Saturday, February 4, 2012

Grace, Miracles, and the Power of Prayer

Oslo Cathedral, taken after the Christmas Eve Midnight Service, 2011.

Back when Rick and I were dating in college we had a discussion about miracles. He said that he had a problem with miracles because he couldn't see why God would break His own laws. Why would an omnipotent, omniscient God create a universe with predictable natural laws, only to later violate them? My counter-argument was, in a nutshell: "Why can't an omniscient, omnipotent God do whatever He jolly-well pleases?"

But I just couldn't get Rick to see things my way. He continued to be stuck on the idea that even though God could break His own laws, He shouldn't want to or have to in order to accomplish His purposes.

After a while, we just dropped the subject, and it never came up again until seven years ago, when our oldest daughter, Chelsea, was thirteen. She asked me: "Mom, why would God break His own laws?"

It must be genetic!

But this time I didn't give such a simplistic response. Eleven years earlier, our second-born, Ingrid, had been diagnosed with a seizure disorder and cerebral palsy, so over the years I had often reflected on what the Bible says about miracles. And right around the time when Chelsea asked that question, I had experienced a paradigm shift in my understanding of the subject. Rick's (and Chelsea's) point is not just a valid one--it has far-reaching theological implications.

Saint Augustine said, “Miracles are not contrary to nature, but only contrary to what we know about nature." But today we know more about nature than Saint Augstine did, and quantum physics indicates that we don't live in a clockwork universe with fixed laws. Physicist Paul Davies says in an interview on the radio show, "On Being":
If God does anything, God has to be at work in the world. And now, if we go back to the sort of universe that Newton had and the one that Einstein supported, the notion of a deterministic universe, a clockwork universe, then this becomes a real problem, because if God is to change anything, then God has to overrule God's own laws, and that doesn't look a very edifying prospect theologically or scientifically. It's horrible on both accounts. 
But when one gets to an indeterministic universe, if you allow quantum physics, then there is some sort of lassitude in the operation of these laws. There are interstices having to do with quantum certainty into which, if you want, you could insert the hand of God. So, for example, if we think of a typical quantum process as being like the roll of a die — you know, "God does not play dice," Einstein said — well, it seems that, you know, God does play dice. Then the question is, you know, if God could load the quantum dice, this is one way of influencing what happens in the world, working through these quantum uncertainties. 
In other words, miracles may not violate the laws of physics, since quantum physics tells us these laws are not deterministic. So given quantum physics, God could have parted the sea and done other miracles without breaking the laws of physics. Miracles would not be impossible--in any situation there would be a minuscule, non-zero probability of a miraculous outcome. And the hand of God could be at work in those probabilities, loading the dice according to His will.

But having said that, I want to move away from quantum physics to a discussion of the theological reasons for believing that God is consistent in His actions and purposes, even with respect to miracles.

The Theological Implications of the Problem of Miracles

One objection I've often heard from skeptics is, "If an omnipotent, omniscient God exists, why doesn't He just do X?" where X is something very different from what we observe in nature and discover through science. In other words, why would an all-powerful deity bother with methods and processes, when He could simply swing His celestial wand and make things happen?

This is the opposite objection to the one expressed by Rick and Chelsea, and it's based on the same presupposition that I used to hold: That since an omnipotent, omniscient God can do whatever He pleases, random displays of power should be expected.

But the problem with this position is that God not just all-powerful, He is also all-good and all-wise, which means that He is rational, orderly, and consistent, not capricious. He could have raised up children for Abraham out of rocks (Matthew 3:9), but instead He did it through the process of birth and development, both physical and spiritual. His works--natural or supernatural--bear the same divine imprint.

Physicist and theologian John Polkinghorne says in Quantum Physics and Theology: An Unexpected Kinship:
It does not make theological sense to suppose that God is a kind of show-off celestial conjurer, capriciously using divine power today to do something that God did not think of doing yesterday and won't be bothered to do tomorrow. There must be a deep underlying consistency in divine action, but that requirement does not condemn the deity never to do anything radically new or unexpected. In the Christian tradition, we use personal language about God, not because we think God is an old man with a beard sitting high above the bright blue sky, but because it is less misleading in using the finite resources of human language to call God 'Father' than it would be to employ the impersonal language of 'Force.' The divine consistency is not a rigidly unalterable regularity like that of the force of gravity, but it lies in the continuity of a perfectly appropriate relationship to prevailing circumstances. 
Polkinghorne makes a number of very important points here, so I would like to spend some time unpacking them and using them as a framework for some of the insights I have acquired over the years.

First, he points out that it is less misleading to call God "Father" than to use the impersonal word "Force." To think of the God of the Bible as an impersonal force is a greater error than to be too anthropomorphic in our conception of God. God is not just a Person, but a loving Father who desires a relationship with us.

However, we can also err by failing to see that, although God is not an impersonal force, the Holy Spirit, the third Person of the Trinity, is "power from on high" (Luke 24:49). God is not just like us, which means that prayer is not just like asking another person to please pass the salt, expecting either the request to be immediately granted or to be told, "No, I think you've had enough sodium." (Although, in my experience, the latter doesn't happen too often at dinner parties.)

Sometimes God does deny a request, knowing that to grant it would hurt us--or He has something better in store. Paul would learn humility and greater reliance on God's power as a result of the thorn in the flesh (2 Corinthians 12:7-10).

But when we pray for something according to the promises in God's Word, and the answer doesn't come, the Bible nowhere tells us to assume that the request has been denied.  On the contrary, Jesus says to keep praying and not give up, telling the parable of the unrighteous judge (Luke 18:1-8).

This is a strange parable because it makes sense that nagging might wear humans down to the point where they will do something they were disinclined to do (children learn this at a very young age), but why would God say, essentially, "Just keep wearing Me out with your nagging, and I'll eventually do what I want to do anyway"? If our view of God is too anthropomorphic, this makes no sense. Unlike the unrighteous judge, God never becomes weary (Isaiah 40:28), and He is both willing and able to meet our every need (Philippians 4:19).

But if there is a "deep underlying consistency" in God's actions, as Polkinghorne says there must be, and God is the Creator of the universe, then we should not expect Him to act just like a human father. He is far more than that. We should expect to see close parallels between what nature reveals about His mind and what the Scriptures reveal about it. That is, just like there are physical laws, there ought to be spiritual laws.

The Vine and the Branches

John 15:5-7 says: "I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you."

That last sentence is one of those embarrassing statements by Jesus that are rarely mentioned in polite Christian company. We have all experienced unanswered prayer, so we may think that the idea that whatever we wish will be done for us has to be a mistake. I remember hearing this verse as a child and putting it to the test. I prayed and wished very hard for a bag of candy to appear under my pillow, but alas, I had to conclude that Jesus must have been wrong because there was nothing under my pillow.

However, what people often fail to notice about this passage is that the promise has a condition. And that condition is that we must abide in Christ in the same way that a branch abides in the vine. In other words, we have to stay close enough to Christ so that His life-giving Spirit flows through us in the same way that sap flows from a vine to the branches.

How do we know if we are abiding in the way Jesus commands us to? The test is whether we bear good fruit (Matthew 7:16-20)? And what is good fruit, the kind produced by the Holy Spirit? "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control" (Galatians 5:22-23).

So John 15 describes a spiritual law that is exactly like a physical law. Just like a branch has to stay attached to the vine to bear fruit, we have to maintain this same close connection to Christ to bear good fruit. What happens if we don't? We will wither spiritually, just like a branch withers if it breaks off from the vine. But if God's Spirit works through us, we will bear much fruit and wield the power of God through our prayers.

This passage is so matter-of-fact that it's almost harsh, but the laws of nature are so matter-of-fact that they're almost harsh. If I start eating a slice of French silk pie every night I will gain weight and probably clog up my arteries. That is an extremely harsh reality because I happen to like French silk pie. But the upside is that by eating healthy food and exercising we can become healthier and feel better. So although the laws of nature make us responsible for certain unpleasant outcomes, they also give us power.

But without losing sight of the spiritual law Jesus describes in John 15, we also have to remember that God is not an impersonal force, like the laws of nature, but a loving Father. He is in charge of our spiritual growth. He is aware of our weaknesses and failings, and He doesn't give up on us unless it becomes clear that we'll never grow fruit no matter what He does (Luke 13:6-9). If we abide in Him a little and bear some fruit, He prunes us so we will be more fruitful (John 15:2).

Grace and Miracles

The reason why I named my blog "Grace and Miracles" is because I love the Blaise Pascal quote: "The two foundations; one inward, the other outward; grace, miracles; both supernatural." It's not because I'm particularly fond of the title, "Grace and Miracles." An atheist once told me that he would visit my blog even though the name reminded him of an Oprah segment. I guess I can kind of see that . . .

Anyway, Pascal is saying that the grace of God that changes our hearts is just as supernatural as the power that effects miracles in the world. "Grace" means the work of God in our hearts--how He forgives us, makes us spiritually alive, and changes us to become more like Him. Again, we can understand this by analogizing it to something in the natural realm. Electricity enlightens a room and also keeps our appliances running. The same power accomplishes different things. Likewise, the Holy Spirit enlightens our hearts, but it is also God's supernatural power in the world.

What does this mean in terms of the promise of Jesus that if we abide in Him we will bear much fruit and we will receive whatever we ask for? It means we will ask for the right things because we will want the right things. We won't ask for candy to appear under our pillows, because if we are manifesting the fruit of self-control we won't be so desperate for candy in the first place. And if God's love has transformed us, we will pray for other people because we will genuinely care. To the extent that God's Spirit lives within us, we will want what God wants and therefore pray according to His will.

It does not, however, mean that moral perfection is required of us before God will hear our prayers. If that were the case, none of us would have any hope! On the contrary, He invites us to come to Him, warts and all, and He is the one who strengthens us and gives a crown of beauty for ashes (Isaiah 61:3). When we abide in Him, He gives us His love for our hate and selfishness, His joy for our depression, His peace for our turmoil, and so on. Jesus came to call sinners, which means that we all qualify. And the more we experience the liberality of His gifts of grace, the more we come to believe that He will graciously give us everything we need.

Is the Vine and the Branches Analogy Consistent With the Rest of the Scriptures?

As we have seen, John 15 reveals an underlying consistency between grace and the power of prayer--both depend on our relationship to Christ being like the relationship of a branch to a vine. The Holy Spirit is like the life-giving sap that flows through to the branches and makes a real difference in the physical world by producing fruit. But let's test John 15 to see if it really does shed some light on when and why miracles occur in the Scriptures. Is it consistent with the rest of the Bible?

We do see that much of the time when miracles occurred in the New Testament, believers were praying for a extended period of time, often as a large group. In other words, they were abiding in Christ in a particularly focused way. For example, Acts 1:14 says that the believers were with one mind "continually devoting themselves to prayer," and shortly afterwards the day of Pentecost came (Acts 2:1). Again, Acts 2:42 says that the believers "were continually devoting themselves to the apostles' teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer," and Acts 2:43 continues by saying that many wonders and signs were taking place through the apostles. In Acts 10:9, Peter was praying when he had the vision about the unclean animals, and Acts 10:30 says that Cornelius was praying when a man appeared before him in shining garments.

In Acts 12:2, King Herod put James the brother of John to death--the first of the apostles to be martyred. And then Herod captured Peter as well and put him in prison, but "prayer for him was being made fervently by the church to God" (Acts 12:5). After Peter's miraculous rescue, the church was still gathered together praying for him (Acts 12:12).

That story is particularly significant because there is no mention of prayer when James was captured and killed. That doesn't mean they didn't pray, but the death of James may have sent shock waves through the church, because the passage about Peter specifically mentions twice that they prayed, and they prayed fervently into night.

John 15 makes sense of Luke 18:1-8, the parable of the widow and the unrighteous judge. Jesus says to cry out to Him day and night, and when we do, His power will be at work on our behalf, granting our request speedily.

We also see this principle typified in the Old Testament. In Exodus 17:8-13, the Amalekites attacked Israel, and Moses stood at the top of hill holding up the staff of the Lord. As long as he held it up, the Israelites were winning, but when he lowered it, the Amalekites started winning. After a while, Moses became tired and Aaron and Hur held up each of his hands until sunset, when the Israelites won. God's power was at work as long as Moses held up the staff of the Lord.

Again, in Joshua 6, the warriors of Israel were commanded to take the ark of the covenant and march around Jericho for seven days, once on each of the first six days, and seven times on the seventh day. After they did so, the wall of Jericho collapsed and the Israelites conquered the city. The ark of the covenant represents the throne of grace or the presence of God, and the number seven in the Bible represents completion or perfection. So they walked in the presence of the Lord for seven days, and the wall collapsed, just like we are called to persevere in prayer until the answer comes.

I could also discuss the story of Jacob wrestling with God all night, and Abraham "negotiating" with God about Sodom and Gomorrah, as well as other passages, but I think the above examples are sufficient to establish the consistency of the Bible's teachings about persevering prayer. The passages use different illustrations from nature or everyday life to communicate a spiritual concept. In other words, human language is insufficient, so we have to analogize to concepts that we do understand, each of which helps illuminate this principle.

I would like to make an important observation here before I move on. Sometimes a suffering person may feel like a failure after praying for a miracle that doesn't happen. But it's important to note that Peter did not deserve to be miraculously delivered any more than James did. Peter was asleep when the angel rescued him, so he wasn't even praying. The church was praying for him. And even Moses grew tired and needed someone to hold up his hands.

When we really study what the Bible says about prayer and when miracles occur in the book of Acts, we can see why they would be extremely rare today. We wield the power of God through our prayers, and the prayers of one Christian may be like one candle, lighting up one small part of the darkness. But if an entire congregation holds up candles, the blaze can conquer the darkness.

How often do we, as a church, devote ourselves to prayer the way the early church did? Not nearly often enough, but I have seen God work in powerful ways when we do.

This is not to discount the power of individual prayer. James 5:16 says that the fervent, effectual prayer of a righteous person can accomplish much. However, if we are praying for a miracle, we should expect to have to put forth much effort, learn from past mistakes, and not give up. The Bible compares the life of faith to running a race (1 Corinthians 9:24-27, Hebrews 12:1), so why should we expect it to be easy?

When God Does Something Radically New or Unexpected

There are times when miracles occur in the New Testament and there is no specific mention of prayer. For example, Jesus performed many miracles, and much of the time He just spoke healing to people. Jesus is, of course, different because He is the Son of God, but He also spent forty days fasting and praying before He began His ministry. He remained in a state of unbroken communion with the Father, so He Himself lived what He taught in John 15.

But, according to the four canonical Gospels, nobody prayed or had faith when Jesus appeared to them after the resurrection. Does that invalidate the principle of the vine and the branches? No. As Polkinghorne says, "There must be a deep underlying consistency in divine action, but that requirement does not condemn the deity never to do anything radically new or unexpected . . . The divine consistency is not a rigidly unalterable regularity like that of the force of gravity, but it lies in the continuity of a perfectly appropriate relationship to prevailing circumstances." (Italics added.)

The resurrection is a unique event because it is the bedrock of Christianity (1 Corinthians 15:14-17), intended as proof to all people (Acts 17:31), and the only biblical miracle that can be critically evaluated based on the textual details. In other words, secular historians can analyze the text using the same historical criteria applied to all ancient writings and determine whether certain non-supernatural facts are likely true. For example, a sizable majority of scholars who have written on the subject believe that women did in fact find the tomb empty. Non-theistic historian Michael Grant says, "[I]f we apply the same sort of criteria that we would apply to any other ancient literary sources, then the evidence is firm and plausible enough to necessitate the conclusion that the tomb was indeed found empty." Almost all scholars hold that the apostles at least believed that Jesus had appeared to them postmortem. And by taking these and other salient facts together an honest inquirer can make an inference as to whether the resurrection probably occurred. I discuss the resurrection in greater detail in this series of posts.

The question of whether the disciples and Paul believed that they would see Jesus postmortem is significant because if they did, it may be reasonable to infer that it was some kind of mass hallucination brought on by the power of suggestion. And if the text had said that only those with faith could see Jesus, then we may have had an Emperor's New Clothes situation. But in the canonical narratives nobody expected Jesus to appear to them (least of all Paul), and they still boldly proclaimed the resurrection afterwards in the same hostile environment where Jesus had been crucified, and where members of their community continued to be persecuted and killed (Acts 7:58-60, Acts 8:1-3, Acts 9:1-2, Acts 12:1-4). The severe persecution by the Jewish and Roman leaders did not stop the church from growing in Jerusalem and spreading throughout the Roman Empire.

And in spite of the initial unbelief of the disciples of Jesus when faced with His resurrection, He did in fact predict it in Matthew 16:21, Matthew 17:22-23, Matthew 20:18-19, Mark 8:31, Mark 9:31, Mark 10:34, Luke 9:22, Luke 18:31-33, and Luke 24:7. So it should not have been unexpected.

The Divine Imprint on Biblical Miracles

Jesus expresses the underlying consistency in divine action when He says, "Do not believe me unless I do what my Father does" (John 10:37). Only if something is consistent with God's purposes and actions should we believe that it is from God. And the canonical miracles do bear this divine imprint in two ways: First, Jesus did on a small scale and in a focused way what God does or will do in nature on a large scale, and second, the miracles contain symbolism of God's redemptive purpose.

In Miracles, C. S. Lewis says about the miracles of Jesus: "Each miracle writes for us in small letters something that God has already written, or will write, in letters almost too large to be noticed, across the whole canvas of nature." He classifies them in the following two ways: "The first system yields the classes (1) Miracles of Fertility (2) Miracles of Healing (3) Miracles of Destruction (4) Miracles of Dominion over the Inorganic (5) Miracles of Reversal (6) Miracles of Perfecting or Glorification. The second system, which cuts across the first, yields two classes only: they are (1) Miracles of the Old Creation, and (2) Miracles of the New Creation."

The Miracles of Fertility are turning water into wine, making much bread out of a little bread and many fish out of a few fish, and the virgin birth. He points out that, "Every year, as part of the Natural order, God makes wine. He does so by creating a vegetable organism that can turn water, soil, and sunlight into a juice which will, under proper conditions, become wine." But at the wedding in Cana, He short-circuited the process. Likewise, He regularly makes a little corn into much corn in nature and multiplies fish.

As for the virgin birth, Lewis points out that "no woman ever conceived a child, no mare a foal, without Him." But once in history, when He created the Man who was to be Himself, He removed the human father from the chain of causation.

In his discussion on the Miracles of Healing, Lewis says that there is a sense in which no doctor ever heals--the body heals itself, and the doctor may simply stimulate this process or remove what hinders it. But once in Palestine, the "Power that always was behind all healings puts on a face and hands."

Christ's one Miracle of Destruction was to cause the fig tree to wither and die, just like God allows the cycle of life and death in nature everywhere.

With the Miracles of Dominion over the Inorganic, Lewis crosses over from the Miracles of the Old Creation to the Miracles of the New Creation. When Jesus calms the storm, He does what God does in the Old Creation, but when He walks on water He does something "that is the foretaste of a Nature that is still in the future. The New Creation is just breaking in."

The Miracles of Reversal are when the dead are raised, a process that is unknown in the Old Creation--"it involves playing backwards a film that we have always seen played forwards."

And he concludes this discussion by saying, "And the Miracles of Perfecting or of Glory, the Transfiguration, the Resurrection, and the Ascension, are even more emphatically of the New Creation. These are the true spring, or even the summer, of the world's new year. The Captain, the forerunner, is already in May or June, though His followers on earth are still living in the frosts and east winds of Old Nature--for 'spring comes slowly up this way.'"

As for the symbolism, it used to bother me when pastors focused on the deeper message embedded in the miracles, as if Jesus did not literally perform miracles. However, this is not an either/or proposition. Something can be literally true and also symbolic. For example, I literally went to Norway for Christmas and attended the Christmas Eve midnight service at the Oslo Cathedral. Then, right around the stroke of midnight I snapped the picture of the ceiling, which says, "Gloria in Excelsis Deo" or "Glory to God in the Highest"--what the angels sang to the shepherds after announcing the birth of Christ (Luke 2:14). The picture is also symbolic of the topic of my blog post, how God's power works through us and brings glory back to God, in the same way that the power emerging through the ceiling lights up the bulbs in the chandelier, which in turn reveal the ceiling. (Granted, the analogy breaks down in that the ceiling does not empower the light bulbs.) But none of this occurred to me at the time. I was just trying to take a visually pleasing picture.

And the Bible contains many different literary styles, but deep symbolism of God's redemptive purpose seems to appear in just about all the stories, parables, and miracles--in the Old Testament and the New--as if God stamped them with His signet ring. The blind see, the lame leap, the dead live, and the unclean are cleansed. Darkness falls upon the earth when Jesus is dying, because the sun is obscured, but when He gives up His spirit the veil of the temple tears in two, allowing sinners into God's holy sanctuary. Saints emerge from their tombs (Matthew 27:52), foreshadowing the day when those who dwell in the dust will awaken (Isaiah 26:19) and when the sea will give up its dead (Revelation 20:13).

Why Don't We See Miracles Today?

Many people ask that question, but I think it assumes too much. If a "miracle" is defined as a great outcome following prayer, including healings that doctors can't explain, then miracles most certainly happen today. I have personally experienced highly improbable outcomes after prayer over the years and have seen them in the lives of other Christians. But if a miracle is something contrary to the laws of nature, then we are back to square one and the question of why God would break His own laws. According to New York Times science writer Dennis Overbye, "Besides, the random nature of quantum physics means that there is always a minuscule, but nonzero, chance of anything occurring, including that the new collider could spit out man-eating dragons." Quantum physics tells us that we live in a very strange universe, so we can never say that a particular event cannot happen in the natural order.

What is a miracle? At what point does a doctor go from saying, "I can't explain this," to "This is a miracle"? Ever? Does it all just come down to the improbability of an outcome?

If prayer makes a difference something supernatural is happening even if the outcome could have occurred without prayer. I just took some time off from blogging to focus on prayer because of a medical crisis involving my son, where we found out, after a series of tests, that he had had a severe reaction to a medication. Not only did he recover from everything without any medicine (except a week of Benadryl), but the insurance covered all the tens of thousands of dollars for the hospitalization, and I saw more answers to prayer in that month or two than I have in a long time, including the great news about the remission of Rick's agent Lee Hough's aggressive cancer and Rick's novel being featured by Amazon and hitting the number one spot that day for Kindle sales.

Coincidence? Maybe. But in the words of William Temple, "When I pray, coincidences happen, and when I don't, they don't."

I met novelist Brandilyn Collins for the first time back in 2009. At the time, she was experiencing the reinfection of her Lyme Disease she describes on her website. I knew about the instant healing of her first and most severe bout of Lyme Disease after fellow Christians set up a 24-hour prayer vigil on her behalf, and I remember thinking how that resembled the prayer vigil by the church for the Apostle Peter. If the Bible is true in what it says about prayer, an effort like that would be most likely to bring about a miraculous outcome.

However, although I prayed for her (and she was kind enough to pray for my daughter Ingrid, who was having seizures at the time), it concerned me that she was unlikely to get that kind of an organized, continuous prayer vigil again. It is rare for Christians to do something like that. There are so many people to pray for, and frankly, we don't take prayer anywhere near as seriously as we should.

But God still had Brandilyn's well-being in mind, and working within the framework of His spiritual laws, He answered our comparatively sporadic, weak prayers by providing a medical remedy that healed her over the course of six months.

When Jesus says that it shall be done to us according to our faith, He is stating the spiritual law of John 15 in a different way. Faith simply means being open to the power of God, so the more of God's power we can bring to our situation, either by our own prayers or the prayers of other believers, the more likely we will see a miraculous outcome.

Martin Luther said, "Prayer is that mightiest of all weapons that created natures can wield." And no wonder, since prayer is the means by which we lay hold of the power of God! If we really believed that, would we see more outcomes like Brandilyn's? Could our greatest gift to our children be our prayers? What would happen if we, like Augustine's mother Monica, brought our children before the throne of grace day and night? We know that her fast-living, rebellious son became one of the most influential theologians and philosophers in history.

Final Thoughts

The unifying theme of this behemoth blog post is the consistency of divine action, so I would like to conclude by identifying one more way in which God's supernatural work mirrors His work in nature: Just as we grow and develop physically, we grow and develop spiritually. This means that faith can be a very long, slow process even when we have experienced God's work in our lives many times and are intellectually convinced. We have to see the same cause and effect again and again, and allow our faith to be tested from many different angles, so we don't secretly fear that reality would shatter it.

Abraham was the man of great faith, but at one point he doubted enough to "help" God fulfill His promises by impregnating Hagar. Moses lived in Midian forty years, engaged in the lonely business of tending sheep, before God appeared to him in the burning bush (Acts 7:30). And even then, he doubted. The Christians who prayed for the Apostle Peter did not believe that he was still alive when he arrived at the door. They told the servant girl Rhoda that she was out of her mind when she announced it (Acts 12:12-16), even after they had prayed fervently for Peter for hours and had witnessed other miracles.

So if we struggle with doubt, we are in excellent company. But God is the author and perfecter of our faith, the one who calls us out of death into life, who plots our course, who teaches us to walk by faith, who picks us up and puts us back on our feet when we fall--and who knows exactly how long to let us lie there before He does.

God is mindful that we are but dust, but there's nothing prosaic about that dust--science tells us that we are made of stardust! And God's Word resoundingly echoes with our intended destiny: "Those who are wise will shine like the brightness of the heavens, and those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars for ever and ever" (Daniel 12:3).