Jesus, once more deeply moved, came to the tomb. It was a cave with a stone laid across the entrance. Take away the stone, he said.
But, Lord, said Martha, the sister of the dead man, by this time there is a bad odor, for he has been there four days.
Then Jesus said, Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?
So they took away the stone. Then Jesus looked up and said, Father, I thank you that You have heard me. I knew that You always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that You sent me.
When he had said this, Jesus called in a loud voice, Lazarus, come out! The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face.
Jesus said to them, Take off the grave clothes and let him go.
The first time I traveled overseas, I was only fourteen years old. Our youth group was on a missions trip, and my folks thought it would be a healthy experience for me. Time has certainly proven them right. Getting out of your element and being exposed to world citizenry (especially in the developing world) is a guaranteed game-changer. It’s hard to complain about your Playstation once you realize much of the rest of the world eats only rice, only once a day.
Prior to that little jaunt, our youth pastor led us in two months of Bible studies and prayer meetings that focused on healing and the supernatural power of God. I had read about miracles in the Bible, of course, but had never imagined the possibility of modern-day miracles. I asked my folks if this stuff was real, and they confirmed that, though rare, it did happen. That blew my mind, and I began to pray and trust God. I have one strong memory of a conversation with my friend Chris about a week before I was to leave. Completely serious, I told Chris that I truly believed I was going to see God’s power bring the dead back to life.
I now find it hard to write those words without feeling some need to qualify or defend my youthful expression of faith. But I won’t. Those who know me are not likely to claim I’m superstitious or weak-minded. And yet that is the very thing I want to address: the ridiculous nature of childlike faith and how we need it.
I saw several miracles on that trip to the Philippines, though no resurrections, a fact for which I am now thankful. I have seen several other miracles since then as well, in a variety of settings. I don’t want to get into details (if you’re a skeptic, I’m not sure my details would convince you anyway), but I do want to point out that my experience supports a belief in the supernatural.
My context, my education, and my cultural conditioning, however, do not support my experience. Nothing about my life either requires, validates, or would even benefit from the miraculous. I live in a world that is functionally anti-supernatural. We might believe that that stuff might be out there somewhere; we have enough pop cultural fodder to take as evidence that things like aliens, UFOs, parapsychology, and all that other stuff from Fringe and the X-files might exist. But that rarely translates into a willingness to believe that the guy we pray for after church might legitimately get up out of his wheelchair and walk home on his own two feet.
In the years between taking that first trip to the Philippines and getting my graduate degree, I experienced a subtle but persistent shift in adopting the world’s skepticism about the supernatural. It began with honoring the miracles I’d witnessed, then doubting the point of praying for miracles since they didn’t always occur, then intellectualizing away the need for miracles since modern science and social welfare programs pretty much cover our bases anyway, into finally either neglecting or denying the supernatural world at all.
But then I came across the Scripture concerning Lazarus’ resurrection. When I first read it, my thoughts turned to fear. I sincerely hoped no one anywhere in the world was preaching about that story, because it was too outlandish to do anything other than discredit our Christian message altogether. Anyone with a brain, I thought, would see through this fairy tale as the pre-industrial, non-scientific mythologization of a group of people desperate to believe in their own ethnic folklore.
But then it hit me that this was the very same story I had heard teaching on as a young man that gave me all that faith and confidence prior to traveling to the Philippines. This was the story that led me to tell Chris I thought I’d see resurrection.
The story that gave me faith as a child exposed my lack of faith as an adult. And my rational world began to crumble. I realized then that the entire Christian story is one fantastically complex web of miracles and supernatural exigencies. Everything we believe is crazy, at least in the eyes of the cynic and the skeptic. We can explain it away, we can ignore the weird bits of the Bible, but I can tell you for a fact that the weird bits, the bits I’d rather ignore, have proven to be the most powerful and transformational in my short yet eventful life.
If we can believe there is a God in Heaven who came into the world incarnate, who conquered death and came into new bodily life again, and who now lives inside billions of people as a nonmaterial Comforter and Counselor, why do we have so much trouble believing that prayer actually makes a difference in the lives of the sick and the infirm? How can we not believe in the power of belief?
Since that re-discovery of the Lazarus story, I have experienced my own manner of resurrection. That faithful child, buried by academia and the rational rules of western thought, has been resurrected. I’m not content to live a life that denies the things I know to be true. I’m not content to wait around for science to validate what I have witnessed firsthand. My faith does not demand God to perform the miracles I want to see in the ways and at the times I want to see them. Nonetheless, my faith is based on the miraculous, the divine, the invisible, the spiritual, the metaphysical, and the supernatural.
If we want to see what God’s kingdom is like, we must become like little children. Children have imagination, perhaps the most key ingredient of faith. And without faith, it is impossible to please God.
This post is from Seasons of Christian Spirituality.