Relevant Biblical Passages: Matt. 8:5-13; 12:22-32; Mark 5:25-34; John 5:1-18; 11:1-45
Miracles: Gift or Reward? Some of Jesus’ miracles seem to have been performed without any particular merit or even faith on the part of the recipient. In other cases, the role of human faith is dominant. Lurking in the background is the same paradoxical tension between human responsibility and divine sovereignty.
Centurion’s Servant: Matthew 8:5-13. Jesus recognized the Roman centurion’s faith as being superior to anything he had seen in Israel. Who gets the credit for such faith? God or the centurion? How does one’s answer to that question relate to the issue of the cosmic conflict?
Blind and Mute Demoniac: Matthew 12:22-32. As the story is told in Matthew, there was no evidence of “faith” on the part of the blind and mute demoniac. Jesus healed him and then entered into an intense dialogue with the Pharisees over the question of whether Beelzebul could cast out his own demons. Included in his response is Jesus’ strongly worded statement about the unpardonable sin. Is it the “unpardonable” act a result of divine sovereignty or human intransigence? How does this incident reflect the issues in the Great Controversy?
Touch of Faith: Mark 5:25-34. According to Jesus’ own words, the woman who touched Jesus’ garment was healed because of her faith. Was the faith a gift? A response to a gift? An earned reward? To what extent does this story suggest that we should take the initiative in seeking God’s active power in our lives?
The 38-year Cripple at Bethesda: John 5:1-18. This “sabbath” miracle raises all kinds of intriguing questions: Why did Jesus wait and heal the man on the Sabbath? Why did he wait for 38 years? Why did he not heal anyone else at the pool on that day? To what extent did Jesus require “faith” of the man? How does this story fit into the picture of the cosmic struggle?
Lazarus’ Resurrection: John 11:1-45. When Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, for whose benefit was it? Whose “faith” was rewarded? Or was the raising of Lazarus an act designed to build faith rather than to reward faith? Or was there a quite different purpose?
1. Is it possible to determine when a miracle is a reward for faith or intended to be stimulus to faith?
2. In light of the issues in the cosmic battle, should we expect fewer miracles or more? Here are two quotes from C. S. Lewis which are worth pondering in that connection:
“Prayer is not a machine. It is not magic. It is not advice offered to God. Our act, when we pray, must not, any more than all our other acts, be separated from the continuous act of God Himself, in which alone all finite causes operate. It would be even worse to think of those who get what they pray for as a sort of court favorites, people who have influence with the throne. The refused prayer of Christ in Gethsemane is answer enough to that. And I dare not leave out the hard saying which I once heard from an experienced Christian: “I have seen many striking answers to prayer and more than one that I thought miraculous. But they usually come at the beginning: before conversion, or soon after it. As the Christian life proceeds, they tend to be rarer. The refusals, too, are not only more frequent; they become more unmistakable, more emphatic.”
Does God then forsake just those who serve Him best? Well, He who served Him best of all said, near His tortured death, “Why hast thou forsaken me?” When God becomes man, that Man, of all others, is least comforted by God, at His greatest need. There is a mystery here which, even if I had the power, I might not have the courage to explore. Meanwhile, little people like you and me, if our prayers are sometimes granted, beyond all hope and probability, had better not draw hasty conclusions to our own advantage. If we were stronger, we might be less tenderly treated. If we were braver, we might be sent, with far less help, to defend far more desperate posts in the great battle. — “The Efficacy of Prayer, ” in World’s Last Night and Other Essays, 10-11.
“He wants them to learn to walk and must therefore take away His hand; and if only the will to walk is really there He is pleased even with their stumbles. Do not be deceived, Wormwood. Our cause is never more in danger than when a human, no longer desiring, but still intending, to do our Enemy’s will, looks round upon a universe from which every trace of Him seems to have vanished, and asks why he has been forsaken, and still obeys. — C. S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters, 39.