examples abound of people who, when faced with a crisis, had
that crisis resolved through means that defied natural
mere chance. If they were religious, they had prayed and will
who will listen that "their prayers were answered." If they were
religious, they say that they became so as a result of the
Such things are called miracles.
Let's look at
the other side of the coin. Suppose the crisis, in spite of
any amount of prayer, is not resolved in a satisfactory manner.
to the point, suppose its resolution is nothing short of an
disaster. Is the religious person to lose his or her faith,
atheist or at least an agnostic? Is the nonreligious person to
have a mental block against religion?
that it can be said that excessive reliance on "answers to
one's prayers" is not only quite overrated, but also reveals a
faith that is somewhat fragile.
It is important to realize just what is being asked of God when
for a miracle. When God created the universe, He set in motion
of physics, chemistry, and biology by which this universe was to
governed. The Book of Genesis states that, "He saw that it was
When something bad takes place, it means that these laws have
together in a manner to effect that.
A physical miracle requires that He do something to abrogate one
of those laws solely for the benefit of the petitioner. While
that is in
no sense beyond the realm of possibility, and undoubtedly has
it is something He cannot be expected to do routinely. Often,
serious reversal occurs, we try to comfort the victim (or the
of the reversal by saying, "It was God's will." This must be
mean that it was God's will not to abrogate the laws He set up
universe, in order to prevent what has happened.
If what happens to us is somewhat dependent on the actions of
God can put an idea into the mind of that other person that he
to hurt us. If that works, it is even more of a miracle than the
variety, which God can bring about unilaterally. However, that
free will, and, even though ultimately answerable to God for
does, can choose to ignore God's counsel and hurt us anyway.
What then can we ask of God?
A while ago, a rabbi wrote a book titled Why Bad Things Happen
People. He not only really reached no conclusions, but dismissed
unthinkable what is, to me, the obvious conclusion: that bad
precisely just that. This is a hard pill to swallow because
to believe that he has drawn a pair of deuces in the cosmic
This is why everybody's first instinct is to try to find someone
for one's misfortune. All too often, when an actual villain
pinpointed, a handy scapegoat serves the purpose.
A little logic goes a long way to seeing my point. We may start
premise that only God is perfect. From this it necessarily
the universe He created is less than perfect. When something is
perfect, things can go wrong, and Murphy's Law comes into the
Serious illnesses, natural disasters, and financial reverses are
of things that can and do go wrong.
Jesus himself recognized the luck of the draw. In the Sermon on
Mount, He said, "The sun shines on the wicked as well as the
and the rain falls on the just as well as the unjust." When bad
happen, it can no more be considered a sign of God's displeasure
His approval be used as an explanation of one's prosperity.
fault of nobody, things may not turn out all right, and, even in
our best efforts, the worst can happen.
To return to my previous question: what can we expect of God? We
expect only the one thing that He has steadfastly promised us:
that if we
sincerely try to live a good life, should the worst come to
will take care of us forever.
© E.R.G.S. -
February 21, 1996