Pastoral care (16): When belief in signs leads astray

“Belief in miracles is a sign of lacking humbleness,” saysChief Apostle Jean-Luc Schneider. After all, man is not greater than God, and thus cannot prescribe to Him what He should do or when He should do it! A pretty clear statement, isn’t it?

It is relatively easy to read a Bible passage as a sign from God. After all, Holy Scripture contains many examples of divine activity upon human beings. However, while it is quite understandable from a human perspective to equate such accounts with one’s own life, it is also unfair. God’s miracles always happen in the context of specific circumstances and intended for a specific, personal fate. Our faith dictates that, while not every human being receives the same kind of divine care, each individual receives the divine care that is appropriate.

God’s care is always personal

Ministers are quite frequently confronted with requests for a divine miracle. This is part of the expectation that believers often have of their ministers. It is not always so easy to live up to such expectations or, on the other hand, to deliberately decline them. After all, Priests believe in miracles too. Who else could be expected to do so if they did not? At times it does not suffice for members to put their concerns into prayer and trust in God’s guidance. They sometimes also ask God to grant them a little indication, a very concrete sign, that He is with them. Classic requests include a special Bible passage, a particular hymn in a divine service, or some special event, which can then be interpreted as a divine indication that one should make a particular decision.

There is no question that many marvellous experiences have been made with God in this manner. Such signs grasped in faith have often led people to make great experiences of faith. However, experience also shows that a pure “faith in signs” can lead people astray. This is because there is a danger that the person will hold God responsible if the wish is not fulfilled or if it somehow fails. There are some regrettable cases to illustrate this: for example, members were left sad, disappointed, or even doubtful because no positive development occurred or because their eagerly requested wish simply did not materialise, despite the fact that they thought they had correctly interpreted a sign. Worse still, they may have decided against something because the sign they had requested did not materialise—and then regretted their decision some time later. The sign that failed to materialise led them to make the wrong decision.

It all depends on the interpretation

It has also happened that members have interpreted a Bible passage in the wrong manner based on their own wishful thinking. This can easily happen when one’s own desire is the father of the thought. Hopes are disappointed which can then lead to some fundamentally doubtful sentiments with regard to God. One then assigns God the blame.

Does this mean that ministers should generally advise their brothers and sisters not to ask for divine signs? No, of course not, but it is strongly advised to be prudent and sensible when it comes to signs. Holy Scripture itself contains some clear words on this subject. In Matthew, the scribes and Pharisees demand a sign of the Lord and thereby attempt to put Him under pressure. They want proof of His divinity:

“Then some of the scribes and Pharisees answered, saying, ‘Teacher, we want to see a sign from You.’ But He answered and said to them, ‘An evil and adulterous generation seeks after a sign, and no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For 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” (Matthew 12: 38–40).

Jesus rejected such superficial motives for a sign. He expected the people to believe Him even without a sign that He was the Son of God. At the same time He clearly emphasised that there would indeed be a special sign of His divinity, namely His resurrection from the dead after three days. From this it follows that signs are subject to the will of God alone. They cannot be demanded, and they cannot be forced. Beyond that a pure and sincere heart is required—one that corresponds to the mind of Jesus: “Not My will, but Yours, be done!”

Dangers of unbridled belief in miracles

Unbridled belief in miracles harbours certain dangers. God is tempted. And concerning this, the Lord left us the clear instruction: “You shall not tempt the Lord, your God.” As children of God we can indeed ask God for His help in our prayers, but we cannot force Him to fulfil our pleas and wishes. Instead, let us pray in Jesus’ name, remain modest, and trust in God.

Die daraus entstehenden Thesen lauten:

  • We human beings have no right to ask God for a miracle.
  • We have no reason to ask God for a miracle.
  • While God does still allow miracles to occur even today, He sends them to whom He wants, when He wants, and how He wants.

In the next issue of our series on pastoral care we will focus on the subject of doctrinal development, a problem area in pastoral care.


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Peter Johanning
27.09.2021