Saturday, March 21, 2009

Supernatural Activity

"It's a God-thing."  You hear it everywhere!  Anytime something works out particularly well for us, it's "a God thing." Why must everything have to be about us and our comfort?  And what if things aren't going particularly well for us — like maybe we're battling cancer? or have lost a loved one? etc...  Does this mean God isn't for us, that He's abandoned us for some reason?

Recently I came across this passage by Harriet A Harris, Lecturer in Theological Studied, University of Exeter, in her book, “Fundamentalism and Evangelicals.”  She presents a rather interesting perspective on God's supernatural activity, doesn't she?

“Charismatics challenge traditional fundamentalist thinking about God’s supernatural activity. Traditionally fundamentalists confine miracles to the Bible and regard them as violent divine interventions (Barr 1984: 86). In John Wimber’s words: ‘Christians unconsciously consign the supernatural to an impenetrable upper tier (except for the resurrection, early church miracles, and transcendent moral standards), excluding God’s power from their theology and practice’ (1985: 88). However, increasingly in fundamentalist circles God is regarded as ever-present and active, providing such mundane services as finding parking spaces in the centre of town on a Saturday morning. As Nancy Ammerman (1987: 48-9) found, having spent a year studying a fundamentalist church in New England,

‘Almost anything good or bad can be explained as God’s doing. God keeps the dishes from breaking, locates things that are lost. He supplies friends and offspring. He makes sure cars get fixed at affordable prices. He arranges convenient overtime work schedules and makes hiring and firing more pleasant. He provides clothes and food when they are needed, as well as less essential items like tickets for a rodeo or a pet dog for the children.’”

So does God really work like this today? Some may say yes.  But when we look in the Bible, we see that when miracles were performed, they were proclaimed (Matt. 4:24; Mark 3:9, 10; 6:56) — they were not performed by stealth. There was no guessing or wondering if they were miracles or not. They were always straight-forward. And regarding the healing miracles, there were no doctors, drugs and gradually being healed.  Miracles were instantaneous — the dead immediately got up and walked, blind men from birth suddenly could see, the sick were instantly healed, etc...

In an article for Christianity Today, Dr. Paul Brand, a well recognized authority on orthopedic surgery for leprosy patients and a well respected Christian, said:

“From my own experience as a physician I must truthfully admit that, among the thousands of patients I have treated, I have never observed an unequivocal instance of intervention in the physical realm. Many were prayer for, many found healing, but not in ways that counteracted the laws governing anatomy. No case have I treated personally would meet the rigorous criteria for a supernatural miracle.”

However, many Christians today point to John 14:11-14 and claim if they pray with enough faith, God will give them what they request. But can every word addressed to the apostles be intended to apply to all believers at all times? For instance, go to John 14:12. Is every believer to be endowed with miraculous powers equal to or greater than those performed by Jesus Christ Himself? Most are quick to say, “Of course not.” So should we then suppose that the verses that immediately follow are for universal application?

“Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the miracles themselves. I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it (John 14:11-14)."

And who can fail to notice the difference between the earlier and later chapters of the book of Acts? In the beginning of Acts, we see the apostles performing extraordinary miracles in His name, and no one who is preaching Christ dies. But as Israel's opposition increases, Stephen is killed (Acts 7:54-59), and a little later James dies by the sword of Herod (Acts 12:1-2).  Notice, too, that in Acts 5 all of the sick who were brought from various cities to Jerusalem were healed by the apostles. But twenty-five years later we find Paul himself denied healing (2 Cor 12:7-9).  And near the end, we see him advising Timothy to take a little wine for his frequent ailments (1 Tim 5:23).  Still later we learn that Paul has left another worker sick at Miletum (2 Tim 4:20). So although in the early chapters of Acts Jerusalem, the seat of Israel's government, is filled with miracles, after the stoning of Stephen there is never again any record of a public miracle in that city called the city of the great King (Matt 5:34-35).

Moreover, “to the Jew first” is stamped on every page of the book of Acts. The twelve apostles went to the Jews. And when Paul comes on the scene half way through the book, it was by divine appointment that he too went first to “the chief of the Jews” in every place he visited. It is because of this that I believe the purpose of miracles in the NT was to accredit the Messiah to Israel (or the messenger bringing a message), and not, as generally supposed, to accredit Christianity to the world (Luke 19:36-38; Jn. 2:11; 10:25, 32, 38; 14:11; 15:24; 2 Cor. 12:12).

Though no one may dare limit what God will do for the believer, I believe we need to realize that in this time of grace, we live by faith, not by sight; and that ours is a higher privilege as those “who have not seen and yet have believed (John 20:29).” If “signs and wonders” were given to us, as in times past, faith would sink to a lower level, and the whole standard and character of the Christian walk would be altered. Paul’s sufferings toward the end of his life show a higher faith than the miracles of his earlier ministry.

In fact, Paul’s letters contain many accounts of unanswered prayers. Three times he pleaded with the Lord to fix his “thorn in the flesh” (2 Cor. 12:7-8). But did the Lord say to him, “Whatever you ask you’ll receive, if you have faith?” Not at all. The Lord told him that His grace would be enough for him (His grace meaning His power working in Paul’s life). And, “…My strength is made perfect in weakness...” (2 Cor. 12:9) We always want the Lord to fix our problems, but He wants to show us the sufficiency of His grace and power working in our lives.

It appears that Paul’s whole attitude about suffering changed as a result of this prayer experience because He says that he learned to “take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ's sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong (2 Cor. 9:10)."

And in Philippians 4:11-13 he says, “Not that I speak from want, for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need. I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.”

Here is a glimpse of the life Paul led:

“Five times I received from the Jews thirty-nine lashes. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, a night and a day I have spent in the deep. I have been on frequent journeys, in dangers from rivers, dangers from robbers, dangers from my countrymen, dangers from the Gentiles, dangers in the city, dangers in the wilderness, dangers on the sea, dangers among false brethren; I have been in labor and hardship, through many sleepless nights, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure (2 Cor. 11:24-27)."

And what was his response? Instead of grumbling at his infirmities, he boasted in them. Not vainly or morbidly, but “for Christ’s sake he had suffered the loss of all things.” In fact, he described them as “light affliction which is for the moment, working for us more and more exceedingly an eternal weight of glory,” and continues, “while we look, not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal (2 Cor. 4:17, 18)." And, “…I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us (Rom. 8:18)."

So then, should we expect miracles when we pray today?

Sir Robert Anderson in “The Silence of God” puts it this way:

“…it is plain matter of fact that before this, the great characteristic truth of Christianity, was revealed there was immediate Divine intervention upon earth: in a word, there were miracles; whereas, after this truth was revealed, they ceased. The era of the reign of grace is precisely the era of the silence of God. To grace, therefore, we look to explain the silence. Christianity is the supreme and final revelation of the Divine “kindness and love-toward-man.” Therefore when God again declares Himself it can only be in wrath, and wrath must await “the day of wrath (Rom 2:5)."

“…From the throne of the Divine Majesty there has gone forth the proclamation of pardon and peace, and this without condition or reserve. And now a silent Heaven gives continuing proof that this great amnesty is still in force, and that the guiltiest of men may turn to God and find forgiveness of sins and eternal life.”

God has said all He needs to say (the canon is now complete) and done everything that needs to be done —through His Son’s death on the cross on our behalf. In Christ, we are complete and have been blessed with all spiritual blessings. What greater gifts could He possibly give? Now he is lovingly drawing all who will come to Him in faith, patiently waiting with outstretched arms.

"And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to Myself (Jn. 12:32)."

“Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation, namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God (2 Cor. 5:18-20)."

“For it was the Father's good pleasure for all the fullness to dwell in Him, and through Him to reconcile all things to Himself, having made peace through the blood of His cross; through Him, I say, whether things on earth or things in heaven (Col. 1:19-20)."

May we, like Paul, look past the events and circumstances of this life, see our home beyond, and rejoice in the glory to which He calls us.


  1. So He doesn't provide parking spaces?

  2. The Second letter to Corinth is a much neglected book, but it is a mine full of treasures.