Yes, yes, I know I still haven’t completed my series on “The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment”. but during Winter Break I wanted to write a short two part series called “Signs, Wisdom, and the Word of Christ”. I’m hoping to deal with a question that I’m sure many of us have wondered about, which is: if God is real, why doesn’t he do miracles so that it would be easier for us to have faith? This topic has been floating around in my head for awhile, and I’ve been meaning to write about it. The first post will be on the wisdom of God in making Christ his definitive sign for us. My second post will be on the Word of God as the means by which we encounter Christ. My aim is to affirm that Christ and the Scriptures which reveal him are sufficient to answer our doubts. My thoughts here are not by own, but are largely drawn from sermons that I’ve listened to.
If God is real why doesn’t he show himself in some great miracle so that it would be easier for us to believe?
Whenever I’ve pondered this question, I’ve always thought about the Sunday School story in which Elijah goes head to head against the false prophets of Baal . In that story, God shows up and proves that he is the true God in dramatic fashion– by calling down fire from heaven to consume Elijah’s offering. I always thought to myself, “Well, why doesn’t he do something like that today?” Imagine if every time someone asked you for concrete proof for your faith, you could pray and incinerate stuff with fire. It would be a pretty convincing evangelistic tool, huh? Or imagine if whenever I’m having doubts about God’s nearness to me or his goodness, or anything else. Same deal. I could just pray and fire would come down and light my house ablaze (in an un-burning bush kind of way, of course) to reassure me. Problem solved.
In my heart, I’ve always wished for this kind of dramatic, foolproof sign. My thought process works likes this: “if I could only some definitive and miraculous sign, then surely every doubt would be erased and I could live wholeheartedly for God. But because I only have the Gospel and the Bible I’m doomed to struggle with doubt my whole life”. Thankfully, a sermon by Ligon Duncan at last year’s T4G (and originally a similar sermon by Mohler which I can’t find) helped correct my understanding of the story of Elijah and affirm to my heart God’s wisdom in giving us the Gospel. I encourage you to listen to the whole sermon since there’s parts of the sermon– especially God’s severe but flat-out-crazy love for Elijah (It made me cry, haha)– that I won’t be able to touch on in this post. You can find the video here
Duncan’s sermon does not deal not with Elijah calling down fire and crushing the false prophets, the part of the story which I was accustomed to learning about in Sunday school, but rather with the aftermath of Elijah’s victory. I found out that I didn’t know the whole story. In 1 Kings 19, immediately after Elijah’s decisive victory over the false prophets, Jezebel issues a death warrant for Elijah. And what happens? Elijah is forced to shamefully flee for his life. One chapter after witnessing God call down fire from heaven, we find a distraught, despondent, and hopeless Elijah in chapter 19. In vs. 4 he even “asked the Lord that he might die, saying, “it is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life, for I am no better than my fathers”
Why was Elijah so crushed? Well, it was because even though Elijah was a man of God, his thinking wasn’t too far off from my own. He was holier than me, certainly– he wanted with all his heart for Israel to repent and turn back, but the way he wanted it to happen was through a “spectacular demonstration” of God’s power. Elijah knew the seriousness of Israel’s sin and idolatry, and he knew it would take something major to turn their hearts back to God. And so he reasoned that if Israel saw a great and miraculous sign from God, then Israel would turn back. Then the people would repent from their sins. Then they would worship God in spirit and truth. And so, Elijah labored throughout his whole ministry to see something miraculous like this happen. Then it happens, his wish comes true and fire rains down from the sky, but Israel still remained unmoved. When the death warrant comes, Elijah realizes that everything he hoped for has come crashing down. And so, this man who lived his whole life for God’s glory was absolute crushed.
Duncan explains the Elijah’s sudden change in heart like this:
Because Elijah had yearned for one thing and one thing only, as far as we know, through the whole course of his existence as a prophet of the Lord—he wanted to see God glorified in Israel. He wanted Israel to turn back to God. It wanted repentance. He wanted conversion. He wanted to be the instrument of conversion and restoration in Israel so Israel glorified God. Then he gets a message saying he’s going to be dead this time tomorrow. He realizes: It’s not going to happen the way I dreamed. It’s not going to happen.
Afterwards, a weeping Elijah goes and hides in a cave. He has no desire or strength to live. Then, an angel of the Lord comes and asks him to go out to the mount of the Lord where this happens:
And behold, the LORD passed by, and a great and strong wind tore the mountains and broke in pieces the rocks before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind. And after the wind an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake. 12 And after the earthquake a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire. And after the fire the sound of a low whisper.13 And when Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his cloak and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. And behold, there came a voice to him and said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”
In these verses, we see all of the spectacular displays of God’s glory that Elijah wanted and which he thought would save Israel. A great and strong wind,an earthquake, a fire, but notice the Lord is not in any of them. God is teaching Elijah that though he is more than capable of these glorious miraculous displays of power, that is not the way he will answer the desire of Elijah’s heart to see true revival in Israel. When the Lord finally comes the text says it is not with great winds, earthquakes, or fire, but in the sound of a still small whisper.
And right there, the story seems to ends. God, after asking Elijah why he’s gone to hide in the cave, shelves him and replaces him with another prophet. Elijah ends his ministry and life as a crushed and despondent man, who wanted to see God’s glory revealed and Israel to turn back, but never got to see it. But, although Elijah’s career as a prophet was finished, his story was still not over. Did God forget about his servant Elijah? Of course not. Check out Kings 2:1-14. Elijah loved and longed for the spectacular, and how did God choose to bring his sorrowful servant home? In style, on chariots of fire! More importantly, did God forget about the desire of Elijah’s heart? to see God’s glory revealed and to see sinners return to God?
Of course not. We see Elijah show up again in Luke 9:28-30 at the Transfiguration:
28 Now about eight days after these sayings he took with him Peter and John and James and went up on the mountain to pray. 29 And as he was praying, the appearance of his face was altered, and his clothing became dazzling white. 30 And behold, two men were talking with him, Moses and Elijah, 31 who appeared in glory and spoke of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem.
And man, it’s stories like these where I think to myself there’s no way men could have made this up. Because you see Elijah a man who always wanted to see God’s glory revealed. But, in his earthly wisdom, he wanted it come in fire, whirlwinds, and earthquakes. He thought that if people could see God’s glory through the spectacular, they would love and cherish him. But God, in his wisdom, knew better. He knew that signs and wonders would amaze people, but never bring them back to a true relationship with him. That’s why, in Matthew 12, when the Pharisees ask, “Teacher we wish to see a sign from you”, Jesus answers, “An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.
Fire from the sky might wow unbelievers, but it would never lead them to repent of their sins and to worship God. It might assure me temporarily of God’s existence and power, but it can tell me nothing about his goodness, love, and the fact that he will never leave me nor forsake me. Our problem runs deeper than Elijah and I thought. We need more than to see fire fall from heaven. We are infinitely separated from God in our sinfulness and we need a Savior to come and take our place. We need Jesus to be crucified, buried, and resurrected for us to be reconciled to God. That Gospel, and that gospel alone, can change the atheist’s heart and can assure the struggling believer that God is forever near.
And so, God chose to reveal his glory, not through raw strength and power, but through his Son; not in the spectacular, as he did when he called down fire from heaven, but, as it were, in a still small whisper. By allowing his son to born in a humble manger, live a humble life, and die a humble and lonely death. This is God’s glory, that “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.”
Do you see God’s wisdom in this? If we had it our way, we would have tried to save the world the same way Elijah wanted, with fire, earthquakes, and whirlwinds, but God has chosen to save us through the revelation of a single sign: the crucified Savior. As Paul puts it so eloquently, in 1 Corinthians 1:20-25:
Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.
As stated earlier, The aim of this post is to combat a dissatisfaction in the sufficiency of Christ for our doubts. I feel the temptation often to deal with my doubts with evidence outside of the Gospel. I often want a sign outside of the ultimate sign that God. Oh, may the Lord grant humility and spiritual sight to know that to gaze on Christ is all we need to sustain our faith!
Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high (Hebrews 1:1-3 ESV)