In a book review, Tim Challies says “God Performs Miracles Today!” And I’m still not satisfied.
There’s a bit of a feeling of bait and switch in the post, but that’s not really it. Here’s my problem with his review: technically I agree with everything that it says. God still does miracles. The greatest miracle is regeneration, even though it’s harder to discern. Compared to healing miracles, regeneration doesn’t get nearly enough fanfare. All true. But stated wrong.
It’s not as though there were some competition between miracles and regeneration. They aren’t rivals. They’re buddies. God intended them to work together. And if the wrong one gets all the attention, we should be used to that, and be ready for it. Healing writes large, and plain to see, what regeneration does on a tiny, more fundamental scale. So the naysayers deny healing, and ignore salvation, and having been denied, people go off to prove it, without teaching anybody what healing is a sign of.
Biblically, there’s a solid connection between miracles, specifically healing miracles, and regeneration. A touchstone verse would be Isaiah 53:5:
But he was pierced for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
and with his wounds we are healed.
There have been all kinds of doctrines built on this connection between healing and salvation, and these have only been complicated by generations of unbelief, who were willing to let slide an invisible salvation, but not a healing that could be verified or disproved.
Here’s the whole connection that I see between regeneration and miracles: Salvation is “by grace… through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” Similarly, healing is by grace, through faith, the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. Healing miracles are a visible demonstration of what invisible salvation looks like.
Just as healing is a miraculous gift from God, salvation is a miraculous gift from God. Just as no amount of effort to drum up the appropriate amount of faith for healing will guarantee healing, no amount of effort to drum up the appropriate amount of faith for salvation will grant salvation. And just as some people mysteriously don’t get healed, some people mysteriously don’t get saved. They both come as gifts, so that no one can boast. And yet both come through the mechanism of faith. Sometimes God heals people who never get saved. Sometimes God saves people who never get healed.
There shouldn’t be any rivalry between the healing party and the salvation party. We should pray for both, and thank God for both, and use every occasion of the lesser miracle, healing, to teach about the greater miracle, salvation. And the first step is demonstrating that regeneration is the greater miracle.
Everyone sees the wonder of a miracle. Broken limb to whole limb. Got it. Blind to seeing; deaf to hearing; dumb to singing. Everyone agrees on what the problem is, and everyone can identify when a person is well. Not so with sin, and so we underrate the value of salvation.
Repentance is not turning over a new leaf. Regeneration is not a decision. You were dead in your trespasses. Lazarus didn’t decide to stand up and walk. When a person is born again, the first thing they do is to truly see their sin for the first time and be horrified by the very thing they used to love. And repenting, they repent.
That doesn’t just… happen. I know – we see something like it in raising children: My 10 month old likes dropping things in the toilet and fishing them out again. I’m pretty sure my 4 year old would never (but then again, he might). There is a process of learning right from wrong that children go through, but it’s a mistake to think that regeneration is nothing more than a part of this, like the hit man who just wasn’t raised right.
The fact that it goes deeper is what makes it so difficult to discern. It’s also what makes regeneration in fact a greater miracle than any healing. It’s more subtle than “the kind of change that would make an Eskimo renounce fur, that would make a vegetarian barbecue hamster.” It’s the sort of thing that can fundamentally change a person’s character without budging their personality. It’s so difficult to discern that some people can fake it for years, with no one the wiser. At the same time, it’s the sort of thing that can make a person drop their entire system of right and wrong on a single proof from scripture, or a single word from Jesus’ mouth. In other words, it’s unnoticeable, impossible, undeniable, and extreme.
It’s a lot easier to talk about removing cancer.
I’m going to go with the majority on this one: the greatest miracle still happens in the human heart. But I’m not sure I’ve ever been a witness to that transformation. Not right there, on the spot. I can see evidences, when I hear about a life that’s been renewed. I think of my wife’s cousin, who is showing every sign of a complete transformation, and for whom I have a great deal of hope. I think of my oldest son, who displays a rebellious nature nearly every chance he gets, and prays un-prompted for a new heart most mornings at breakfast. Sometimes I’m not sure I can see all that much evidence of a new heart in myself, so I’m a little jealous of David, who dropped everything last night to pray that the dog would get a new heart and stop biting.
The trick, I think is to take regeneration as seriously as healing, even though it’s hard to discern. Taking regeneration seriously means taking fallen nature seriously, which is harder than it sounds. We want so badly to hack at the symptoms. But that is why God gave us miracles: so that we could see our spiritual problems, in reverse scale.