12.11.2005

Life without Condoms

When it comes to Christianity, believing in miracles is par for the course. In a way, it's a no-brainer. I mean, if God can form the world out of nothing, then I reckon He can do just about anything else He wants: walk on water, divide large bodies of water, or turn water into wine. So as you'd expect, the Bible is full of miracles, from start to finish; events that defy laws and transcend definition. Some are even kind of wacky. Like the time Jesus paid the temple tax by sending His disciples fishing.

Take the first fish you catch; open its mouth and you will find a four-drachma coin. Take it and give it to them for My tax and yours. (Matt. 17:27 NIV)

This is a tad unusual, wouldn't you agree? Paying taxes was a common practice, but most folks did not have the luxury of performing a miracle to do so. Surely there were other ways for Jesus to do this. He could have taken up a collection, multiplied more loaves and fish and held a bake sale or caused the IRS to make a mistake in His favor (a true miracle indeed!) Heck, He could've just told the disciples to get a side job and earn the money. But no. Jesus sent them fishing.

If you've been around any length of time, you've heard your share of wacky miracles. So the story I read several weeks ago is probably not that shocking. It was reported in a local newspaper. The caption read: Church Claims a Mouthful of Miracles. Subtitled, If Jesus could turn water into wine, why wouldn't God turn teeth to gold?. It recounts an incident in a small Pentecostal church wherein 15 members claim their teeth or fillings have miraculously turned to gold.

I usually wince when I read this kind of stuff. I didn't say I blow it off. I just don't do the Jericho March and join the Hallelujah chorus. How people respond to these kinds of claims says a lot about their theology. I believe it's just as wrong to embrace every supposed miracle, as it is to deny every one; uncritical belief is just as bad as unbelief. We must avoid both extremes.

On one side is Thomas Jefferson. Jefferson had a hard time intellectually digesting the miracles in the gospels, so he removed them. What was left has been called the Jefferson Bible. It’s a Bible without miracles. There are many modern variations of this. But the bottom line is the same: It's a spiritual condom; it's belief in God, with protection against the supernatural. These folks want God without the mess -- specifically, no weird miracles. On the other side, are the more Charismatic and Pentecostal wings of the church (of which I'm a part). These are the sectors where prophesies, visions and miracles are commonplace, where every other word is a "word from God" and miracles can be purchased with a "tithe offering." Both extremes should be avoided.

Whenever we approach this subject, the question is never Can God? but Did God? Can God turn 15 fillings into gold? No brainer. Yes! Did God turn 15 fillings into gold? Hmm. I dunno. Of course, some will call me cynical, faithless and unbelieving. And I admit, I could be. What I'm trying to do is allow for the possibility of miracles -- even weird ones -- without having to box God in, arbitrate or be completely gullible. I think of this as critical faith.

Do not put out the Spirit's fire; do not treat prophecies with contempt. Test everything. Hold on to the good. (I Thessalonians 5:19-21 NIV)

We are to "test everything" -- that means we shouldn't blindly assume that every supposed miracle is an act of God. But here's the kicker. In all our testing, we must not "put out the Spirit's fire." KJV translates that, "quench not the Holy Spirit." There's the balance. Test, but don't quench. Be critical, but not unbelieving.

As long as miracles are possible, plenty of weird, wacky, unexplained ones will happen. And this is what people don't like. They want to box God in, slip a spiritual condom on so they don't contract Pentecostalism. It's easier to just believe God doesn't do miracles, than to sift through all the stupid claims people make. But the fact is, God can do whatever He wants, and He doesn't have to abide by the rules or explain Himself to me.

In a world where people are starving, children are abused and communities live in constant poverty and despair, I seriously doubt that gold fillings are at the top of God's agenda. What's worse, is when churches become preoccupied with seeking visions, prophecies and gold fillings, rather than helping the poor, righting injustice and defending the truth.

But even in the face of fakery and emotionalism, we cannot surrender our belief in the possibilities of the miraculous. We are called to life without condoms, where the Spirit is free to move, where the dead rise, jackasses speak and fishes contain coins. Test but don't quench; be critical, but not unbelieving. Go ahead. And the next time you brush your teeth, make sure to check your fillings.

14 comments:

Mary J. Yerkes said...

"Uuncritical belief is just as bad as unbelief. We must avoid both extremes." Very well said.

I would include myself with the charismatic/pentacostal group, but some of the stuff coming out of our camp is downright scary! That said, I'd rather believe in a God who does miracles and wade through the "wacky" than serve a God who operates within the confines of my understanding or that which I can safely explain.

Dave Wallace said...

A God I can fully understand and figure out is too small of a god for my problems. Yes, I too have witnessed the goofy, and the glorious, but when the two mesh together, like my life, I just have to stop and say, "Ain'tGod good?" Thanks for not being afraid to point a finger and encourage us to look not laugh.

mike duran said...

Hey Mary. Ain't it fun being part of the wackies? Isn't it strange though how people want to distance themselves from miracles...until they need one. And Dave, I know you well enough to know, you do need a big God. Amen, my brotha!

Gina Holmes said...

Great post. Interesting title. As far as God having bigger things on His agenda than changing gold fillings, who can understand Him? Reminds me of Judas argument about the costly perfume poured on Jesus. The poor will always be among us.

I believe God is capable of miracles and still performs them today. He has for me. But when someone sees Mary's image in a piece of Sunbeam bread...well, I ain't flying out to worhsip it.

mike duran said...

Doggone it, Gina. I was just about to start hawkin' holy hankies.

Gina Holmes said...

Well, if the price is right...

As a nurse, I've seen more than my fair share of paraphanalia that was supposed to have a healing quality. I shant comment further on the subject.

Mirtika said...

What a terrific blog! I can't believe I haven't visited here before. Love the look of it, love your writing and opinions, and I've read and own all but one of your "essential reading" books. I better get cracking on that other one. :)

I never box God in. He has a way of surprising his people. But His miracles have always served some greater purpose, even the water to wine (an act of compassion at his mother's request for a couple getting married, possibly a relative or close friend). And the fact that wine figures prominently in symbolism in our faith..well.

What is the purpose of gold teeth? What does it point to or serve? It's not like parting waters so that a nation is figuratively "baptized" and allowed an escape route, so that the enemies might perish. It's not like a coin to pay taxes so that an apostle sees God's suffiency. It's not like removing a demon to give a person back their right mind and soul. It's not like healing a hemorrhage that caused a woman to lose her fortune and be an outcast. It's not like restraining the sun so that a warrior might battle on to victory.

Gold teeth? Are they gonna pluck out their teeth and feed the poor? Why not whole new teeth, enamel and all. Now...that would be a miracle. :)

Mir

Mirtika said...

Wait, let me make you a special, holy, grilled-cheese sammich. :)Guaranteed to bring in a few thou on eBay and, mebbe, cure the bird flu.

Mir

mike duran said...

Hey Mir, thanks for the visit and the kind words. I tried to track down an email address to thank you privately, but you're in stealth mode. Anyway, hope to chat soon.

Mirtika said...

Mike, I'm at Silhouetted@aol.com. :)

My blogs are:
http://mirathon.blogspot.com
http://onceuponanovel.blogspot.com
And at Sword Review, I'm "Miranatha". :)

Keep blogging, babe.
Mir

Kelly Klepfer said...

Mike,

I suppose I wasn't supposed to laugh, but I confess I did, a little. I love the way your mind works, well, the part I've seen anyway.

Thanks for the quirky look at the great and glorious box wars.

Melody said...

The thing that bothers me the most about this issue is that "Christians" feel the need to post Gods name on anything that works out good for them, i.e. miracles. Who are we to quote "God Said." Man, you must be a pretty amazing human being if God is speaking to you every morning to tell you which socks to ware. It really irks me to hear people say "God Said" most of the time they make God look like a looser to people who don’t know him. I feel that it is very blasphemous to post Gods name on so many meaningless things. If God is going to speak to me I highly doubt it is going to be about how I am going to crap out a gold log or wake up one morning with gold teeth. Just becuase you are a Christian doesn't mean you an extremist. I have a condom for all of you "God Said" people, put it over your mouth.

Anonymous said...

Mike, I'm not abitious enough today to think of anything clever to say, but wanted to let you know that I loved this article and I'm going to try to refrain from wearing condoms.
Janet Rubin

Elaina Avalos said...

This is a well-written post and as a card carrying member of a charasmatic church...so incredibly important. I went from the extreme of a theology class at a university in CA that shall remain nameless (Biola, oops...my bad), which tried to teach me that miracles have essentially ceased. What was wrong with that prof, by the way? To being a member of a charasmatic congregation.

Thankfully, my pastor is a well-balanced fellow and I appreciate the way he draws away from extremes.

But it's important for both ends of the spectrum to understand this. Not sure if everyone in the Body could handle the "life without condoms" thing :) but they still need to be challenged to live with a God that is bigger than their understanding but leaving the ways of "uncritical belief" behind.