Imagine you’re renting a house. The tenant doesn’t keep very good care of the lawn because he can’t afford to fix his lawn mower. Now the tenant is going to be imprisoned by the city for reckless endangerment via extreme eyesore (also imagine the the mayor is a neat freak and is big on totalitarian laws).
So you go over to the tenant’s house and spent your own time and money to fix his lawn mower. And then you spend your time and effort to mow the lawn. You even pay for the gas. Twenty minutes later the lawn police come by to arrest your tenant, but when they see the immaculate lawn they realize they have no power here and move on empty handed.
The next day your tenant brags to everyone about how he cleaned up his lawn before the lawn police showed up. He really showed them. He doesn’t mention anything about the heroic efforts of a certain landlord. In fact he even talks about how much he showed the landlord. That landlord really wanted to evict him, but now he’s not going to get the chance.
How upset are you going to be. Upset enough to have the tenant arrested over the city’s anti-bragging laws (imagine that mayor also doesn’t like bragging)?
Okay how about this instead. You don’t fix the lawn mower. Instead you slip some money under the tenant’s door so he can afford to fix the lawn mower himself. Or maybe you let one of your contacts know that there’s a certain tenant who could use some odd jobs so he could afford a lawn mower repair job. As your involvement becomes more indirect and harder to recognize as help by the tenant, the less offensive a bragging tenant is. In fact if you anonymously sent a job his way he wouldn’t even suspect that you’re the one behind his deliverance. And when he brags he’s doing so in his ignorance and from his point of view correctly.
I think that’s the reason why God doesn’t often use flashy miracles, but we usually see people delivered in what looks like coincidence or even prudent (but unreasonably lucky) planing. However, so far I’ve just put out a story, so let’s see some scripture.
God wants us to live, but people seek after evil
So the setup is that I assert that God wants everyone to come to salvation. And we see that in places like 1 Timothy 2:3-6 “This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time.” And 2 Peter 3:9 “The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.”
However, we also see that people don’t seek after God in places like Romans 3:10-18, Psalm 53, and Psalm 14, which all say the same basic thing (i.e. no one seeks after God). But if you also look at Ezekiel 18 (specifically verse 23) we see that God really wants people to turn to him: “Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked, declares the Lord GOD, and not rather that he should turn from his way and live?”
Ignoring miracles is not safe, but it’s what we’re good at
Now what happens if people ignore God, but instead seek after evil. Well, I think Jesus spells it out pretty clearly in Matthew 11:20 - 24
Then he began to denounce the cities where most of his mighty works had been done, because they did not repent. “Woe to you Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I tell you it will be more bearable on the day of judgment for Tyre and Sidon than for you. And you Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? You will be brought down to Hades. For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. But I tell you that it will be more tolerable on the day of judgement for the land of Sodom than for you.”
So it’s not good to ignore the miracles of God, but is trusting in the miracles important or is the important thing trusting in God? Luke 16:19-31 tells the parable of the rich man and Lazarus and the end at verse 31 says an interesting thing about miracles: “He said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.’” Just like we saw that no one seeks after God it seems that people also have trouble believing even if they see a miracle.
My take away
I think I first started thinking about this while reading the Old Testament. People talk about Old Testament miracles like they were something that happened all the time, but my experience with reading the Old Testament is that they are actually kind of rare. It seems like very often God delivered people by throwing their enemies into confusion, emboldening the righteous and terrifying the wicked. Like with Gideon in Judges 7.
Thinking about the scripture that I mentioned here, it makes me think that God often offers deliverance in a way that’s not flashy or really all that direct. But I think that happens because just like the tenant in my story it’s easy for us to forget our helper and instead believe that we are the ones who saved ourselves. An act that may bring greater and deserved wrath.
All scripture quotes are taken from (ESV).