The Fallacy Of Depending On A Miracle
Miracles– some people of faith are obsessed with them. Cults and mystics make them the focus of their beliefs. Christians believe in them, but there are debates about how often miracles occur outside of those unique time periods in history documented in the Bible. Of course, there is one miracle that every believer knows well, and that is the miracle of salvation. In some ways we may not even think of this as a miracle because the Gospel has become old hat to us, but consider the words of Jesus:
And behold, some people brought to him a paralytic, lying on a bed. And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Take heart, my son; your sins are forgiven.” And behold, some of the scribes said to themselves, “This man is blaspheming.” But Jesus, knowing their thoughts, said, “Why do you think evil in your hearts? For which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise and walk’? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he then said to the paralytic—”Rise, pick up your bed and go home.” (Matthew 9:2-6 ESV)
This passage makes it pretty clear that the forgiveness of sins (and therefore salvation) is a miracle of miracles. When a heart is changed, when a sinner goes from death to life, how wonderful; how blessed is the new creation; how miraculous!
But there’s another side to this: the miraculous is by definition extraordinary and requires intervention by God. Left in its natural state, this life does not contain miracles. It would be the height of presumption to expect or demand God would provide a miracle for us. We do not drive our cars on empty expecting God to fill the tank. We do not write checks when the money isn’t in our account, even if it is for a noble thing. We do not structure our lives around miracles occurring. To do so would be foolish and not Christlike, who by example demonstrated we do not test God.
Most pastors understand this. They do not preach we should expect God’s miraculous intervention in our lives. In fact, I think most would rebuke (if not fall back to eye rolling behind the back of) anyone displaying such behavior and calling it an act of faith. That is not how the Christian life works. We are a people of sober rationality who know that while God can and has done the miraculous, he is never obligated to us to do so.
So here is the thrust of all of this: to trust that an abuser will reform is trusting in a miracle, a miracle that God has not promised will occur. A pastor counseling an abused woman to remain and submit to violence with the expectation that he will change and God will protect her is no different from counseling her to jump off a bridge with the expectation that God will not let her die. If we cannot see this parallel it is because we either do not understand the miraculous intervention from God that is required for an abuser to repent, or we do not understand the inevitability of death (if not physical, at the least emotional) for those subject to abuse.
I remember being asked on a questionnaire for a “save your marriage” retreat if I had faith God would save the marriage. I said “no” and felt shamed for doing so. But I should not have felt shame. The person who wrote that question should be ashamed for questioning a person’s faith based on their presumption that God would perform a miracle.
Could God have saved my marriage? I absolutely believe he could have. Could he have changed her behavior and given me a spirit of trust that I could have seen it and accept it? My God is that big. I prayed nightly for it to happen, but it did not. And that it didn’t is not slight against God or my faith. God does the miraculous and I have no doubt of it, but I am not going to depend on him to act. To do so is the height of folly.
So the question must be asked: why would a sober minded pastor who understands we don’t test God by depending in miracles for our well being instruct women to do exactly that in abuse cases? Should we tell such a pastor that in the future perhaps he should not fill his car with gas on the way to preach his next sermon? Surely filling a car with gas is as easy for God to do as changing the heart of an abuser, and if he doesn’t do it for the noble purpose of a sermon being preached, perhaps we can assume it was God’s pleasure that the sermon not be heard?
No, let us not test God or instruct others to do likewise. Repentance is a miracle, not an inevitability, so let’s treat it that way.