Great Expectations

Fred Clark who blogs at Slacktivist is one of my favorite bloggers. He’s posted a few blog entries regarding the mining tragedy that happened recently in West Virginia. In one of the entries he raises the issue of how we use the word “miracle” to describe so many of the positive events that take place and how our liberal use of this word could pose a problem in regards to how we view God’s interaction with the universe.

First of all, what happened in West Virginia was a tragic event. It’s horribly painful to even try to consider what these families went through. First being told their loved ones were alive after being buried for over forty hours, then to be told three hours later that there was a miscommunication and that only one miner had survived. Talk about an emotional roller coaster. How could anyone actually deal with that?

In addition to being such a heartbreaking story for this nation to watch unfold, this event has provided us a very unique glimpse into our interaction with God in the midst of both pure joy and shocking tragedy. When news of the miners being alive reached it’s way to the families, their natural reaction, like anyone else’s would be, was one of enormous joy and thankfulness to God for this apparent miracle. They had all gathered at a near-by Baptist church to wait in worry for the status of their loved ones. Throughout the ordeal they held prayer vigils and called to God for some kind of miracle to take place in order for these miners to emerge alive and well. After the initial news of joy and relief set in, three hours went by until their hopes were shattered by the news that only one of the miners had survived and the rest were not found alive. Fred Clark writes in his post:

Then we watched as the families’ joy turned into grief and their hope turned into despair. Their joy had been infused with theological meaning and gratitude for a miraculous answer to prayer. When it turned out there had been no miracle (or, in Gov. Manchin’s words, 11 fewer miracles), their grief was likewise infused with theological meaning.

“We’re Christian people ourselves,” one grief-stricken family member said. “We have got — some of us is right down to saying that we don’t even know if there is a Lord anymore. We had a miracle, and it was taken away from us.”

This whole event has led me to ask the question: “What am I to expect from God?”. Is it silly for me to pray to God that I have a safe flight to Pittsburgh? Should I ask him to keep my wife and child safe on the roadways? If I loose my car keys, do I pray that God somehow leads me to them? When a loved one is on the verge of death, do I pray to God for a miracle to keep them alive somehow? Did John the Baptist pray to Jesus to ask that he wouldn’t be decapitated?

We look back to the the Bible and over and over we find that God clearly does not care too much about the safety of those who are in relationship with him. Over and over he challenges his followers to leave the comforts of a safe life and follow him into a more dangerous faith. Abraham, David, Jesus, Paul, John the Baptist and many others clearly did not care more about their safety than their calling by God. Their mere willingness to seek God and have a relationship with him is the precondition to a more dangerous, perhaps shorter, life.

Maybe if I allow God to mold me and shape me, I will pray to him for the betterment of the things that God cares about, not what I care about. Maybe my relationship with God shouldn’t be defined by what I expect from him but rather what God expects from me? Does God care where my car keys are? Or does he care more deeply that I have neighbors and friends who need love and compassion? Does God care about my career more than He cares about His relationship with me and what kind of fruits are the result of my connection to Him?

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately I guess and this event was something that really jumped out at me. Who knows, I guess trying to put God on the couch and get into his mind is impossible but I want to be open to looking at how to pattern my interaction with God in ways that glorify His role in this world, not mine. Regardless of any of these kind of thoughts, my prayers will still be with those families that lost loved ones. I pray God will comfort them and bring some kind of redemption through this dark time.


8 thoughts on “Great Expectations

  1. 2 Corinthians 12:5-10

    Of such an one will I glory: yet of myself I will not glory, but in mine infirmities. 6 For though I would desire to glory, I shall not be a fool; for I will say the truth: but now I forbear, lest any man should think of me above that which he seeth me to be, or that he heareth of me. 7 And lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure. 8 For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me. 9 And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 10 Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong.

  2. Zach,

    Those are some powerful thoughts. God owes me nothing! Nor does God’s glory have anything to do with my health or wealth – he’s actually quite a bit bigger than that.

    My heart has been breaking for these families, but as you have “reformed” this story for me, it breaks even a bit more.

  3. This whole event has led me to ask the question: “What am I to expect from God?”. Is it silly for me to pray to God that I have a safe flight to Pittsburgh? Should I ask him to keep my wife and child safe on the roadways? If I loose my car keys, do I pray that God somehow leads me to them? When a loved one is on the verge of death, do I pray to God for a miracle to keep them alive somehow? Did John the Baptist pray to Jesus to ask that he wouldn’t be decapitated?

    Wow. I share the same sentiments and have wondered much the same. What are we to expect from God? Everything? All that is good? Contentment? Spiritual fulfillment? Daily safety in our every day habits? Really great post, thanks Zach.

  4. This was a crazy story, and I pray that the families involved will continue to seek the Lord through this sad time. I am not sure how I would react to this situation if my family were involved, but I bet that I would feel betrayed by God for letting bad things happen (that is, for letting bad things to actually happen to ME). I know that I fall into the mindset that God owes me something, that I deserve my 80 or so years here on earth, that I have somehow earned having good things happen to me. Today, however, is a gift. Life is an undeserved gift from the Creator. the only thing that I deserve is to experience separation from God, to pay the death penalty for my sins against God. But so often I confuse his gift of mercy as a right that I have attained. That is my prideful nature. nice post.

  5. I realize that this is not where you are going with this, but it is in my heart big time right now.

    I talk to Israelis who justify war and torture and cheating and lying and other things done against evil in order to save life, to protect their country. The view is that saving life or sustaining a government (US or Israel) is the ultimate end by which any means or action become acceptable. This breaks me as I try to fairly wrap my head around morality.

    God has no national covenant with any modern political body. And as you say, I can’t find scripture to support that he wants us healthy and old. His goals are not against this, they are just elsewhere on more important things, like spiritual redeption in Christ and compassion. So how can sin in one context, be called right in the context of protecting somthing I love i.e. children, country? I would want to kill a man who is trying to kill my brother, but could I call it right? Disciples didn’t act on their own best interest, you are right. And God is a great deal bigger than this, Dean is right. The church will survive until the end. fact. SO why do I have such a strong impulse to take morality into my own hands, in my own moment, to sustain that which cannot really last and selfishly protect that which I love too much? Why do we think it is so reasonable to get lost in egocentric prayer?

  6. Zach…

    I randomly found your blog searching around on the internet, and read this post…and I guess, I just wanted to say thanks. Lately I’ve really been thinking about God, and life, and why I’m here, and what the point is in living if we’re not living for ourselves…and what it means to live for God. Not to mention, I’ve felt removed from God, and I pray all the time, which worried me, and frustrated me…I thought prayer would automatically pull me “closer” to God. Tonight I went to my church’s saturday night service, and the pastor talked about how it is we are supposed to live for Jesus, and where he belongs in our lives, and that started me thinking a bit about my own life, and what it is I should be seeking. I started thinking about how it is that I am so caught up over things of this life…and I was frustrated. I was frustrated with how concerned I am with myself, and how incapable I am of stepping outside of myself and looking towards my greater purpose in life, which is a life for God, and a life for others.

    So I went home, and watched football, overindulged in some chicken fingers, and tried to get music video’s onto my ipod…meaningful, right?

    So then I’m surfing the internet, no longer thinking about how I need to get my life back on track and stop thinking about myself so much, and I remember someone telling me you did an interview with RELEVANT magazine, so I decided to look it up…(I’m a little bit of a j.e.w. fan.)

    (…ok…a huge j.e.w. fan)

    but that’s beside the point…

    so a half hour later I find this blog…and read a few posts…and then I come to this one.

    And BAM! It hits me like a ton of bricks…of course I’m not getting closer to God!! I pray about ME! I am pathologically selfish, even during prayer!

    I pray about stuff I want, about guys I am attracted to, about getting a new job, about grades, about all this stuff that has absolutely no eternal signifigance, and involved no realization on my part that I am loved by the creator of the universe…

    In short, I turned God into my magic genie.

    So anyway…thanks for this blog, because, I’m pretty sure that I’ll get a good nights sleep for the first time in months.


  7. david, it’s always hard to draw these kinds of lines. when defending ideals or loved ones that we hold dear, when is it ok to go on the offensive?

    maybe DEFENDING what’s important to us looks differently than FIGHTING for it. but the toughest lines to define are always the thin ones.

    thanks for the comment and for stopping by. i’m glad you connected with some of the post and I think we all feel the same things you are feeling as well. don’t be a stranger.

  8. hey guys,

    two thoughts on a great post and thread of comments:

    1) pick up _how (not) to speak of God_ by xian, irish philosopher peter rollins (in 2009 i see him in your sidebar, zach, so you might be way ahead of me on this). he’s got a chapter on truth (that which is factual/accurate) and Truth (as a name for God) as the depth of reality and tranformative of our surroundings. in which chapter, he

    2) talks about rahab. lying. to save life. except he argues that she wasn’t lying if you look at truth as Truth.

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