A Letter to a Friend: How Does God Act in the World?

    What a great question you ask:  “I would like to know if anybody believes
    that God gives us signs.”  You wonder whether “God discontinued the
    ‘sign’ policy after realizing that people who want to do something they
    know they probably shouldn't, consistently interpret random events as a
    sign that God wants them to do that very thing…. It is often difficult to
    know whether a setback is a true sign or not, especially when persistence
    is considered such a virtue.” You conclude: “All that being said, I do think
    God and his angels do conspire to set up events, not only to answer
    prayers, but also to teach us lessons that are frequently painful. If they
    weren't painful, we wouldn't be compelled to ‘get it.’  This is not to say
    that everything painful is necessarily a lesson, because crimes and
    accidents do happen.  The hard part is trying to figure out which is which.”

    The underlying question you ask I think is: who is God and how does God
    act in the world?  Does God cause events to happen in our lives to teach
    us lessons that we need to learn—and does God send us signs in visible
    ways so as to influence what God would have us do?  

    I will respond for myself—but must begin by acknowledging that I do not
    know the answer—and can only share my experience and my faith.  There
    is only one “RIGHT” answer to these questions—but God has chosen not
    to fully reveal the answers to us.  So we, individually and together, by
    prayer, study, and discussion endeavor to live the questions—knowing
    how critical they and the answers are.

    As for me, I do not believe that God would set up events to teach us
    lessons that we need to learn.  Simply stated, I believe that we were
    created in love by a loving God who wants us to be in relationship with
    God—and to deal with each other as children of God—or as Nouwen
    would say: as God’s beloved sons and daughters.  I know and understand
    God to be in the “here and now” as well as in the future.  When life’s
    events create hurdles or hurts for us, God is with us.  I acknowledge that
    we are indeed tested by the events of our lives.  The test is whether we
    respond faithfully to God who loves us—or whether, in the exercise of our
    free will, we turn away from God.  Finally, having said this: I acknowledge
    and believe in miracles and that God can and does act in visible ways out
    of love for us—and that God loves us no less when the miracles we pray
    for do not occur when we need them most.

    Now, to the question you ask: do I believe that God gives us signs?  If by
    signs, you mean that God causes an event to happen so as to give us a
    signal of the right action (or wrong action) to take, my answer is “not
    really.”  In your example, if the house were to catch fire while the drugs
    are being manufactured or Edison was working on the light bulb—it would
    be a fire from explainable, natural circumstances, I believe.  But God is
    available to speak and may speak in that situation—if we are listening for
    God with an “open heart.”  I believe that God speaks to us--but not by
    causing the event. If we approach God in prayer and in the right spirit,
    God speaks to us in ways that we will understand.  

    We are open to hearing God when we choose to spend time with him in
    prayer, in Bible reading, in discussions with other Christians, and by just
    being quiet “in the presence of God.”  I do not believe that God causes
    events to happen so that we learn lessons—or to test us—although every
    day in so many different ways, we are tested and given the opportunity to
    say “yes” to God’s love in our reaction to the circumstances of our lives.

                                                  “Christ In Us”

    Thank you all for your gentle and faithful responses to my questions
    concerning “Christ In Us” during our last time together.  I’ve continued to
    read about this and although I am far from being totally clear about what it
    actually means, I believe I am on the right path.

    When Henri Nouwen wrote in The Genesee Diary that God chooses to
    dwell within us, I wrote in the margin “Work On This!”  His proposition
    was that we are the place where God chooses to dwell and the spiritual
    life is creating space where God may dwell.  I still find this a difficult
    concept and I am afraid I still have more work to do.

    To begin with, the Bible is very clear regarding “Christ In Us.”  In
    Galatians 2:19-20, Paul writes: “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no
    longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me.” Romans 8:9-11 says in
    part that the Spirit of God and the Spirit of Christ dwell within us—and
    our mortal bodies too will be raised.  2 Corinthians 13:5 reads: “Examine
    yourselves to see whether you are living in the faith.  Test yourselves. Do
    you not realize that Jesus Christ is in you—unless indeed you fail to meet
    the test!”

    I still say, I am not clear what this fully means or the consequences that
    flow from this truth.  This much is clear: the Galatians verse is akin to being
    “reborn”—or assuming a new life in Christ.  All of these verses make clear
    the higher calling we are blessed with and called to in terms of our lives
    and how we live them in our relationships with God and each other.  

                                           A Christmas Wish

    My Christmas wish for you is different than from years past—as your life
    is different.  My wish for you is that you may in this Christmas-time come
    to know in new ways the real meaning of “God with Us”—and all that
    means to us.  In celebrating the birth of Jesus, we celebrate even more
    God’s decision out of love for us to send God’s Son into the world so that
    we may know God—and know even better God’s unending love for us!    
    God who made the universe and our world billions of years ago and who
    sustains this broken world, loves us so very much that God sent Jesus into
    the world.  For 33 years He lived among us—teaching us and showing us
    God’s love—and how we should live in response to God’s love.  He died
    for us--so that by His death and resurrection we might know that our sin is
    forgiven by God and we are reconciled with God.  By the power of the
    Holy Spirit today—at this very moment—we are loved by God. By the
    suffering of Jesus—we know that God suffers when we are in pain.  In this
    time of your pain, my prayer is that you will know in new and real ways,
    the truth that we are not alone: but we are loved by our God who suffers
    with us.  What we celebrate at Christmas is God’s revealing God’s self to
    us in the birth of Jesus the Christ—and that in truth, you and I now can
    truly experience “God with Us”.
    When life’s events
    create hurdles or
    hurts for us, God is
    with us.  I
    acknowledge that
    we are indeed
    tested by the
    events of our
    lives.  The test is
    whether we
    respond faithfully
    to God who loves
    us—or whether, in
    the exercise of our
    free will, we turn
    away from God.