A Cry For Justice

Awakening the Evangelical Church to Domestic Violence and Abuse in its Midst

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.

25 Comments

  1. Jeff Crippen

    JeffS – Very, very good. Another term for “expect a miracle” is — superstition. There is a big difference between believing in the supernatural and being superstitious. The one is a necessary thing for the Christian. The other is a very bad thing. I believe in the supernatural, but I am not superstitious. I do not believe that things that I do or say can function in such a way as to effect spirit forces to do what I want them to. Those things are called charms, or mantras, or spells. And such things are forbidden for the Christian.

    When we wander into the mis-belief that we can do something or not do something that will obligate God to work in the way we desire, we have entered into the realm of magic. This is precisely what Rome teaches when it tells people to say 100 Hail Marys and such.

    Abusers don’t change. Abusers don’t repent. Abusers abuse, just as much as a rock falls if we drop it off a bridge. When an abuser is transformed into a child of God, a miracle has occurred that is akin to that rock backing itself up and returning to the hand that dropped it. It happens – sometimes. But we cannot manipulate God into doing it, and we cannot demand a sign from God by insisting that he will do what we think He should do. That is evil, as Jesus said.

    So the real question for a pastor who tells a victim that she should trust in God for her abuser’s heart to be changed, and that IF she does…..so and so it will make such an outcome more likely, is actually counseling the practice of magic and superstition.

  2. Desley

    “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?”

    I am so going to borrow this one. Awesome.

  3. Yes, the filling the car with gas (petrol to us yokels outside good ole USA) is a great analogy. And I love Jeff C’s image of the stone rising back up into the hand that threw it from the bridge.
    We need to keep reiterating the ludicrous results that wrong doctrine leads to, so people will come to question the ideas they’ve imbibed without much discrimination.

    • Barbara, since I know you just read it you probably realize that I borrowed the gas example from Peretti’s “The Visitation” in which there’s a person who is described as always running out of gas because he believes God will extended his tank. The narrator remarks that he didn’t think it worked out too well, but he did end up with a lot of free gas from people who helped him.

      There’s a point there too- when we start depending in miracles, it’s other people we burden to handle the fallout when the miracle doesn’t come through.

      • Thanks Jeff, I have just finished “The Visitation” but hadn’t connected the dot with your post. Good point about how it’s other people who handle the fallout when the miracle doesn’t come through.
        I’ve heard of several scenarios where people say “I don’t need to work to earn a living, I’m living by faith.” And the nice do-gooder Christians end up bailing the person out all the time.

        Or the telephone prayer-request chain where someone puts in a prayer request for a plane ticket to a special event that they feel God is really wanting them to go to. The wealthy middle aged lady in the prayer chain donates the plane ticket and the needy person goes round crowing “This prayer stuff really works! God answers prayer!” Yeah, God answered the prayer, but… was it a miracle? I don’t think so.

    • It’s me with another comment on an old thread! LOL! I don’t know how I completely missed this one. My .02 anyway is this- by telling an abused person to stay with the abuser with faith that he/she will change-is most likely because they (in their infinite and superior knowledge of God’s heart and mind) believe that God wants every marriage to stay together-so by staying you are obedient-and by being obedient, you will get what you want. Like Santa with his naughty and nice list. Staying is nice and leaving is naughty.
      I guess we should all have gotten a lump of coal in our stockings this year! Funny how instead I am happier than I have been in years and I thank God for that all the time!

      • Like Santa with his naughty and nice list. Staying is nice and leaving is naughty.
        I guess we should all have gotten a lump of coal in our stockings this year!

        LOL!

  4. Wendell G

    One of the things these miracle seekers forget is the role that free will plays in the situation. Unlike the gas tank, which has no choice in the matter, the abuser has a free will, and unless he exercises that will to come to Christ, nothing will change. While God can change hearts, He will not do so in violation of a person’s will. Otherwise, all men would be “saved” by the fact of God forcing them to. Expecting a sinner to change, and banking everything on them bending their will to God is a flimsy foundation at best. They may, but it is far from certain as anyone who has had an unsaved friend or relative die without Christ can attest.

    • Mama Martin

      “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.”
      This is so true – and I believe that spiritual/emotional/mental damage can be so hidden to the church that they are unaware of how the victim is dying in an abusive home. To understand the thought pattern change needed for an abuser to repent is again outside the understanding of most in the church (we are so shallow….).
      As Wendell has so clearly pointed out, God allows us choice. Thus He rarely overrides and does the ‘miracle’ that is against the choice of the individual (so He will rarely – need to qualify since God is beyond us! – override the will of the abuser and change his/her thinking against his/her will). One of my prayers for my abuser is that God will not give up on him nor will He stop speaking to him – that God will use all methods within His will to get through. I still believe the worst punishment and the best outcome would be for my abuser to change – and then he would realize what he’s done and how bad it was, what is true repentance, and how deep is God’s grace. At the same time, the boundaries are in place and there will be no reconciliation until I see long term, lasting change that treats me as a person instead of a possession.

    • joepote01

      Yes! This is the component we tend to forget when wondering why God does not act to prevent evil…whether at the personal level of an abusive relationship, or at a more general level of living in a world filled with sin and consequences of sin.

      God gave mankind both free will and authority over the earth…and neither has been revoked.

  5. Wendell G

    Oops, forgot to set an email notification for replies…

  6. aspen

    So many people use the term “miracle” for things that actually fall under the title of “providence”. “Miracle” is God working to do something that could not, under natural laws, occur. “Providence” is God working within the natural laws to cause or allow something unusual to happen. “I found a parking spot right by the door of the mall on Christmas Eve. It was a miracle!!” No. That parking spot was not created for you. It was already there. The fact that it was open when you needed it may have been God’s providence working for you, especially on Christmas Eve…

    However, from what I have learned I do believe that an abuser changing falls under the category of “miracle”. It is not something that would happen in this natural world. It does take supernatural work to do something that will not occur otherwise. Despite Barbara’s position, I still think praying for the abuser in our family is something I should (and therefore do) do. My prayer for him is Romans 12:2 – that he be transformed by the renewing of his mind – because it is his thinking process that is the root of the abuse and that is what needs to change. And, yes, it will take a miracle to change that. I don’t “expect” it in the way of “making God do it because I prayed for it”, but I know we have a big God and He CAN do it if He chooses to. And I pray He does, for the sake of the kids if nothing else…

    • Well said, Apsen. Really good to point out the difference between providence and miracles.

      And I applaud you for following your inner prompting and keeping on praying for the abuser in your family. I don’t want to lay down a law for anyone. It’s hard to write about this stuff in a way that is clear and sometimes necessarily firm, but that doesn’t sound rigid. So glad you are not taking me as the final arbiter!

      I guess what I was responding to, when I wrote that post about praying for your abuser, was the overwhelming guilt that some survivors feel when they consider giving up praying for their abuser. I wanted to relieve survivors from that burden of false guilt.

      Someone called it the ‘youghta’ teaching. “You oughta do this. You oughta do that!”
      It’s the ‘youghta’ mind set that I felt needed to be challenged. But in cases like yours, is sounds like you aren’t operating from a burden of heavy false guilt, you are operating from a place of freedom.
      Bless you, Aspen.

    • I just copied and pasted Aspen’s words about praying for the abuser, and my response to them, over at the post To Pray For Our Abuser Or Not
      http://cryingoutforjustice.wordpress.com/2012/10/13/to-pray-for-our-abusers-or-not-we-dont-need-to-pray-for-the-sin-that-leads-to-death/#comment-10439

      • I just want to mention, I have said I do not pray for my MIW but I realize in a way I do. My prayers are filled with GOD to bring him to an end, for the MIW to lose ground as far as support, I have prayed for his allies to be awakened. Purely selfish I now, obviously if everyone he turned to said SORRY we do not support what you are doing. THEN and ONLY then would he slow down, he is motivated by their positive attention and support. If we want to pray for an abuser to change, we have to pray for his allies to see him as he really is. Otherwise the messeges he is recieving are “”I have NO REAL need for regeneration because people support ME not HER”” Oh how I have prayed he would wake up one day and everyone he has mislead was just gone!!! Then he was left to himself with nothing but his own reflection.

      • You just gave a sermon about why the imprecatory psalms are in the Bible, Memphis! I love the way you write.

      • Jeff S

        Memphis- you saying this awakened me to the reality of something that I knew, but hadn’t really put into words. I’m not even sure it’s helpful to bring it up, but I will.

        I was believed. 100% I was. No one took my wife’s side. The only issue was that divorce was more henious than abuse or neglect in their eyes, so I became the outcast while she was accepted. However, there was never a hint of not believing me (though they didn’t “get it’ in terms of what it was like to endure it). Even her own family rebuked her for her behavior. In so many ways she is just left to herself with only her own reflection. It hasn’t changed her, but it does limit her ability to strike out at me.

        I suspect this is a gender thing- that it is easier and takes less effort to believe a man, the one with the power in this society, than it does a woman.

        I am sorry that no one believed you, and I’m sorry they continue to stand with him against you. I can’t offer wisdom, but I can just admit I don’t know what it is like to be in your shoes and tell you my heart breaks for you.

        Thank you for sharing and helping me understand more.

  7. joepote01

    A good post, Jeff S!

    I’m mulling over your words in terms of how they may have applied to me, in my first marriage.

    I was definitely counting on God’s miraculous intervention in the marriage. Looking back, I can definitely see my misperception that if only I could believe deeply enough, pray devoutly enough, word hard enough, and love sacrificially enough, that somehow, someway, God would intervene to heal the relationship.

    It took a lot of years to realize that the relationship could never heal without some major changes in the woman I was married to. I suppose that, in a sense, I had all along been counting on the miracle of her changing, but that’s not how I saw it at the time, as I was quick to heap as much blame as possible on myself and slow to place any on her.

    I now see my redemption from that marriage as being God’s direct intervention…as His redemptive work on my behalf.

    My prayers and faith were not in vain. God did intervene on my behalf…just not in the way I expected. I expected Him to miraculously change the heart of the woman I was married to such that our marriage would be healed and relationship be restored. However, just as He acted on behalf of the Israelites in Egypt, God, instead, caused her heart to be further hardened against me, leading to divorce.

    Redemption and Deliverance are miraculous acts of our covenant God, on our behalf!

    • Joe, that’s an interesting direction I wasn’t even thinking of.

      I know for a long time my nightly (hourly?) prayer was: “God, change her heart or change mine, because I can’t handle this”.

      And I blamed myself for not being able to change to endure it. I knew that a miracle had to happen for the marriage to be saved- but I was buying into the line that God will save all marriages.

      I actually asked an elder how I was supposed to make it happen- was he really telling me I just had to be good enough? He really couldn’t give me an answer, and all I could come up with was that if I couldn’t endure it, I must not have real faith. So the choice became endure the marriage or admit that I’m not saved and hell bound. Of course the elder would deny this- but what other conclusion is there?

      • joepote01

        “…I was buying into the line that God will save all marriages.”

        That’s is SUCH a prevalent belief within the church…and SUCH a lie! I fell for that one for many years…believing that if God was not miraculously healing and restoring the marriage, it must be because I was not working hard enough or believing deeply enough.

        I told a little more of my story in a recent guest-post on a friend’s blog, if you’d like to read it: http://danerickson.net/?p=6504

        I think (hope) it helps explain why I see the divorce as God’s direct miraculous intervention on my behalf.

      • Yes thanks for sharing that link, Joe. I meant to put it somewhere on this blog but my workload…. things get away from me.

      • Jeff S

        Thanks for sharing that link, Joe. It is a very powerful post and I appreciate your heart.

      • joepote01

        Glad it was a blessing to you! I truly appreciate all that you do on this blog!

      • Or that the purpose of a painful marriage is to refine you and make you more like Christ. So, you stay and suffer and flagellate yourself every day because you can’t stop feeling the emotional pain and suffering.

      • Jeff S

        Yes, Jodi, that is exactly my experience. I was told that God would give me strength to endure (he didn’t) and that my suffering was the same as missionaries suffering for the Gospel (it isn’t).

        And then I was told that I wasn’t truly broken and I hadn’t loved with Agape love. And that I needed to stop “trying” because my problem was relying on my own strength and not God’s.

        I finally just had to say I couldn’t do it, and I guess that meant I wasn’t a Christian under their theology because if I were, surely their plan would work. Fortunately, I also decided that being a Christian was not defined by their theology!

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