September 2, 2014

What Happens After The Miracle?

Tokah is a longtime iMonk who was diagnosed with a disease that should have–taken her life—and it nearly did. Then God intervened. But what next? What happens after the miracle occurs? I had honestly never thought of this side of the miraculous before.  JD

And Jesus stopped and commanded him to be brought to him. And when he came near, he asked him, “What do you want me to do for you?” He said, “Lord, let me recover my sight.” And Jesus said to him, “Recover your sight; your faith has made you well.” And immediately he recovered his sight and followed him, glorifying God. And all the people, when they saw it, gave praise to God. Luke 18:40-43 (ESV)

As a child, I always wondered what happened next. After all of the glorifying God is over, the various gospel writers just move on to the next story. The camera follows the Lord, and we never learn how things went for the previously blind, demon possessed, paralyzed, and otherwise ill people he left in his wake. Did the man born blind ever get his colors straight or learn to read? What kind of employment did the beggar in this passage find? Were those cured of leprosy accepted easily by their families? Did the Gerasene demoniac ever win back the trust of his town? Did those healed on the sabbath get the cold shoulder from the religious establishment?

I propose that there is a post-miracle wilderness. When an unexpected miracle changes the circumstances of your life, blessing that it is, there are immense challenges. However bad your previous situation, at least you understood it. It was easy to explain to others. You had a lot of practice at that mode of life, and you had an idea of how to plan for the future. As your new circumstances dawn, you are both very happy and a bit lost.

You quickly come to the end of the gospel style telling of your tale. People have rejoiced, God has been glorified, and you have walked home with your mat. Now Jesus is headed to Capernaum, leaving you to confront your life with very little information. Questions fly furiously from every direction about everything from why you think you received a miracle to whether you were really ill in the first place. Foremost in your mind is a rather different curiosity: is this real, trustworthy? Will I wake up this way tomorrow or back in my old life?

If it does last, if you wake up the next day with your newly restored faculties intact, the long term challenges set in. First you fight through who to tell and how and when to do so. Your long term plans will certainly change, but in our modern bureaucratic society that is easier said than done. For example, explaining that gap on your resume is hard, and few pick the prospective employee who may suddenly become sick again. You may be a part of a program for people in your old circumstances, receiving some kind of help or benefits. The honest thing to do is to get off the rolls, but the fear that you may need that help again makes it hard to take that step.  You will be a square peg in a round hole for a very long time, always a bit of a freak. There is a serious risk of being treated as the boy who cried wolf. Even the very Christians who have prayed for you faithfully often are not sure what to make of you now.

There is a darker part of this wilderness yet to explore. Hezekiah was told he had sixteen more years to live, but most of us don’t have that luxury. At some point, your old circumstances return or new grief assails you. This time you don’t just intellectually believe God could fix it, you know from personal experience he could. When he doesn’t, it hurts with an extra wounding, and the doubts about his character deepen. It is a shadowed valley indeed, and very treacherous. It is easy to fall into a prosperity theology, to think you have done something wrong and thus lost God’s favor. It is easy to become a fatalist, to give up trying. It is easy to become bitter and ungrateful for the blessings you received previously.

I don’t have easy answers for someone in this wilderness or simple plans to overcome its obstacles. It is helpful to keep in mind both how little we know about what is occurring around us and what a terrible idea it is to put words in God’s mouth. Hindsight is 20/20, but we are still in the present. To maintain perspective, to cling to God, and to live forthrightly is a great struggle.

I personally find the lives of saints to be a good resource, and I hope to take the hills and valleys of this wilderness with the faithful patience of St. Mary of Egypt. Corporate worship helps keep what is important more central in my mind and resets perspective. More practically, volunteer work is much more forgiving to complicated pasts then paid work is and more fulfilling if you are in a position to do it.

How about you, fellow iMonks? What would you do if a completely unexplained blessing changed your life forever? What would you do if the blessing expired, leaving you in need once more? Do any of you who have walked through this wilderness yourself or alongside a loved one have any thoughts on how best to navigate it?

Comments

  1. I try not to believe what I see (so much), but ‘try’ to live by faith.

    As you rightly say, life is a great struggle. There’s no lasting peace, nor rest, nor victory, in this life.

    But all those things will come. He has promised us so. And to that, I cling.

  2. Tokah, incredible, insightful, important. Thanks for helping ground our enthusiasms in daily reality. No matter how great yesterday’s miracle, it remains a sign of tomorrow’s promise. And that leaves today. What then?

    Be well, friend.

  3. I believe God’s miracles are His plan to strengthen us for times life presents a challenge. Reality is… life has its ups and downs. When we are thankful for our experience it sheds new light that the down sides will serve a purpose. God works miracles in people we affect everyday. When we are given that miracle it is a blessing and a responsibility to use it for His glory.

  4. Wonderful insight, Tokah.

    I’ve often wondered the same things as you about the “now what” of those individuals in the narrative who were the recepients of healing grace.

    Tom

  5. Thank you for this deeply meaningful post. Since I was a teen I’ve wondered and pondered on these things – why we never hear any more of the story of those who have been healed, why one person was healed and not another, why, why, why! Through it all, I’ve learned and continue to learn, to trust in Jesus – even when there is no miracle or a ‘blessing has expired.’ I believe, help my unbelief.

  6. Sometimes the post-miracle wilderness is similar to the pre-miracle wilderness & it catches us off guard simply because we expect it to be different. In the wilderness we can be faced with our greatest tests but we also have the opportunity to hear the still, small voice of God the clearest. All this I learned a few years ago through my child’s illness. I also learned to expand my definition of blessing as the meaning gained by God’s grace. in this way, blessings are part of the pre-miracle state, the miracle but MOSTLY the post-miracle state. Blessings to you, Tokah, as you continue to travel your post-miracle path.

  7. It is helpful to keep in mind both how little we know about what is occurring around us and what a terrible idea it is to put words in God’s mouth.

    Right on! Great story. Do you suppose that possibly 2000 years ago people were a bit more superstitious, less skeptical, and more open to the idea of divine intervention? I wonder if the developments since then in science and rationalism have made more people a little prone to believe that everything can be explained empirically.

    • I read an interesting article on how mental illness operates differently in developed countries than in less developed ones. For instance, schizophrenics recovered more quickly and completely, with measurably less recidivism in countries where their neighbors thought of them as possessed by evil spirits than in countries with a medical view of mental illness. The original researchers thought that this was because if you believed schizophenia was caused by possession, then once you demonstrated a lack of evil spirits, people around you accepted you were better now and that was that. They didn’t see the illness as being intrinsic to you, part of you, and the stigma didn’t attach for the long term. In societies where they are understood in terms of illness, chemical imbalance, people tended to come to see the schizophrenia as intrinsic to the person who suffered from it. There was more fear of recurring, less social integration after acute phases, and less family support. They were surprised that a backwards understanding of mental illness actually led in this case to better long term outcomes.

      What I have found funny about my situation is how silly rational people sound when they start to figure out what happened to me. I have had countless people ask me if it is the water in my state (I had moved a week and a half before), which when you think about it is crazier than the old superstitions! Don’t you think people would have noticed if the city water around here fixed incurable diseases and their symptoms? But to their minds that sounds more sane than leaving the mystery to it and the glory to God.

    • Brianthedad says:

      Miguel. Yes! Either we explain a miracle away with empirical data and coincidence, or we don’t believe in miracles so they don’t happen as often. It seems He sent most of the recipients of His miracles away with a “go, your faith has made you whole/healed you/ saved you”

  8. It seems paradoxical that God’s blessings often come with a curse of loneliness. I think particularly of prophets (i.e. Jeremiah) God gifted with revelation and understanding to benefit the people of specific times and places. But we know they weren’t usually welcomed in their own towns. They had to live on the fringes of societey and even on the run for their lives at times. In the case of miracles, maybe God is similarly trying to speak to more than just the one receiving the miracle, but jealousy, ignorance or unease with the unknown closes ears and hearts. Even those gifted with unique talents sometimes have to give up the pleasure of being understood in order to fully utilize their talents, often for the benefit of the very ones who fail to understand them.

  9. Your write beautifully, Tokah. I appreciate your insight, costly as it has been.

  10. Just wondering how many miracles happen without our recognizing them as such. Miguel makes an important point in saying that we have a tendency to apply rational explanations to events that surprise or confound us. If no other logical explanation is available, there’s always coincidence, good fortune, “fate” or dumb luck.

    I don’t doubt for a moment that God can reach down into linear time and cause a miracle supernaturally, but I’m inclined to believe that He is more inclined to use the perfectly mundane to cause miracles …a thunderstorm, a volcanic eruption, a talented and insightful doctor, a brave fireman or a bystander acting on “impulse” who performs to heroic standards. A miracle is usually more than just a two-sided coin, blessing and aftermath. It’s more like a pebble in the pond, causing ripples of benefit or curse far beyond the original recipient.

  11. Good piece. I’ve often wondered about poor Lazarus…died, raised from the dead, then eventually had to face death again! Nouwen writes that joy and sorrow are constant, natural companions. You know, I pray often that God would grant me long life so that I can see my children grow…Who knows what might happen during those years, with me, my wife, my kids?

    All we can say is “Thanks be to God…”

  12. Headless Unicorn Guy says:

    What happens after the Miracle?

    YOU LIVE WITH IT.
    YOU LIVE YOUR LIFE.

  13. A friend of mine came to camp, reading with a magnifying glass. She asked for prayer for her eyes, because being single, she had to drive to get to work. We prayed and the next day she could read without the glass. About a month later, she started dating someone and then had a retinal detachment. She has since had a number of surgeries and laser treatments, but her vision is severely compromised. She had to give up her job, but she married the man and is back in college, looking for something she can do despite her visual impairments. After the healing can be much like being rolled over by a wave in the ocean. You are moving, but have no control over where you will end up.

  14. Thank you for such an insightful, thoughtful, and honest post. I really appreciated reading it today.