My son Silas, who is trying to make the Olympic rowing team, sustained a rib injury last week. For rowers this is an exceptionally bad problem, because rib injuries are very slow to heal. He’s dedicated four years of his life to this quest, and it’s awful to think of his losing it all because of an ill-timed injury.
My inclination is to pray for miraculous healing. I believe God can fix this problem in a second, if he wants to. And I want him to, very much! However, that prayer raises questions for me. What would make God want to heal this and not that? Why would he heal Silas’ rib cage and not my friend Karen’s knee? Or my friend Chris’s cancer?
A sports injury intensifies these questions. If Silas is healed and able to row in the Olympics, he will push aside some equally hard-working athlete. And why, really, should God care who goes to the Olympics? It’s only a game.
My only answer is that I care about it. I want Silas to heal and to be able to compete. Is that good enough?
In writing my book Miracles (coming in July) I was struck by the thought that we pray for miracles whenever we pray the Lord’s Prayer. Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. In heaven there is no sickness, no pain. Our bodies will work perfectly there. So even Presbyterians like me pray regularly for miracles, because we pray that what is true in heaven would be made true on earth.
God ultimately wants Silas’s body—all our bodies—to work perfectly, as they were designed to work. Praying for his ribs to heal is aligning ourselves with what we know God wants.
But is it that simple? Is praying for a miracle always simply asking that God’s kingdom come? The answer is, “No!” At least one Old Testament miracle—asked for and received–is clearly labeled, “Not God’s Will,” and “Do Not Repeat—Ever!”
That is the incident of Massah, when the thirsty Israelites demanded that God provide them with water. (Exodus 17:1-7) God acceded to their demands. Moses struck the rock and water came out. However, this place of miracle became a byword for quarreling with God. Psalm 95 strongly warns against similar behavior, as does Deuteronomy 6:16, which Jesus quoted when he was tempted by Satan. “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.” (Luke 4:12)
God surely wanted to provide water for his people at Massah. He had not brought them there to let them die. But he had his own time, and his own ways. We will never know what those were, because the Israelites were so keen to have him meet their needs in the way they expected him to, no matter what.
Thus I pray for a miracle—that Silas would be instantly healed. But I try to tune my mind to be more interested in seeing God’s kingdom come, than in seeing it come the way I envision it.
So far, Silas has not been instantly healed. A physical therapist and a chiropractor have helped him, and there’s hope he’ll get well fast enough to be able to compete. His coach’s response has been most encouraging. Contrary to all expectations, he was willing to give Silas time off to heal. That seemed to have some miraculous qualities, at least to Silas!
Observing Silas deal with this, I’ve seen signs of an awakening spirit. That encourages me, as an answer to my deepest prayers. One way or another, may God’s kingdom come!