Developing a Preference for the Everyday Manifestations of God’s Power

As a brand-new believer (circa 1997, before I had actually bothered to read through the entire Bible), I rather blithely thought it would be pretty cool if God would “seal my salvation” somehow via the supernatural. I’d heard of people praying in tongues, miraculous cures brought about in answer to prayer, and so I ignorantly figured that “something like that” would be just the ticket for me! Always the ladder climber, my sinful human heart sought to “go varsity” with my Christian faith and set myself apart somehow. (How utterly misguided!)

I wasn’t exactly sure what going varsity meant, or what my life would look like should Jesus (or perhaps “just” one of His angels) show up and perform some kind of inexplicable parlor trick for my benefit, to help strengthen my individual Christian confession. All I can say is that my immature faith foolishly cried out to be fully confirmed somehow, preferably in a manner that would be totally inexplicable to the naturalist…beyond further human argument.

With me so far?

I figured if the Apostle Paul could take a beating from the risen Jesus on the road to Damascus (and survive), I probably could, too. Besides, I had accrued enough vacation and sick time at work to accommodate being struck blind (or something like that) for a few days.

What I have since come to understand is that God, in His mercy, very rarely works that way, choosing most often to enact His will via human agency (1) and that, by and large, we are all much better off that He doesn’t show up in our living room in a whirlwind of fire. The author of Hebrews (10:31, ESV) says it very well indeed when he writes that “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” My understanding of this verse is that it is yet another manifestation of His great, unsearchable mercy that God (for the most part) chooses not to reveal Himself to us as He did to Moses and the prophets.

If you read through all of the Old Testament accounts, you can’t help but notice that a lot of people tend to die (some horribly) whenever one of God’s holy angels actually shows up to intervene in human affairs. I think it’s also noteworthy that the first words spoken tend to be “Do not be afraid,” implying that tremendous terror is the natural first response to any visitation. But I also like how the Bible dramatically understates the power and might of God’s holy angels…it’s assumed!

One great example can be found in 2 Kings 18:13 to 19:37 (ESV), which tells of the reign of King Hezekiah. Sennacherib, king of Assyria, sends his Rabshakeh (or “chief cupbearer”) to besiege Jerusalem with a great army. In a passage somewhat reminiscent of the naughty French soldiers taunting a very frustrated King Arthur in Monty Python and the Holy Grail, the Rabshakeh stands outside Jerusalem with his entire army and makes all kinds of horrible threats against the people of Judah. (Interestingly, he even tells the frightened people inside the walls that he knows for a fact that God is with him in the destruction of the city!) I am not a Bible scholar by any means, but as I read through this account, I tend to think that Sennacherib’s undoing comes when the Rabshakeh brazenly compares the God of Israel to all the destroyed, false gods of the many other nations vanquished by the Assyrians. (Discuss.)

For his part, as completely impossible as the situation looks in human terms, King Hezekiah does not panic…but instead puts all his trust in the Lord to deliver Judah from Sennacherib. He calls in Isaiah to prophesy; he takes Sennacherib’s letter of ultimatum to the temple and opens it before the Lord. And then there’s this from 2 Kings 19:35 (ESV): “And that night the angel of the LORD went out and struck down 185,000 in the camp of the Assyrians. And when people arose early in the morning, behold, these were all dead bodies.”

Yeah…did you catch that?

185 thousand soldiers felled. One night’s work. And it doesn’t even sound like the angel broke a sweat! This astonishing angelic intervention merits a single sentence in the Bible.

Perhaps understandably, Sennacherib subsequently decided that attacking Jerusalem was, perhaps, not such a great idea after all. He heads back home to Nineveh…only to be killed by two of his own sons as he worships the false god Nisroch. (You know, this sort of thing can really put one off from a desire to worship false gods…)

And, of course, this account in 2 Kings is by no means unique or an isolated incident. God showed up and struck Moses’ sister Miriam with leprosy (Numbers 12); he sent an angel throughout Egypt to strike down every firstborn (Exodus 12:29-30), he killed a man for touching the Ark of the Covenant in an unrighteous manner (2 Samuel 6:6-7), he opened up a fiery pit beneath Korah, Dathan and others after they rebelled against Moses in the camp of Israel (Numbers 16:31-33)…on and on and on it goes.

Yet again, though, it is Jesus Himself who has the final word on signs and wonders (Matthew 16:1-4) when He very plainly says that “An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign…”

For the longest time I could not logically connect the tension between the many signs and wonders that Jesus Himself performed during His three years of ministry…and this statement from Matthew 16. If only “evil” and “adulterous” people seek after signs, why perform any at all? Does that not just feed the human desire for “parlor tricks?”

So Jesus labels us “evil and adulterous” for seeking after signs. That seems like a “discussion-ender” to me. In our weakness of faith, though, many of us (secretly?) crave after them anyway.

But here’s the real kick in the pants: Even if you did personally witness a miracle or supernatural sign, the Bible seems very clear that (ultimately) it would do absolutely nothing toward either causing you to believe on Christ or strengthening your confession of faith.

Don’t buy it? Think a pillar of fire would do it for you? Well, again, the Bible is bursting at the seams with appalling displays of unbelief, even in the face of the miraculous. Here’s just for starters: Matthew 8:28-34 and 9:32-34, Luke 6:6-11, John 5:2-10, John 9, John 11, John 12:9-11, John 18 and that’s just a quick sampling of the New Testament!

So as I consider the often-surprising and unexpected manifestations of God’s visible power in the Bible, my desire for signs and wonders has fallen off considerably. The more that I meditate on the holiness of God and my own inability to fully comprehend His love or wrath, the happier I am to say that God has already confirmed His ability to perform the miraculous in my own life.

No, He did not audibly speak to me. No, He has not appeared to me in a dream or vision. Instead, God chose to reveal His awesome power in my life by removing from me, all at once, the entrenched-for-decades desires for alcohol and drugs. And He caused the sun to rise again this morning. My heart is still pumping blood, my lungs are still taking in oxygen. No, none of these are pillars of fire, nor are they a parting of the Red Sea, but if you had the misfortune to interact with me prior to July of 1997, you would quite rightly recognize these “everyday events” as nothing short of miraculous.

(1) Many thanks to Jerry Bridges for his simple-yet-profound book, “Trusting God.”

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