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Wednesday, February 12, 2014

The Selfishness of Miracles?

I prayed for a miracle last night.

This may not sound like an extraordinary thing to do, but it is very much out of the ordinary for me. You see, I have a problem with miracles.

I like to think of myself as, for the most part, a fairly strong Christian. My faith has had its challenges, its ups and downs, its doubts and fears, but through it all, I’ve never really doubted that God exsited, and not just existed, but was a personal, loving God. But through it all, I’ve also always struggled with miracles.

It’s not that I don’t believe they are possible. I do. Absolutely. I believe God is capable of anything, including breaking His own laws (guidelines?) of nature (for that is what is what a miracle is). I believe God can heal the sick, move the mountains, stop the Earth in its path through space…I just have trouble connecting the idea of “able to” with “willing to”.

You see, the God I believe in is a loving God. A loving God does not want people to suffer. But a loving God, perhaps, has a bigger responsibility than the individual. A responsibility to keep the World on a path towards the best for the whole. I don’t want to believe in a God that cares if a sports team wins or loses. I want to believe in a God who is working, sometimes against us creatures he gave free will, to end wars, and hunger and poverty. A God who has a Bigger Plan.

When I think of miracles, and what it means to ask for one, I can’t keep my mind from going to two texts. The first is the Brother’s Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky, where Ivan challenges his brother, a priest, about God. "It's not God that I don't accept, Alyosha, only I most respectfully return him the ticket," he says, citing the fact the children are allowed to suffer in this world. 

“I return the ticket.” I refuse to accept a God who has the power to stop suffering, but doesn’t. It is a powerful line. One I often struggle with. So I blame people. We who have free will, we who have the ability to move outside of God’s will and cause suffering to happen. Sometimes I picture God as a Heavenly maid, so occupied cleaning up humans’ messes that he doesn’t have the time left to fix the brokenness in the World. In my heart of hearts, I reject this idea. But I can’t always keep it from surfacing in my mind.

The second text I think of in conjecture with miracles is Jayber Crow, by Wendell Berry. In a debate with his theology professor, Jayber exclaims “After you have said, ‘thy will be done,’ what more can
be said? And where do you find the strength to pray ‘thy will be done’ after you see what it means?” I actually take a lot of comfort in this idea. That God’s will is the one being done, not mine. After all, I make mistakes all the time. How nice if it is God’s will that always happen. And yet, in the Bible, we see many examples of God asking people to ask Him for requests. Jesus’s parable of the boy asking for the fish. The story of Abraham arguing for the salvation of Sodom and Gomorrah. God, it seems, actually wants us to ask for miracles. But still I don’t.

My cousin is dying.

These are the words no one wants to think or say, but that we all know. He is dying. There are no more treatment options. It would, as they say, take a miracle. But it is so hard for me to ask for one.

You see, asking for a miracle is, I feel, inherently selfish. The World is falling apart. People are starving, are living on the streets, are dying in wars. Children are suffering. How then, can I demand that God turn his attention to me, to my prayers, to my desires. Despite all the Biblical examples, how can I ask God to do the impossible simply because I desire it? This is my problem with miracles.

But my cousin is dying.

So I prayed for a miracle.

I tried to shuffle around my own beliefs and ask for my miracle in as selfless a way as I could. “It’s not for me,” I prayed, “not even for my cousin. It’s for his wife, and his child.” I offered a justification (in truth, just to myself, what justification does God need?). Surely I am not selfish if I am praying on behalf of someone else? I even tried bribery. 

“God, just think how much a miracle like this could strengthen my family’s faith.” Yes, that makes sense. Bribe an all-powerful deity with a promise to believe in him. But this is how I deal with my struggle with miracles.

So here I am. More fearful, perhaps, than hopeful. Fearful that God will not give the miracle I asked for. More fearful, perhaps, that he will. Fearful of what it means to believe in a God capable of miracles in a suffering World. But hopeful too. Hopeful that there will be a miracle, even if it’s not the one I asked for. Hopeful that God intends to bring good, even when people mess up. Hopeful that my family will find peace, whatever the outcome. Hopeful the World will not always broken.