> 23 Surprised by joy
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22. Miracles in our time of suffering
Other people’s miracles do not persuade us to have faith, other people’s miracles work only for those other people. Our own miracles will help our faith, but even that is not true faithfulness, for no tangible thing will encourage us to have faith through the time of unanswered prayers and through the disappointment at the absence of the miracle. There has to be more than that faith, for it is a hang on “at any cost” faith, in the face of seemingly unanswered prayers.
Psalm 23 models the childlike faith of answered prayer where comfort abounds for those who love the Lord. This is a time of unusual closeness to God in an extremity. But Psalm 22 models the faithful, yet unanswered prayer of those comfortless, loving the Lord in an unlovely place. This is a confusing life pattern of torment and pain, when the Lord seems far away, apparently silent, with His face turned away, hidden. The immature formula we have clung to that God always answers prayer has failed, and His promises and reassurance seem utterly false in the silence.
God, it seems, wants us to fertilize our faith in the dark times and that down time is where it truly flourishes. We are strengthened by our reaching out from the pit, and nourished in our stretching to find Him there, feeling for Him when He is seemingly not there. It is as if we need unsolvable problems, terrible uncertainty and flailing in the dark, to grow firmer faith. We are ever striving, stretching and working to reach Him, praying without ceasing for our desires, and finding him seemingly absent. It is all for our sake, but it is a hard way to grow faith. Still, it is the faith that cannot be shaken, because it has already been tested in the shaking.
It is true that we do enjoy miracles, but as our faith matures they seem to become less frequent. In this we are reminded of the cup that was not taken from the Son, nor the thorn from the ageing Paul. Is it that as we gain more faith we receive less encouragement from God? Is it that He knows us well, and knows that we will stay there with Him? Those embarking on the journey need courage to stay on track. Those already in the Way, are in Him in Truth, and with their life in His life, held in His hand. Faith is toughened by testing, and to God our freely offered faith expressed in love for Him is more precious than we can imagine. We know how He longed for the love of His people for the prophets expressed His sentiments, and so we know how He appreciates our love for Him. “When the son of Man comes will he find faith in the earth?”
Everything difficult indicates something with which we are not equipped to deal with, like we need to learn a new skill. So, if suffering is not overwhelming us, it may be that we have learned the lesson of suffering.
God sent His son and other blessings to us as well, to encourage good and to discourage evil, with the weapon of faith. We see the darkest side of life and the deepest trials without God’s response to our call. We can be like doubting Thomas, or we can be like that Son and Job, and we can still believe. Because of His son’s death, God knows how tragedy feels. And it was then and now to that Son that the NT writers keep directing our gaze. It was the cross that focused the new convert’s faith and the resurrection that focused their hope. May we also follow.
When God seems absent He may be closest of all. When Jesus died, and God seemed also dead as well, and disappointment set in, there was that Son alive again. “He is risen, he is risen”. So tragedy, darkness and then triumph seem to be the pattern, if only we can move through the darkness in the pit to the triumph. He too is “acquainted with grief”, and it was Psalm 22 that he quoted. But it is with patience we wait, through things we might not expect, trouble, hardship, lies about ourselves, persecution, famine, nakedness, danger and sword, yet in all things we are more than conquerors. “All things work together for good “, is the best miracle.
John Donne’s Hymn of Christ “Though thou with clouds of anger do disguise thy face; yet through that mask, I know those eyes, which, though they turn away sometimes, they never will despise.
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