If I were to believe the majority of what I hear from Christians, I’d have to believe their lives were extraordinary. Answered prayers, miracles, their best friend (who happens to be the God of the universe) looking out for them all the time. Wow, it sounds awesome!
Reality seems to tell a different tale though. I don’t see any difference between circumstances and events that surround non-Christians and circumstances and events that surround Christians. Both groups have sickness, disease, death, divorce, poverty, and depression…and in pretty much equal amounts. Both groups even seem to handle those things similarly. Sure, one group may put on a really brave face and proclaim that their prayers were answered when little Johnny’s cold goes away, but it’s a cold. They usually go away.
You know someone who had stage 4 cancer and after being prayed for it went into remission? Must be a miracle, right? (I mean, that’s what you’re going to write on Facebook!) What about the non-Christian with stage 4 cancer that wasn’t prayed for and their cancer went into remission? What about the Christian with stage 4 cancer who was prayed for and died? What about the Christian family driving to church who were struck and killed by a drunk driver? What about the drunk driver who survived the crash? What about the Christian who prays for a good job and gets one? What about the non-Christian who doesn’t pray and gets an even better job? What about the Christian who prays for any job at all and can’t find one?
You see, you can either feed me a line that says, “Well, God answered our prayers; He just has a different plan for us than what we wanted,” or you can just admit that it’s all pretty random and it all just seems to follow the rules of nature that god may or may not have set up. Why does one child get hit by a car and survives and another child gets hit by a car and dies? Maybe it’s as simple as the thickness of their skull, or the speed and angle with which they were hit? Maybe God didn’t save your son any more than he pushed your son in front of the car.
That seems to be a tough thing for Christians to swallow, but I believe an honest survey of the world around us clearly bears this randomness out. Trying to squeeze God’s hand into each random good thing that happens doesn’t do him, you, or those watching you any favors. Of course, this makes passages like John 14:14 (“If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it.”) and Mark 16:17-18 (“…they will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover.”) rather problematic. Fortunately (or unfortunately) for Christians, the passage in Mark was probably added by scribes and I’m sure there’s some theological reason why the passage in John isn’t applicable to us today. (Isn’t that convenient?)
However, don’t give up just yet if you choose to believe in God and yet recognize the randomness of the world around you. Jesus seemed to recognize it too. In Matthew 5:45, he is quoted as saying, “He [God] causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” Basically, to paraphrase, “Good happens. Shit happens. To all. Pretty much equally.” (The Kingery Standard Version)
In short, Christians, maybe tone down the use of the words “miracle” and “answer to prayer.” They’re starting to lose their meaning and you’re starting to look silly. Do you think Christianity would be what it is today if Jesus’s definition of a miracle was someone getting over a cold or someone not dying after falling on their head? Those things happen all the time. Now, the kinds of things Jesus considered to be miracles? Turning water into wine, walking on water, healing a withered arm — feel free to call those miraculous answers to prayer!
More on this topic towards the end of the Drunk Ex-Pastors podcast below.