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”.