Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Extraordinarily Unreliable

For this week's newspapers, I answered a question about why we see such a difference between the extraordinary events and revelations in Bible times and the seemingly ordinary events of present day life in the Church:

Q:  Why is it that there are so many dreams, visions, healings, and other miraculous revelations or interventions recorded in the Bible, but these do not seem to be a prominent part of the life of the Church today?

Before sin entered the world, Genesis describes Adam and Eve as having close, direct interactions with their Creator in their garden home.  Even upon their sin, God still speaks directly to them about the consequences of that sin, but more importantly about the promise of a savior who would come from among their descendants. 

From then on, reports of God’s direct interaction with humanity become less frequent and less numerous.  Seen in the lives of men like Noah, Abraham, Jacob, and Moses, these interactions occur to particular people for a particular purpose, namely that of preserving and protecting the family line that will eventually give birth to Jesus. 

Later in the Old Testament, these direct revelations become confined only to those called to the office of Prophet, and once Jesus Himself lives, dies, rises, and ascends into heaven, those holding the office of Apostle continue to receive inspiration by the Holy Spirit and proclaim the Divine Word in their preaching and their writings which now make up our New Testament. 

Many people, upon reading of the extraordinary events they see in the lives of the Biblical personalities, wonder why it is that they have not experienced such things if they also trust in Jesus.  What is often overlooked, however, is that these direct encounters with God are particular in nature, seen manifested in those holding the office of Prophet or Apostle, or in close association with those holding that office.  Additionally, these events which are described in Scripture are never connected with a promise that the general population of Christians will experience the same, whether then or thereafter. 

Even Jesus’ own description of the Holy Spirit’s work among the Apostles in John 14-16 does not include the promise that He will reveal anything new, but rather is described as reminding them of what Jesus has taught them and guiding them in their proclamation of the same.

Now, we do see occasional claims in the present day that similar events to those in the Bible have occurred.  The epistle of 1 John does give some general standards by which one might rule out that an extraordinary event was divine in origin, and this is given because of the possibility that spiritual evils could produce miraculous acts or extraordinary experiences as counterfeits to draw people away from Jesus. 

This is the danger for relying on these extraordinary things in the present day—that we cannot verify if they are genuine divine acts or evil counterfeits sent to distract us from Jesus.  In fact, many would warn that it is possible that the evil one or his angels might grant a person great prosperity or miraculous rescue and allow them to give God credit for it only to pull the rug out from under them so that they curse God when these things fail. 

Whether God chooses to intervene directly in the present day or not, there is a source for reliable hope which is far greater.  In his letter to the Corinthians, Paul describes the miraculous and extraordinary things we might seek as the imperfect or partial revelation of God, while He points to the Scriptures and the hope of the Resurrection on the Last Day as the perfect and complete. 

The eyewitness reports of the death and resurrection of Jesus are secure and trustworthy, along with the rest of Scripture which flows from them.  When God deals with us through this revelation, as well as that Word made visible in the Sacraments in His Church, we can know it is Christ Himself and no imposter who comes to us, because these are firmly attached to His own promises, for which there is no counterfeit.  And when He returns on the last day to judge the living and the dead, He will reveal Himself to all people and heal all that is wrong forever. 

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