Someone shared a story to a group about God intervening in their life in a highly unusual and specific way. Remarks were made afterward to the effect that God can do anything He wants, we can’t limit Him, put Him in a box, etc. This was followed by referencing the woman who was healed by touching Jesus’ garment and the centurion who believed Jesus could heal his servant from far away. The conclusion drawn from these two stories was that they taught us that these are the kinds of things that happen to people with faith. If you believe that God can do anything, He will. God can certainly do anything He wants—but that’s not the real issue here. The issue is whether we also include not doing anything we can necessarily perceive/being silent in the category of God’s possible responses (Think of Christ’s response to John the Baptist). Do we include that in our God can do anything He wants characterization? If we don’t, then we do the very thing we’ve protested as our “out of the box” becomes the new box for God.
But there’s more to it than that. Think about the above incident. While God should get the glory for all good things (James 1:17), that’s quite different than claiming we know the exact way He acted to bring about the good. The first is a general claim backed up from the Scripture, the other is very specific and is backed up only by our experience. (And of course, it’s needs to be emphasized it isn’t the reality of our experience that is being disputed, it’s the interpretation of that experience that’s under question). And even though our claim of intervention is done to bring God glory, it carries other baggage with it.
When the experience is linked to faith and it is suggested that these are the kind of things that happen to people who don’t place God in a box, then what is the believer who has asked God for healing of a loved one to think when that person dies? Their pain is now compounded—because in addition to their loss, they will likely call into question their faith. If they take it a step further, guilt begins to creep in as they wonder in their loved one would still be alive if their belief was greater. Note the sequence of events—we took something we really don’t know that God did, attached it to our faith (a nice little pat on our back), and ended up causing harm to the most vulnerable (i.e., the person already suffering and now struggling with doubt and guilt). Did we mean for any of that to happen? Of course not, but that doesn’t change the reality of a brother or sister’s pain. Our well intentioned attribution that we thought was spiritual was in fact shallow.
But is there no place for spontaneity in our joy? Must we always parse out our words so carefully? It seems to me that all that is really needed is a little more humility. Why not just praise God for the good that comes our way without trying to delve into details we are beyond our knowledge? (Maybe a text like 1 Corinthians 4:6 speaks to this in some way). Not placing God in a box means we shouldn’t expect to always be able to trace His hand. We must learn to embrace the mystery that is part of our faith —the mystery that comes when what we ask for is granted and when it isn’t.