. II Kings 4 starts by recording Elisha's encounter with an unnamed widow of another prophet. She has two sons and one jar of oil. Elisha responded to her appeal for help by asking her to gather as many empty jars as she could find. She must then fill these with oil from the original jar. Imagine their surprise when the oil kept flowing until the last container was filled. At Elisha's command, they sold the oil and paid off their debt. Not a bad piece of mercy ministry.
Then there was the Shunammite
About twenty miles southwest of the Sea of Galilee lived a wealthy couple in the town of Shunem. Elisha habitually stopped in to seem them. The wife, hereafter called the Shunammite, suggested that special quarters by built on the roof to accommodate the prophet. And so it happened that Elisha inquired about how she might be rewarded for her kindness. Upon learning that she was childless and her husband was old, the prophet called her in and announced, "about this time next year you will embrace a son." The Shunammite was incredulous, even accused Elisha of lying.
Sure enough she bore a son within a year, only to have him die in his youth. Understandably, the mother felt a bit jerked around. She laid the child on the prophet's bed and took off at break-neck speed to find the man. She clasped her hands around his feet and cried out, "Did I ask for a son? Why have you given me one, only to take him away? So Elisha handed his staff to Gehazi, his servant, with orders to run ahead and lay it on the dead boy's face. Nothing happened. When Elisha and the mother arrived, he went up to the room and lay upon the dead boy, thus warming the body as he prayed. The boy came alive, coughed and was presented to his mother. Again the woman clasped the prophet's feet, this time, in gratitude. Beyond that? No big deal.
The final event in this chapter finds Elisha at a prophet conference. It was during a severe famine and there was little to eat. But at the prophet's command a stew made of wild vines and gourds was set to boil. When the folks began to eat some got sick and cried, "There is death in the pot!" So Elisha asked for some flour which he threw into the pot. All was well. About then a visitor arrived bringing twenty loaves of barley and a few ears of grain. Still not much for a hundred hungry prophets. Elisha ordered that it be distributed and promised that there would be some left over. And so it was.
Why doesn't God show up like this now?
Since we read of these events in a document we regard as the inspired Word of God, it's natural to assume that God would continue to behave, well, like the all-powerful God that he is. Just a day or two of good old fashioned miracles would hush the mouths of cynics, encourage dispirited Christians and energize world evangelism. No? Well, maybe.
The answer is simple and believed by most Christians. But it is very hard to accept in daily life. Not only is God all-powerful; He is also all-wise and all-loving. If He doesn't show up to do what we think He should do, it is because our demands are not always wise nor loving. True, but why then was God so responsive to Elisha. Surely, Elisha's understanding was limited and his motives mixed. He was a sinner like the rest of us.
Let's step back and look at the big picture. The Bible is not an exhaustive record of all that has transpired in human history. That's obvious. Nothing is recorded about Plato or Pericles; Aristotle or Herodotus. The Bible doesn't tell us about events in China or in the, yet to be discovered, Americas. Neither is the Bible a random collection of stories designed to inspire. Nor is it a series of myths deliberately foisted on a gullible people by clerics.
The Bible is revelation history. It is a compilation of historical events selected by God to reveal his plan to rescue some from humanty's self-destructive course. Since God has created the universe and sovereignly ordains al that comes to pass, we could go back even further and say that God himself ordered up a chain of historical events that would reveal his intent to save a people. It is those events that are recorded in Scripture. Yes, even ugly things that seem to discredit God's holy character.
A quick scan of revelation history shows that there were certain periods when miracles seem to be quite common, four in particular. The first is the life and times of Moses and Joshua (1500 to 1400 BC) the second is the time of the prophets, Elijah and Elisha (900-800 BC). Third, the days of Daniel and his friends (600-500 BC) Finally, you find miracles done by Jesus and his Apostles (1st century AD). Except for some strange things associated with the ark of the covenant when captured by the Philistines, there are no miracles happening in the days of David and Solomon.
In fact some of the psalms have David feeling the same way I do about miracles not happening. Here's a section of Psalm 88 written by the sons of Korah under David's direction. "Every day I call upon you, O LORD; I spread out my hands to you. Do you work wonders for the dead? Do the departed rise up to praise you? Is your steadfast love declared in the grave, or your faithfulness in Abaddon? (another word for destruction) Are your wonders known in the darkness, or you righteousness in the land of forgetfulness? (vs.9-12) (paren mine)
With bitter irony David wonders if he must wait until dead to see God work wonders. I like David's honesty.
What is a miracle?
In biblical theology a miracle is a supernatural event by which God authenticates the persons associated with them as his spokesmen. In other words, true miracles are associated with revelation. Miracles take place where there is a special call to prove that God is speaking with authority. This was the situation in the four periods of miracles mentioned above. It's reasonable to see that when God's saving plan climaxed in the coming of Jesus Christ, these sort of authenticating miracles become less necessary. If you believe that Jesus rose from the dead, what more proof do you need?
But don't miracles happen today? Yes, there are reports of dramatic miraculous events happening in the underground church in China. Check out David Aikman's Jesus in Beijing. While many cannot be confirmed independently, they certainly have authenticated the gospel and drawn millions to the Savior despite severe persecution.
So miracles are not to be seen as God's supernatural way of tending to his people's needs; but rather they are designed to support his plan of salvation. Consider this. As much as you might like to be miraculously healed, it would be a temporary fix. Only in glory will we be made whole.
I make a habit of linking Scripture references or allusions to them to the ESV website where you can read the text for yourself.
How did you make use of those links?
So what to expect
God gets to decide when a miracle will further his purposes. On the other hand we pray for his power to be at work in our lives. Sometimes there are dramatic events revealing the finger of God, but often He answers by giving us the grace to endure. Again that is his call.
The demand for the miraculous is like a baby crying for his milk bottle. You expect it of babies; but when older? Not so much. If when God withholds immediate relief for whatever you are dealing with you cop an attitude, what sort of faith do you have? While Aikman reports many miracles in China there are just as many, if not more, instances of extreme endurance under severe suffering. Our brothers and sisters in China see the power of God; but the presence of God is more precious to them.
Would that the same could be said of me. Working on that.