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.