If I were to ask what the worst stumbling block for the Christian faith today is, you may be inclined to point to the modern skeptic. But what is the skeptic challenging, exactly? Maybe the biggest threat to our faith is ourselves?
When I started studying Biblical apologetics I realized what shook me most was the fear that I’d been chasing the wrong ideas my whole life. These ideas and interpretations were the foundation of my faith and continue to be the foundation of the faith of many Christians today. The interpretation I’m talking about is the pursuit of spiritual signs and wonders. There’s a good reason some of the most popular skeptical objections set their sights on prayer, evil, and the supposed lack of evidence for God. These objections circle around one question: “Where is God?” Indeed, I too asked myself this in the face of serious challenges. “Where is God?”
It’s a disheartening sight to see modern Christianity consumed with the pursuit of spiritual signs and wonders. Of course, this hardly means we should deny miracles entirely. What I’m asking to evaluate is our perception of miracles. A major teaching of many modern Christian leaders is the infamous “Prosperity Gospel.” It’s a disheartening teaching, not only for its idolatrous nature but for its decision to place the foundation of the Christian faith on individual signs and wonders instead of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. We’re told that God will perform miracles from a financial blessing to a free car park at the local mall. Frank Peretti, in his novel The Visitation, reveals the folly of such thinking when he describes a bunch of coincidental “signs” that seem to suggest that God is pointing to a certain church He wants the main character to visit. When he arrives he finds he’s completely rejected. These signs and wonders weren’t the product of God hinting at a direction. Each “sign” was a series of coincidental events that coincided with the main character’s desire. He simply inserted his own want onto these happenstance events and interpreted them as a sign of God’s direction.
Every day I see this fictional account become reality. How does the prosperity teacher reconcile his wealth to the countless Christians who can’t even afford to buy a new car? To suggest a lack of faith? Maybe our perspective, rather than our faith, is what’s wrong. What if God doesn’t provide that financial blessing you’ve been praying for? What if God doesn’t heal that disease? What if we pray for that parking space but eventually get to work late because God never gave us one? Even more disturbing, does a lack of spiritual signs and wonders introduce the possibility that when/if someone performs them, we’ll follow them? Remember, Jesus warned that false Christs and prophets would come and perform signs and wonders. If the wonders they’re performing seem to coincide with what we think God is telling us, what foundation do we have to reject them? How can we reject the prophet that provides financial blessing when we’re told over and over again that that is what God will grant us?
You see, this is where I started to doubt. This is where I asked, “Where is God?” My faith was banking on rootless signs and wonders. It’s a selfish ambition to live our Christian lives in pursuit of magnificent signs and wonders because we’re missing the most important thing: the riches of God’s mercy and grace.
What if we no longer feel the weight of God’s presence? I’ve never seen the parting of a sea. Something must be wrong with me. No, friends, the most important sign we have ever been given is the Word of God, through which God has revealed everything pertaining to life and godliness.
“According as his divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness, through the knowledge of him that hath called us to glory and virtue.” (2 Peter 1:3).
Now we have a root. Now we know how to interpret these signs and wonders. Now we have an answer. How do we learn discernment and wisdom? Through the Word. A mature man isn’t one who actively seeks and prays for signs and wonders, it’s one who understands God’s Word and allows that to guide His life.
Once more, it’s important we grasp the difference between denying miracles and changing our perception of them. I am not saying miracles do not or cannot happen today. That belief falls into an extreme form of cessationism that is just as unbiblical as the one who looks for signs. What I am advocating is a change of perception. We’re so busy looking for magnificent signs that we ignore the small ways God is moving around us each and every day. We don’t see God in anything apart from the most significant of miracles. That is the saddest branch of the prosperity Gospel. God hasn’t moved until I receive a financial blessing or an abundant lifestyle. No, God is moving in the very moment you’re in now to bring about His perfect will. But how can we submit to the will of God when we believe His will entails nothing but the fulfilment of our own pleasures and ambitions?
Before we ever enter the field of apologetics, we need to evaluate our own perceptions of our faith. A Joyce Myer or Joel Osteen would crumble under the weight of a skeptical objection because their perception is on fulfilling what has already been fulfilled. God will carry us in the beginning, but there comes a time where He wants us to shoulder the responsibility of leaning on His Word and studying the Scriptures. To critically examine all things as goes one of my favourite verses.
“Prove all things; hold fast that which is good.” (1 Thessalonians 5:21).