Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Misery and Miracles

"Nothing almost sees miracles but misery," C.S. Lewis wrote.

Jesus healed the blind, removed demons from those possessed, cleansed lepers and calmed storms. But in order for those miracles to occur, someone had to live in darkness, uncontrollable misery, extreme loneliness and in real and present fear of danger and death.

I recently finished reading The Hiding Place, Corrie Ten Boom's account of life as a Jewish sympathizer and protector in the 1930s and 40s Nazi-occupied Holland. For her sympathetic actions, she and several family members were incarcerated at Nazi prisons and ultimately concentration camps.

I love Corrie's reality-laden take on those experiences. She doesn't sugar-coat them with "and God made it so much better." She gets honest about how awful things really were; how she felt hate for the enemies, despised the conditions, and was nauseated at the sights and smells. At the same time, a quiet, still faith flowed within her in the midst of those circumstances. And in that misery, because of faith in a loving, powerful God, miracles occurred.

Some of the miracles she never actually requested or articulated. A bottle of vitamin water for her sister--and shared with countless other women--which never ran empty until the day new vitamins became available through another source. Merciful police officers and lieutenants who arranged secret meetings for she and other family members. The presence of lice among prisoners which kept away German soldiers, allowing the inmates to hold prayer and worship services. Genuine, yet inexplicable fits of coughing which kept soldiers from frisking them and discovering the hidden copies of the Bible hanging around their necks. "Accidental" papers of her release signed and authenticated, when in fact, every woman in her age group was murdered in the following weeks.

Miracles, no doubt. But from depths of pain and misery few people ever know. As we suffer and grieve this side of eternity, we often ask God for his handiwork to prove powerful. We beg for miracles. But the truth is we naturally shirk from the pain and agony of life. I wonder how often I've prevented a God-sized miracle in my own life, by manipulating my circumstances away from what I perceive to be a greater pain, settling for my own version of a man-made "miracle" (the simple fact I avoided what I thought I wanted to get out of).

Salvation by grace through faith is probably considered the greatest miracle of all time. That a sinless man would offer all of himself to the point of death, for a humanity who would daily mock his pain in countless ways is unfathomable. That we'd be given the opportunity to establish relationship with him and a perfect God is equally incredible. From the depths of our sinful misery, a miracle.