Monday, August 13, 2012

Giving Sight

There’s a difference between making didactic arguments and influencing people’s attitudes.

Let’s say that many thoughtful blogs make didactic arguments. The articles I write do. They are intended to be instructive and provide interested individuals with the material to discuss things influentially later.

But influencing people’s attitudes requires making positive appeal to the sensibilities of the person or people you are talking to. An example of this happened yesterday. I had a discussion with a Christian steeped in that sort of theology that focuses on the miraculous as a benefit to the physical welfare of the believer.

Specifically, he brought up as a matter of discussion a devotion by Joseph Prince he had recently read. He said that a woman who was blind came to him for healing. He told her to close her eyes and tell him what she saw.

“Nothing,” she replied.

Then Joseph Prince told her to imagine herself with perfect vision and tell him what she saw. She then described a beautiful scene of green fields, etc. When she opened her eyes, she had perfect vision.

So my brother was amazed by the miraculous physical healing that we can have if we only have the right understanding of how to think about God.

Now, my didactic argument is based on the principle that our purpose is to glorify God. So thinking from the account we have here, let us assume that it is true that the woman was miraculously healed. God can certainly do it and he can use flawed and sinful people in the process. I don’t know if Joseph Prince is fabricating miraculous accounts for his own glory or not. Some, if not most or all, of faith healers are certainly fakes. But I’m not going to pontificate with skepticism for which I have no basis in knowledge.

Now, Christians who follow faith healers cognitively attribute such miracles to God. That’s not a bad thing. That’s what it means to give God the glory. God does good things that we want to use to tell others about God. The problem is that it’s a really low view of God. The gospel is so much greater and more glorious than mere physical miracles. The gospel is the sacrifice of His son to atone for our sins and when we are associated with Christ, then we get to suffer sacrificially in His service of the gospel to others as long as we are here on earth.

That’s the rub. It’s the suffering that most glorifies God because it is aligned with the gospel in the pattern of it. Physical miracles are temporary. How many people healed by faith healers are immune to death? None of them. Suffering betrays a spiritual truth that the sufferer knows that transcends death.

Worse, there is an implication in the Joseph Prince devotion, as is in the general school of “faith” that dwells on such things, that implies what I would consider a serious error. That error is that while it can be said that God did the miracle, he did it in response to some act of faith. So really, this teaching implicitly focuses on the ability of the miracle recipient to obtain the miracle by generating the right kind of faith. If someone gets a miracle because they have the right faith, then the miracle recipient is the one who is glorified. When things are good, we don’t need God. When things are not good, then the Bible is a self-help book and God is the manager of the great health-care/welfare system in the sky.

The thing is, I might write this here, but when I have a real person in front of me that I can talk to and work with, my conversation looks vastly different.

In this case, I told my Christian brother about a blind man I know. He was a successful businessman up until a few years ago when he was struck blind. He went into a period of despair when that happened until he realized that God could work through him despite his blindness. He now writes a weekly article where he encourages Christians around the world and has participated in street evangelism efforts.

I didn’t add to it any commentary. I didn’t need to. But I could tell by the look in his eyes that his understanding of how God works through our weaknesses was improved. Blindness in this case wasn’t something to be healed of. Blindness was something that yielded a greater spiritual vision. Ultimately, God was glorified by inflicting temporary weakness on his creation because a greater and enduring strength was to be seen by it.

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