Discussions of Book of Mormon issues and evidences, plus other topics related to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Don't Begrudge Other Folks Their Miracles

"Do Big Tragedies Negate Small Miracles?" was a post from 2009 that I'd like to mention again today. It deals with the discrepancy between some people testifying of small miracles when, for example, trying to find lost car keys or a stray cat, while tragedy and death sweeps the earth. For someone whose car was just stolen or wrecked while engaged in Church service, hearing someone else bear testimony of God's mercy in finding lost car keys can easily raise all sorts of questions. For the parent whose child has died, hearing others testify of miraculous healing of a child can cause the heart to cry out, "Why not my child?"

Sadly, we live in a mortal world filled with pain and death. Occasionally, though, there is relief, even miraculous relief. The miracles are the exceptions. Normally, when believers are thrown into the fire, they burn and die (as Alma and Amulek witnessed to their horror in the Book of Mormon, and as the history of Christianity also testifies). But sometimes, so rarely, we have cases like Shadrach and company in the Book of Daniel who miraculously survive the furnace. Be glad for them and their posterity, not angry at the apparent unfairness of God's miracles. Small or large, miracles are not normal and are not meant to be distributed uniformly, on demand, according to our sense of fairness. When they occur, let us not feel grief that we were not the rare recipients. Let us not belittle those who received the miracle nor condemn ourselves for not receiving it.

While it's easy to grow weary of people testifying of God's power in finding little things, there can be divine purposes achieved in those little events. My own testimony of God's reality began with a 6-year-old child's prayer seeking God's help to find the precious plastic magnifying glass that Dad had loaned to me. I had looked everywhere without success and needed it. My Dad needed that 5-cent toy for his work, I thought, and I had lost it. After praying as my mother had taught me, I got up off my knees and made a beeline for a middle drawer in my dresser. I moved something and there it was. That child felt that God has answered a prayer miraculously, and was the beginning of many personal experiences in prayer. It was also the beginning of many personal experiences with lost objects where things far more precious and more worthy of prayer were not recovered, including a tragic loss last week with severe and profound implications that I can't get into here. But it would be easy for me, suffering from the loss of something desperately needed, to wonder how God could not help me find something much more important when a worthless magnifying glass is "miraculously" restored for a kid.

I'm going to have to trust God on this one, and remember the basic rules of mortality here: this is a tough place where we are all going to face pain, loss, and death. Some sooner, some later. And among these basic rules is the corollary that when something cannot be found, it's lost and probably isn't coming back. If someone does get an exception to that, be glad for them. But don't get bitter or upset that it wasn't you.

Don't begrudge folks their miracles. Even if it involves lost car keys or cats.


Papa D said...

Amen, Jeff. Thanks for writing this post.

Jason Newkirk said...

great post, I really enjoy reading what you have to share!

Unknown said...

Thank you for your insight, very inspiring.

jackg said...

I enjoyed your post, Jeff. This is a very important discussion, and you did a great job to answer some of the questions associated with miracles, prayer, and God's will in our lives.

I would like to add my thoughts on the subject. It seems to me that people forget about the sovereignty and wisdom of God and what that means. There are times when it's vital for a young boy to know that God is listening and is absolutely interested in the little things of life. There are times when God allows things to happen because it will bring us closer to Him. God gives us what we need, which is my operating definition of grace for me. Ultimately, God's purpose for our lives is relational, and we have to trust Him that He indeed knows what is best for us and what we need at any given time in our lives.

Dr. Charles Stanley once said that God answers prayers in three ways: Yes; wait; and, I've got something better for you. That teaching has helped me through a lot of life's trials.

I once listened to a Jewish rabbi who was teaching on miracles, and he used the sending of manna from heaven as an example of a miracle. Then he asked: "Is it any less of a miracle that food comes from the ground?" I thought that was a good question.

When it comes to physical healing, isn't a miracle that our bodies generally heal themselves? We take our immune system for granted until the word AIDS intrudes on us, then we realize the amazing things our bodies do regarding healing.

There will always be people who will struggle with these issues and questions. Our view of God, and our theology, plays a vital role in how we answer these questions in our efforts to help others understand.

Again, I thought you did a great job, Jeff.

Merry Christmas!

Jeff Lindsay said...

Thanks, appreciate the comments. Jackg, would love to meet sometime and learn more about your story and views. Appreciate your respectful challenges to us and your insights.

Anonymous said...

Just a note on the language we use when discussing these matters....

I can see the value in characterizing ordinary occurrences as "miracles" (as did the rabbi mentioned by jackd). There really is something wondrous and inexplicable in even the most ordinary things. As Walt Whitman put it in that great American theological text, Leaves of Grass, "a mouse is miracle enough to stagger sextillions of infidels."

I can also see the value in thinking, as Anna did in her comment on the previous post, that despite appearances "life is fair" in the sense that "[w]e all experience the trials that are necessary to become who a loving Heavenly Father wants us to be." She's right to stress the importance of, not just our particular circumstances, but how we respond to those circumstances.

On the other hand, there are important differences between an ordinary mouse and, say, the parting of the Red Sea. And those differences are obscured when we refer to both sorts of things with the same word, "miracle."

Ditto for Anna's point. In some cosmic sense, all lives are equally "fair." Yet there are obvious and important differences between the life circumstances of, say, Mitt Romney, born into wealth and privilege, and those of, say, some Indian child, born into the untouchable caste with cystic fibrosis and an abusive father who beats her and puts her out on the street to sell her body. And if we're going to insist that for both of these people life is equally "fair," then we're obscuring some rather significant differences.

Language can function in ways that call our attention to similarities while obscuring differences. It can also work to stress differences and downplay similarities. And these things can sometimes have tremendous political consequences. Just what those consequences might be in the present cases I'll leave to the miraculously intelligent and always fair readers of Mormanity to ponder.

Merry Christmas, everyone.

-- Eveningsun

Papa D said...

Amen, Eveningsun.

Merry Christmas, everyone!

Paul said...

Enjoyed the post! Eveningsun and jackg I enjoyed yours as well, insightful.

I think we all take meaning from our own experiences, and if finding car keys is miraculous to them and means something to them, that's fine.

However, I sense an underlying presumption here that all lives balance out in the amount of suffering they accumulate in their lives, (which is an assumption I find fascinating, and which I first recognized in myself during my mission, serving in some very poor parts of Mexico). That we'll all have a turn at losing our car keys or losing a child, or perhaps as the sufferers of the Bhopal incident in India, have everyone you know and love disappear in a horrific scene of carnage to forever haunt you. Thank goodness, we will not all have a turn at each of the horrors life can dish out, and some of us will have a turn at very few of them. There are some people who simply have VASTLY more difficult lives than others. Everyone loses loved ones, of course. But not everyone suffers the pervasive, all-encompassing misery that characterizes the lives of some of the less fortunate on our planet, including, of course, losing loved ones under particularly horrific circumstances.

In Mexico, I knew someone who had their complete family wiped out in a matter of days from cholera. There was no miracle there, I suppose.

One of the things I do find fascinating to, is how quick we are to label normal, likely occurrences as miracles or divine intervention. You don't see angels descending from the heavens, or events like the red sea parting, but only things which also have very reasonable conventional explanations. Aren't miracles supposed to be supernatural by definition?