When it comes to miracles, I’m kind of a skeptic. By which I mean that if you’ve got half a dozen atheist doctors who swear your healing was a miracle, I’ll consider it. But one marvelous thing about our Church is that it’s skeptical the same way. So when the Church declares something a miracle, you’d better believe there’s no other explanation. As an apologist, I find these miracles encouraging. But as a human being, they break my heart.
It’s not the miracles that break my heart, I suppose. It’s the many, many others that don’t happen. The stillborn babies who stay dead. The kids in car accidents who never recover. The people who got on that plane, the girls stolen from their school, the children sent away as refugees. In a world where innocents are being slaughtered in Gaza and Syria and Ukraine and Iraq and Chicago, how can we claim that our healing or safety or raffle ticket was foreordained? Are we really so arrogant as to believe that God cares more about us than he does about the thousands, the millions he doesn’t save?
This is what miracles seem to imply. If God saves some, he chooses not to save others. It’s an ugly idea, one we’re generally more comfortable ignoring as we pacify ourselves with platitudes about how “everything happens for a reason” and “God will provide.” Tell that to the mother fleeing Mosul rather than convert at the point of the sword. Tell that to the father sending his 9-year-old thousands of miles to the north, trekking through the most dangerous areas on the planet alone in the hopes that there will be safety at the other end. Tell that to the woman who lost her husband on that flight, to the little boy whose sisters still haven’t been brought back. Tell it to the victims of rape and torture who cried out to a silent God. It’s not enough.
It’s not enough because it’s not true. God is not your fairy godmother. He’s not your personal assistant or your oncologist. He doesn’t send angels to surround you to make sure you’re happy all the time. God doesn’t care at all if you’re happy all the time. Because he’s not your babysitter. He’s your Father. And fathers love their children too much to give them everything they want.
Our problem is that we’ve confused providence with luck. We see good things happening to people and assume the universe is on their side. Bad things, of course, mean the opposite. There’s no rhyme or reason to it all beyond a vague feeling that God prefers some people to others or has “a special plan” for them, which never seems to involve much more than occasional volunteering for a few years after their miracle. And the millions left to languish? Well, let’s not think about them.
I refuse to worship that god. The god who plays favorites, who saves some while abandoning others, is no god worthy of the name. He’s certainly not the God who died on the Cross, the God who desires that all men be saved.1 He’s a petty magician, an idol for the privileged who want to validate their comfortable lives in the face of the suffering masses.
What delivers me from the Baal of Miracles? Perspective.
If this life were all there was, it would be impossible to love God. Even acknowledging how much suffering is entirely the result of sin, there is too much pain to believe in a good God. How can a good God allow cancer and tsunamis and famines on top of rape and genocide and brainwashing? How can we say that God is love? How can we cry that he is good when there is so much evidence to the contrary?
Because the meaning of this life is not this life.
We can’t understand what God is doing any more than an infant can understand what his mother is doing–less so. We see the now, or even the 50 years from now. We see the splash. God sees the ripples. And not just the ripples on our lives but the ripples on the lives of those we love and those we hate and those we’ve never bothered to notice. God sees the ripples on eternity. God knows which miraculous cure will bring conversion and which painful death will draw hearts to him. He doesn’t give you cancer because you need to learn how to be a better person, but if he lets you suffer through it, he is working. This is the God who took the greatest evil of all time, the torture and deicide of Good Friday, and turned it into the greatest good for the human race. There is nothing he cannot turn to good.2
This is what gives me hope. Not that God might work a miracle for me but that he is working miracles, daily miracles. This is providence, that for me in my comfortable life and for those suffering and abandoned, for every last person on this planet God is working miracles. He is holding them close and drawing them closer, even when they seem most alone. Because he knows what they need. This is the Christian answer to the problem of evil: God knows better than I. And he is working.
So what can I say to the mothers with empty arms, the broken victims of abuse and neglect, the refugees and hospice patients and orphans and addicts?
“I don’t know. I’m sorry. I don’t know what God is doing, but I know that he is doing something. I don’t know what good will come of this, but I know that good will come. I know this the way I know how to breathe or which way is down: not because I can prove or explain it but because everything in my life cries out this truth. You are loved in your suffering. God weeps with you, hanging on the Cross for you. I’m so sorry. I don’t know what he’s doing. But I know who he is. He is good. He is love. He is for you. And there will come a day when all is made clear, when you’re welcomed into the embrace of the God who has been waiting for you since before there was time and you see just how all things worked for good. But until then, I will stand with you in the unknowing. Together we will hope and love and suffer. And we will trust in a God who is so much bigger than our pain.”
Miracles seem arbitrary and unfair because our vision is so short. But we worship an eternal God who did not spare his own Son but handed him over for us all.3 There is nothing he will not do for us. Ours is to trust that when we lie broken amidst the rubble of our lives, even then he is working. Even then we are protected. Even then we are loved by a Father who wills our greatest good, though it may be a long time coming. Wait in hope, my friends. My God will not disappoint.