The other day my friend John (www.cowart.info) and I were having breakfast, as we are wont to do about every other week or so. Then we went back to his house and had a pretty interesting discussion. I have had to think about it for some time. John, I know you are reading this. Set me straight if I misstate something.
John expressed concern that the way the Gospel is presented is without hope. He said, moreover, that even the way I present it offers no hope. (Imagine! This is the cost of friendship -- having to hear an honest assessment about one’s self.) He went on to say that it distresses him that the miraculous moves of God we hear about always seem to take place somewhere else, at some other time. We discussed the possibility that some of these reports, the extra-biblical ones anyway, may be overstated. We also talked about fake miracles that seem to abound these days. We considered the Billy Graham Crusade that took place here a few years ago. The promo was that Jacksonville would never be the same. But it’s just about like Mr. Graham found it -- unchanged -- well, except for an increase in local government corruption. John said it was really nothing but a Republican political rally with some Christianity sprinkled in.
More about hope: by hope, John appeared to mean hope that God is going to help me with the rent, or heal my child, or fix my toothache, etc., if I believe the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
I listened to John and tried to process what he presented. After leaving and thinking about this conversation for days, it appeared to me that our discourse moved around three ideas:
1. That God ought to do more miracles since there are so many people who need them, if He is really good.
2. That if He would, we would not have to rely on faith. We could see some miracles for ourselves.
I have struggled for two weeks now trying to think how to write this. I seem unable to express my thoughts without becoming over-complex. In outline, they are these:
1. There is an assuption that if God is really good, He will do as I think He should about my and others’ problems. This in turn assumes I am good and my goodness is the measuring rod of God’s goodness.
2. It also assumes that we do not deserve God’s unbridled wrath. But according to the Bible, we are criminals against His law, we hate Him by our inherited nature, we are willing participants in the kingdom of His enemy, Satan, and we want nothing to do with Him (God). We make up fake gods who are like us (see #1).
3. It ignores that hope only has meaning in the face of despair. If we understand our true condition before God, we should be in the depths of despair. We should not expect to have any hope.
With these in mind, I contend that the Gospel as it is presented in Scripture is that God has made an arrangement in the form of a covenant to forgive anyone who will believe on His Son, Jesus Christ as his or her substitute. This implies an admission that what happened to Jesus should happen to us. So the point of hope is that God will forgive us. I don’t see any other kind of hope presented in the New Testament except that God will forgive us on these terms, and as a result will not torture and then exterminate us in the world to come, as we deserve. I have not seen anything in the preaching of the Apostles that involves getting a new refrigerator, or even a good used one, God giving me money or anything else. He may do these things. But the presentation of the Gospel does not include this, and for many, believing on the Son of God has meant a cold chop or a hot stake, or imprisonment or poverty, or persecution. What is offered is the promise of resurrection from the dead (which all will experience) and that, at the judgement, those who belong to Christ will be passed over for judgement, and therefore will enter into eternal life.
Regarding miracles to confirm my faith: No amount of miracles is enough for those who are dependent on them. For those who recognize that the miracles that have occured in confirmation of God’s revelation in history and have been recorded in Scripture, no more are necessary, whether God ever does another one or not.