Chapter 2 - The Mystery of God|
You may have noticed this same pattern in your own life. It is quite common for God to ignore prayers. And that seems odd, because the Bible is clear about how prayer is supposed to work. In Mark 11:24 Jesus promises:
We have no way to know what God is thinking, and his actions at times can be quite mysterious.
Even when a prayer does seem to work, it is often shrouded in mystery. For example, in the May, 2004 issue of Guideposts magazine there is a fascinating story about a huge wildfire that swept through San Diego, California. Steve Homel lived in a subdivision engulfed by that fire. Steve prayed and God answered Steve's prayer, so Steve's story offers a glimpse into the way that God works in our world.
Steve saw the fire approaching and it was terrifying -- "an eighty-foot wall of flames rolling down the ridge that overlooks our street." He and his wife evacuated to the home of Steve's grown daughter about 15 miles away. There, as he watched the news on TV, Steve actually saw the flames reaching his neighborhood.
What is the appropriate thing for a person to do in such a situation? As with Neva Rogers, the answer is prayer. Steve, however, decided to take an innovative approach. According to the article: "Suddenly Steve grabbed a piece of paper. 'God bless this house and the firemen who protect it,' he scrawled." Steve then faxed that sheet of paper to the fax machine in his home.
Days later, Steve and his neighbors were allowed to return to their subdivision. What Steve found when he arrived was absolutely amazing. Despite the raging inferno, Steve's house stood completely unscathed. Even the trees in the yard were protected. It was as though there had never been a fire near the neighborhood.
They found Steve's prayer in the tray of his fax machine. The fax machine had received the message, and obviously God did too.
Since Steve prayed and his house survived, believers know what happened. Having heard Steve's prayer, God reached down from heaven into our world and worked a miracle. When God acts on our earth so obviously like this, it is a source of hope, a testimony to God's grace and a shining example of the power of prayer. This story about God's blessings gets written up in magazines and sent to millions of believers: God saved Steve's house!
The Mystery in San Diego
Steve's story certainly sounds miraculous. But if we probe into this situation just below the surface, we run into another paradox not unlike Neva Rogers'.
The problem is simple: Every other house on Steve's Street burned to the ground in the fire. According to the article, "The only things standing were a few brick chimneys. The rest had been reduced to ash." The 39 other houses on Steve's street were completely and utterly destroyed.
If God reached down to bless Steve by saving his house, did he not choose to curse Steve's neighbors by letting their homes burn to the ground? Why would a loving, all-powerful God save only one house when it would have been just as easy for him to save all 40?
This is where the "mystery of God" comes in. We have no way to understand why God would protect one house while destroying the other 39. In order to understand why the other 39 houses burned down, we are forced to imagine scenerios that are not particularly appealing:
This "selfish" theory is actually something to consider. Think about it: Steve's prayer was incredibly selfish. What if Steve had changed just one word in his prayer so it had said, "God bless this subdivision and the firemen who protect it"? Would all 40 homes have been saved?
What if Steve had prayed "God bless this nation and the firemen who protect it"? Would every fire in the entire country immediately extinguish itself? If so, could we save billions of dollars per year by closing every fire station in the nation and relying on Steve and his fax machine to take care of us?
Most of us understand that closing every fire station in America would be irresponsible. But why? It brings up an interesting question: If you believe that God answered Steve's prayer, then why don't you believe that God would answer a nationwide prayer from Steve as well? Keep in mind what Jesus said in Mark 11:24:
Why, in other words, is God so mysterious?
The Gumball Machine
Many people respond to that question by saying, "God is under no obligation to answer prayers. God is not a gumball machine granting every wish." Yet, if you interpret the Mark 11:24 (and other similar verses) in a normal way, it does seem that God promises to answer prayers. So what is going on? (The article Understanding the Gumball Machine explores this question in more detail).
What is God thinking when he allows things like this to happen to some people but not others, even if both are fervently and faithfully praying? What was God thinking when he let Neva Rogers die? We can say, "It is all part of God's plan," but what sort of plan is that? It can become uncomfortable if you think about it -- what if God's plan is to shoot you in the head tomorrow, or burn your house to the ground? How do we make sense of that?
What if you could resolve the mystery of God? What if you could completely explain this mystery in San Diego, and the mystery at Red Lake, and the many other mysteries that we witness each day?
Before we can probe into the mystery of God completely, we should take one small detour. We need to have a clear understanding of who God is. We need to establish the Standard Model of God.
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