*This is an edited re-blog from 2013*
Miracles, visions, dreams, angelic appearances, God directly speaking to people. Things were so exciting and sensational in Bible times! Why not today?
Or were things actually that sensational back then?
The idea that these amazing things were always occurring is a misconception and one with serious implications in my opinion. I’ve known of people who rejected the Bible because they saw it as only legend. Since they had not experienced or observed these amazing things today, they came to see the Bible as embellished, with exaggerated stories. Or perhaps they didn’t reject the faith, but were deeply discouraged that their own experience has not measured up. Why haven’t they been visited by an angel, seen a miracle, or had God speak directly to them? I’ve seen odd or inaccurate theologies develop from this too.
But let’s consider the biblical accounts. Were miracles always taking place? Well, just a general remark: if miracles were always taking place then they would cease to be miracles. They would be normal and routine, not miraculous! Right?
In substantial sections of the Bible there are no miracles taking place at all. There are 3 places in the Bible where we see clusters of miracles: the career of Moses, the time of Elijah and Elisha, and during the ministry of Jesus/start of the church in Acts. These 3 times were critical periods: the beginnings of the people of Israel, a time of temptation and apostasy in Israel, and the coming of Christ/establishment of His church. If you lived during these times there were miracles aplenty, but less so at other times.
What about God speaking through dreams? In the Old Testament, a period covering about 4,000 years, there are about 20 specific dreams to 14 people recorded: Abimelech, Jacob, Laban, Joseph, Pharaoh’s cupbearer and baker, Pharaoh, Moses, a soldier in judges, Saul, Solomon, Job, Daniel, Nebuchadnezzar. In the New Testament there are 6 recorded dreams, all of which are found in the book of Matthew surrounding Christ’s birth and death.
What about visions? Visions are primarily found in the prophetic or apocalyptic books of the Bible such as Ezekiel, Daniel, Zechariah, and Revelation. There are also visions in Luke/Acts of the New Testament surrounding the birth of Jesus and early church. Again, one can notice some clumps or clusters – where dreams or visions took place around key people or events in redemptive history.
Similar observations can be noted about angelic appearances or God directly speaking to individuals. These divine encounters typically induced fear or surprise. A person would not be afraid or surprised if it was an every-day or normal occurrence. Right? Also of note is that the individuals had not usually been seeking or expecting it. Moses was tending the flock. Mary was at home. Both were startled by the divine contact and that God wanted to utilize them in a special way: “Who me?”
Some people today are seeking the miraculous – signs, wonders, and other things – but much caution is needed here. While God would at times give a sign when asked, there are also warnings and examples of wrong motives for seeking the miraculous.
I hope you are getting the point I’m attempting to make. I’m not trying to limit God in our modern day. God can work in amazing ways whenever He chooses to do so – even today! See this book I reviewed by Eric Metaxas about Miracles, in case you think I am dissing the miraculous. Truly, I am not.
Even though Metaxas wrote an apologetic work in defense of the miraculous, he emphasizes in the introduction that we may never personally experience a miracle, and that does not indicate anything lacking or defective about our faith. Having written biographies on William Wilberforce and Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Metaxas points out that we have no record of anything miraculous happening in the lives of these two great men who were tremendously used by God.
My point is that we need reasonable expectations. That does not mean we lack faith about what God can do in this world. But even in “Bible times” God was not always working in amazing and sensational ways for all to see. There are times when God is near or more overtly at work, and there are times when God’s presence is veiled and His work in this world is less obvious or even hidden.
There is a problem with our theology if we always want the former, and can not accept the later.
Without realistic expectations, we can become…discouraged, or drift into inaccurate beliefs, or seek things we should not be seeking. Seek Jesus, then other things should fall into place my friends.
When we are seeking or expecting things besides Jesus himself, we open the door to so many problems.