I am touch with a broken mother who has just lost a second child—who can even attempt to offer words? A freshman college student agonizes about his parents’ difficult and contentious divorce. There is a lot of anonymous suffering in the world—much more than the terrorizing open dramas that seize the headlines. Where is God in all this?
It would be so much easier to cope with things if God simply intervened and cleaned up all the messes. No more global warming. The extinction of racial intolerance. No more human trafficking. The elimination of jihadist terror. A world of kind intentions. As one of the villagers asked the rabbi in Fiddler on the Roof: “Wouldn’t this be a good time for the Messiah to come?”
Life is not about miracles; it’s about miraculous work.
The miracles described in the Bible are wonderful tales and they salve anxiety for a little while. They are imaginative dramas and usually are the melded narratives of several succeeding traditions. But they don’t have much to do with real life and when we depend upon miracles, we default into mindless beings with no ambition, creativity, and responsibility.
Let’s face it: none of us is going to witness the seas part in this lifetime. But maybe we will save the oceans from our own devastation of them.
A genuine miracle occurs whenever one of us steps forward and, inspired by God, repairs the world. That’s when we human beings reveal our skills, our curiosity, our moral outrage; it’s then that we become God’s partners. From the fascist confinement of her cellar in Amsterdam, Anne Frank wrote of her adolescent yearnings and her belief in the human spirit—she changed the world. Martin Luther King Jr. turned America into a church of dreams and he changed the social fabric of this nation.
Life is not about miracles but about redemptive inner revelations that make us do miraculous things.
That is what Jacob discovered during a touching interval in Genesis. He was a teenager who fled his home and into the desert after a blood quarrel with his brother. He found himself alone in the darkness, divided emotionally and geographically from his family. Just like a lot of us have discovered ourselves along the path of life.
The young man laid himself to sleep under the stars, using a rock for a pillow, and trembled into a fitful slumber. He dreamed a dream: a ladder extended from the heavens to the earth. Angels were descending and ascending this wondrous staircase. Hope filled up in Jacob’s soul as he awoke, suddenly uplifted and unafraid. There was no one else around but the boy spoke out: “God was in this place but I, I did not know it!”
I’ve seen that; I’ve felt that. I have perceived something greater than myself exactly when I was depleted to something much less than myself. I had to—and so did you when it happened in your life. When I was fired, when I was insulted, when I divorced, when I failed—there were no miracles. There was just an intuition, a dream, a flash of hope, a memory—something stirred me to redemption, just as something intervened in young Jacob’s psyche exactly when he was at his lowest.
Now, it may have been God at work, it may have been miraculous. But to say it was a miracle is to repudiate my own efforts, my own strength or my will to live. To say that God did it all is to suggest that I am nothing but an empty vessel or some kind of feckless organism. It implies that I lack a brain and a heart, that fascination and inquisitiveness do not flow in my bloodstream. Yet every organized tradition asserts that I was created in God’s image. So I must have some value—and accountability—under the sun.
When we partner with God via prayer rather than just wait for God via phenomena, then life becomes immune to the extremists who have lost their capacity to dream in the first place. God created the world but people are creating it. It’s not about the big miracles; it’s about the small moments, bad and good.
Copyright 2016 The Moderate Voice