Robby Lashua reflects on the purpose of miracles and how God uses suffering to disciple and grow his followers.
The ways I’ve grown most in my life haven’t come through good happening to me or answered prayer. It’s come through the hard times. It’s come through the silence from God. It’s come through the waiting that my trust in him has grown, that my faith has matured. And this seems to be the pattern that we see in other Christians of the past.
Peter mentions this in 1 Peter 1:6–7. He says, “In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials, so that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” Peter says there’s a purpose to the various trials that go on because it tests the genuineness of our faith, which is more important than riches.
Paul talks about this, as well. Romans 8:18: “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” We will suffer now, but what’s to come in the future far outweighs the hardships we go through. Paul also says in 2 Corinthians 1:8–10, “For we do not want you to be unaware, brethren, of our affliction which came to us in Asia, that we were burdened excessively, beyond our strength, so that we despaired even of life; indeed, we had the sentence of death within ourselves so that we would not trust in ourselves, but in God who raises the dead; who delivered us from so great a peril of death, and will deliver us, He on whom we have set our hope. And He will yet deliver us.” Suffering strengthens us and pushes us to rely on God in new ways.
We’re instructed to pray for people who are sick, to take them before the elders, to cast all of our cares on the Lord because he cares for us, and to be thankful and content with the life he’s given us. So, there’s nothing wrong with asking God for healings and for help and for friends and family to come to know the Lord and for everyday needs. We’re instructed to pray for those things. But this idea that we should be seeing as many miracles today as the book of Acts shows the early disciples saw, I don’t know if that’s true. And if it was, what would it do? What would the purpose be? You see, as I read Scripture, it seems that the purpose of miracles is primarily to validate the message of God.
If you were God, how would you get people’s attention? What’s the type of thing that you would do to draw attention to what you want to communicate? Well, it would have to be something miraculous. It’d have to be something extremely out of the ordinary that would wake people up and say, “Hey, you need to pay attention to this.” Miracles are used to validate God’s messengers and his message, and we see this happen in Moses’ life, in Elijah’s life, in Jesus’ life. Those three people in Scripture—it seems that miracles really cluster a lot around their ministries. Now, sometimes we see miracles outside of their ministries, but those are the three primary places we see miracles occurring throughout Scripture, and it’s those three men who were extremely important messengers for God.
Now, God validated Christ’s message, ultimately, through the resurrection. He predicted he would rise from the dead, and then he did rise from the dead, and he said, “This is the sign. This is the sign for all generations, the sign of Jonah that validates my message as being true.” So, the purpose of miracles is to validate God’s message, to draw attention to God’s messengers, so we can know what is from God, not just blindly trust, but have some type of evidence for it.
If that is the purpose, then I’ve thought, “Well, as a Christian, I have believed in the message of Jesus. I have trusted in the resurrection. It’s drawn my attention, and I have accepted it to be true. So, if the point is to draw attention to the message, my attention’s been drawn. Now, how does God primarily disciple and grow people who’ve already trusted in the message of Jesus?” That that’s the next question, and I think the answer is through suffering, not through the miraculous. James, Jesus’ brother, talks about this in James 1:2–3. “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance.” Suffering needs to be embraced.
This is a danger that I’m seeing in in certain circles of evangelical Christianity: We get so focused on praying for the miracle, wanting the miracle, believing for a miracle, and if that healing happens, if that miracle occurs, what it’s doing is it’s alleviating suffering. That’s what we pray for—we’re praying for the alleviation of a hardship—but maybe it’s the hardship that God is going to use to grow us, to mature us, to purify us, and not the release from it. Greg Koukl always says that the psalmist didn’t say, “I get a helicopter ride over the valley of the shadow of death.” Rather, he writes, “As I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, you are with me.” He’s with us through the hardships, and he doesn’t always alleviate it. And so, expecting or wanting alleviation all the time maybe would stunt my growth as a Christian. I don’t want to ask for suffering. I don’t want to pray, “Lord, bring more suffering into my life.” But it’s an interesting thing. What’s God’s primary way of growing us?