The Limits of Signs, Wonders, and the Spectacular

I often hear people say, more or less, “If God would only [insert your miracle here] then I would believe he exists.”  I’m less convinced each year that such a spectacular event would be of much help.  What people want is not certainty that God exists, but that God is present.  What people need is not philosophical or scientifically demonstrable proof of God’s existence, but God’s presence.

Frederick Buechner tells the story of a God who writes in the skies, “I REALLY EXIST” or “GOD IS.”  All the world sees this and are amazed.  It’s inhabitants respond in a variety of ways.  God continues to rewrite his message in different languages and with different colors an sounds.  Then, one day, and ordinary child looks up and asks the simple question, “So what?  What difference does it make that God exists?”

We all want to be certain, we all want proof, but the kind of proof we tend to want – scientifically or philosophically demonstrable proof that would silence all doubts once and for all – would not in the long run, I think, answer the fearful depths of our needs at all.  For what we need to know, of course, is not just that God exists, not just that beyond the steely brightness of the stars there is cosmic intelligence of some kind that keeps the whole show going, but that there is a God right here in the thick of our day-by-day lives who may not be writing messages about himself in the stars but who in one way or another is trying to get messages through our blindness as we move around down here knee-deep in the fragrant muck and misery and marvel of the world.  It is not objective proof of God’s existence that we want but, wether we use religious language for it or not, the experience of God’s presence.  That is the miracle we are really after.  And that is also, I think, the miracle that we really get. (Message in the Stars)

This week, instead of looking for signs and wonders, look for the God who became flesh and blood and dwelled among us through that still, small voice that longs to reach you.


4 thoughts on “The Limits of Signs, Wonders, and the Spectacular

  1. Ok George…. I”m going to challenge you here… not regarding your premise, which I agree with wholeheartedly. It your final sentence abut the still small voice. I cannot even distinguish between the “still small voices”… All of them claim to be God’s voice and yet if I were to follow some of them through (obey them) there would be definite negative consequences.

    I’m sure you will reply, “if they do not jibe with Scripture (this is the test), then they are not from God”… However, what if they are scripture neutral?

    Gary Friesen, in his book, “Decision Making & the Will of God” discusses this “tradition” and many others but shows they are NOT Normative. However, this doesn’t stop pastors and preachers from extrapolating and making it sound like it’s normal for everyone… I know the still small voice is regarding Elija in the mountain after he ran from Jesabel (sp?).

    Honestly, it just makes me feel like I’m missing some vital Christian experience.

    1. I too can attest to the reality of several small voices or thoughts. If I ran with all of them I would be broke. However, the fact that I cannot yet discern the difference between my thoughts and God’s voice does not negate the reality that God desires to speak with us personally and through the shared mind of Christ and the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit it seems most likely that God does this through “the still, small voice.” We have plenty of checks and balances – Scripture, the body of Christ, reason, church history, and experience. There are plenty of examples across “traditions” that attest to the reality of communing with God in this manner. It may be that we ARE missing some vital Christian experience. However, that should not be a defeating statement, but a serendipitous opportunity to experience more of God’s reality. Of course, there will always be quacks (you and I will be them sometimes) who get it wrong, but we can’t allow that to keep us from seeking to get it right. Thanks for the response.

      1. Ok, but what practical good does it do to know that any “still small voice” … “could” be from God or maybe now… I mean what if I wanted to communicate with my son and I did in in such a way that he couldn’t tell if it was the leaves rustling, the wind, or me?

        I have tried so hard to discern that small voice and so far, the only still small voice that is 100% accurate is when it’s telling me what NOT to do, when I’m about to sin.

        So of course I won’t give up WANTING to discern the “still small voices”, but after 20 years of trying and failing, you can’t really blame me for being discouraged.

        As far as God’s voice… I may be one of the few, but as you know, I put my trust in Christ after he AUDIBLY spoke to me (or an angel, I won’t know until I see Him).. that was 20 years ago.

        I feel this topic ties into your last post about wanting God to tell us what to do.

      2. I would argue that it serves a huge practical purpose. Knowing that God desires a regular, ongoing, conversational relationship is amazing! It is a far cry from the deistic God of this “Christian” nation. Too many of us, myself included, have either flirted with or sold ourselves to a God who did amazing things back then, but is content to be silent now. God’s choice of communication, I assume, is the best possible choice for accomplishing his intended purposes. The reasons we struggle to grasp this are many (see my earlier post again, Hearing God).
        I would venture to say that you have heard God more than you realize. I might even argue to go so far as to say that every good and right choice you have made has been in response to God speaking to you in that still, small voice. Assuming I’m right, and I may not be, a brief reflective exercise will reveal that if every good and right choice is a sign that you’ve heard God’s still, small voice then you’ve heard it quite a few times.
        I’m new to this conversational relationship approach to living life with Jesus. I’ve always been more of the kind of person who reads Scripture and does what it says. However, as I explore the depths of concepts like “pray without ceasing” and “abide in me as I abide in you” I am being challenged to broaden my understanding of how we were created to relate with God. These blog posts are designed to pull all of this together. I’m really appreciative of your feedback and pushback. This is what is known in my tradition as Christian conferencing, although I’m pretty sure the forefathers of my tradition never did it via blogging 🙂

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