“Boy, it would be nice if God would appear in a burning bush and tell me exactly what he wants me to do!”
“I would be a lot more confident in my faith if I could see miracles happen all the time, like they did in the Bible.”
Growing up in the church, and continuing to choose it as an adult, I’ve heard a lot of people make statements like these. And to be quite honest, it grates on my nerves. In my experience, when people say these kinds of things they’re not only expressing simple envy of people whose lives were decidedly and obviously unenviable; they’re also attempting to excuse their own struggles, or failures, to consistently live by faith and allegiance to Christ. They figure God must have had different expectations of the people who received and preserved his revelation. Considering all their ancient advantages, people today can’t be expected to live up to the same standards.
Now, I do think I understand. Given the common human tendency to romanticism, coupled with the proliferation of idyllic historical Christian novels, it’s easy to fall into the habit of idealizing the past and thinking the people we read about in the Bible had it easier than we do, at least in some ways. After all, life was simpler and quieter back then–no Internet, no global economy, no weapons of mass destruction (if you don’t count the Persian army, the Babylonian army, the Roman army…). And at first glance I can see how people can believe it must have been spiritually reassuring and awfully cozy to have God appearing in clouds and fire, speaking through prophets, and doing mighty miracles all the time.
But there’s no way it was easier–even if you discount the reality that humans have always been human and evil has a long history of residence among us. For one thing, many of these manifestations of God’s presence and power took place at times when the people who witnessed them were in some kind of rebellion against him. Or trying to ignore him. Without exception, they found God’s presence terrifying. These were not comfortable times.
In addition, for most people life was a struggle for survival on far less than we can imagine. It’s laughable to say their circumstances were in any way easier or more comfortable than our own. Most farmers and fishermen merely hoped to feed their families. Women and children all had to work hard in the fight for survival. Slavery went unchallenged, disease went unchecked, and violence stalked through human society as it always does. Nations lived in constant fear of attack and conquest as brutal empires expanded and swallowed everyone in their path.
So what about all those miracles and tangible representations of divine guidance? As we read about them in our faux-leather-bound collections, it’s easy to forget these miracles, wonders, and manifestations of God’s presence were spread over many miles and over thousands of years. Most people never saw them directly. They heard about them through stories their ancestors had told–just as we learn about them from the stories they told. These stories weren’t always written down and couldn’t be carried in their pockets for easy reference in confusing times. The Holy Spirit was not yet living and persistently active in every person who lived by faith in God. If you dare, use Bible Gateway to search the Bible for a few comforting topics: “easy,” “relax,” and “happy.” You’ll find, as I did, that the biblical writers addressed these topics exactly zero times.
Why does this matter? As I discussed in my book Anxious, It matters because God asked these people, in their trying circumstances, for dramatic exercises in faith. He asked newly freed slaves to form a revolutionary society around obedience to him. He asked small bands of men to go up against powerful armies. He asked food-insecure people not to worry about their next meal. He asked women with no status and no power to stick their necks out and be noticed on his behalf. He asked men who lived off the land and the sea to walk away from their only means of subsistence to follow him. has asked oppressed people, living in an occupied land, to wait for a kingdom to come. He asked all kinds of people to face ostracism, torture, and death for the sake of truth. If we think we have an excuse for not taking God’s Word seriously, these ancient people’s lives prove us wrong.
Should God ask any less of us? Do you expect less from him?
© 2016 Amy Simpson.