Keep Waiting for the Miracle

This post is adapted from a sacrament meeting talk I gave yesterday.

The first two books of the Book of Mormon give us a tale of two Nephis: First Nephi gives us a young man full of zeal. He’s going undercover, sneaking into Jerusalem under cover of darkness, fighting, hunting, adventuring, sailing, having visions, rebuking his brothers. He’s full of confidence in his own spiritual power and righteousness. He’s working to achieve his father’s dream of a land of promise where his descendants could live together in righteousness.

Second Nephi gives us an older, humbler Nephi—one who has seen his father’s dream apparently fail when, after Lehi’s death, Nephi fails to keep the family together, and to be a ruler and teacher over his brothers and their families. This Nephi has learned that the cost of discipleship is a broken heart (see 2 Nephi 4:17–35). He has learned that to be a disciple, he must abandon all trust in his own righteousness and put his trust in God (2 Nephi 4:34). And it is in this humility that Nephi is filled with the spirit of prophecy and prophesies about the last days, and the coming forth of the Book of Mormon in the last days (see 2 Nephi 27).

“Behold,” says the Lord to Nephi, in this prophecy, “I am a God of miracles” (2 Nephi 27:23) I would like to think about what it means to believe in a God of Miracles.

Miracles are signs of the true gospel.

Miracles have always been a sign of the true gospel. This was how John’s disciples recognized Jesus as the true Messiah. When John sent his disciples to ask Jesus if he was the Messiah he answered: “go and tell John what you have seen here: the blind see, the deaf hear, lepers and disabled people are healed, the dead are resurrected, and the gospel is preached to the poor” (Matthew 11:5 [my paraphrase], compare Isaiah 61:1; D&C 35:15).

What I find striking about this list is not just the fact that these signs are miraculous, in the sense that they appear to be supernatural, but the kind of signs they are. Some examples of supernatural signs in the scriptures are of curses: being struck dumb, or falling dead, for disobedience (See, e.g., Korihor [Alma 30:49–50]; Zacharias [Luke 1:20–22]; Ananias & Sapphira [Acts 5:1–10]). But the miracles that Jesus pointed to as evidence of the true gospel are different. They are all about healing. They are all about deliverance (see also Luke 4:18).

So when we think of a God of miracles, we should think not just of a God who can do supernatural things, but of a God who is eager to heal and deliver his people. When Nephi was broken-hearted, and he found a God of miracles in his brokenness, he found not just a God that could do wonders, but a God that would do wonders to heal him. To believe in a God of miracles means believing in a God that is eager to exercise his power to heal us and deliver us from our afflictions.

The greatest miracle is the resurrection of Jesus.

All these miracles, of course, foreshadowed the greatest miracle of all, which is the resurrection of Jesus. Over the centuries since, theologians and councils have debated what it means to be a Christian. Some have said it means to believe certain doctrines about the nature of the godhead. Others have said that it means to recognize a proper line of authority. Others have said that it means to say certain prayers, or perform certain sacraments the right way. Others have said that it means to accept the right canon of scripture. (See generally e.g., Philip Schaff, The Seven Ecumenical Counsels, 14 Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Second Series 1–5 [1900]; C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity [1952]; Stephen E. Robinson, Are Mormons Christians? [1998].)

But Paul, in his first letter to the Corinthian saints, gives a different answer: Paul says that all our faith, all our prayers, all our ordinances, are in vain, but for the resurrection of Jesus (See 1 Corinthians 15). The heart of the gospel, according to Paul, is not a particular doctrinal tenet about the nature of the godhead, or a particular ordinance; it is the belief “that Christ died for our sins,” “that he was buried,” and “that he rose again the third day” (1 Corinthians 15:3–4). Paul’s answer is that to be a Christian means, most fundamentally, to believe that Jesus died, was buried, and actually rose from the dead. And interestingly, most New Testament scholars believe that when Paul wrote this about 50 years after Jesus’s resurrection, he was quoting an early article of faith of the church, likely composed with five years of the resurrection itself (See, e.g., Geza Vermes, The Resurrection at 121–22 [2008]). According to the earliest Christians, to be a Christian meant to believe in the miracle of the resurrection—the greatest manifestation of physical healing, and the greatest source of spiritual healing that this world has ever seen. To be a follower of Jesus means to believe in a God of miracles.

Miracles continue today.

By the time Joseph Smith was translating the Book of Mormon, there was a debate among the Christian churches of that time over the idea of cessationism. Cessationism was a doctrine developed during the protestant reformation in the sixteenth century and it taught that miracles and revelations and spiritual gifts were only necessary during New Testament times because they didn’t yet have the gospels and the other books of scripture that would one day make up the bible, and that now that scripture was easily available, all such miracles had ceased, because God had chosen to speak to the world through scripture and only through scripture (see, e.g. John Calvin, 1 Institutes of the Christian Religion 16–18 [1536] [Ford Lewis Battle, trans.] [1960]).

But the Book of Mormon presented a challenge to cessationism, not only in the fact that it existed because of miracles, but in its content also. “Behold, I am a God of miracles,” said the Lord to Nephi, “and I will show unto the world that I am the same, yesterday, today, and forever” (2 Nephi 27:23). Moroni, apparently drawing on Nephi’s prophecy repeated: “do we not read that God is the same, yesterday, today, and forever?” (Mormon 9:9) and concluded that therefore “God has not ceased to be a God of miracles” (Mormon 9:15). Moroni’s argument is a clean syllogism: he starts with the major premise that God is a God of Miracles, and he adds the minor premise that God does not change. If these premises are true, then it follows that God is a God of miracles today just as he was in the times of the apostles. “The reason why he ceaseth to do miracles among the children of men,” says Moroni, is not because he has changed, but “because they dwindle in unbelief” (Mormon 9:20).

Sometimes it can be hard to see God’s hand in our lives. If we choose to see through worldly eyes, it can be tempting to dismiss miracles as hoaxes, or coincidences. But if we see through the eyes of faith, then we will see miracles. Elder Rasband said, in the last conference: “miracles, signs, and wonders abound among the followers of Jesus Christ today, in your lives and mine.” “Many of you have witnessed miracles,” he says, “more than you realize. They may seem small in comparison to Jesus raising the dead. But the magnitude does not distinguish the miracle, only that it came from God” (Ronald A. Rasband, “Behold! I am a God of Miracles,” General Conference April 2021). According to Elder Rasband, genuine miracles can happen without us even knowing it (compare 3 Nephi 9:20). Elder Rasband’s statement teaches me that when Moroni says that miracles cease because of unbelief, perhaps it is less that God stops doing miracles, and more that we lose our ability to see them for what they are, when our faith weakens.

To see miracles, we have to look with the eyes of faith.

Last March the brethren made what I am sure was the heartbreaking decision to temporarily close the temples and suspend church meetings in order to help slow the spread of COVID-19 (“Gatherings of Church Members Temporarily Suspended Worldwide” Joint Statement of the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles [March 12, 2020]). The lives lost to the virus, and the resulting economic loss, as well as the mental toll of isolation, have been devastating.

Apparently foreseeing this devastation, during Holy Week, President Nelson called for a worldwide fast for relief from the pandemic. Then a few weeks later, at general conference, President Nelson made another prophetic invitation for us to again fast and pray together as a unified body of church members for relief from the pandemic. “During times of deep distress,” he said, “as when illness has reached pandemic proportions, the most natural thing for us to do is to call upon our Heavenly Father and his son—the master healer—to show forth their marvelous power to bless the people of the earth.…I am calling for another worldwide fast…let us fast, pray, and unite our faith once again. Let us prayerfully plead for relief from this global pandemic” (Russel M. Nelson, “Opening the Heavens for Help,” General Conference April 2020). We accepted those invitations. We fasted and prayed for a miracle to end this pandemic.

Six months later, last October, Elder Ballard encouraged us to continue in our prayers, and gave one specific example of what we were praying for: “Prayer will lift us and draw us together as individuals, as families, as a church, and as a world. Prayer will influence scientists and help them toward discoveries of vaccines and medications that will end this pandemic” (M. Russell Ballard, “Watch Ye Therefore, and Pray Always,” General Conference October 2020.)

A few months later, Elder Ballard’s words were proven true. The vaccine researchers had completed their work and the vaccines were starting to become available. When President Nelson was vaccinated in January, he said that it was an answer to the many prayers we as a church had prayed for relief from the pandemic. “We are thankful for the countless individuals who performed the work required to make this possible” he said. “We have prayed for this literal godsend” ( Russel M. Nelson on Facebook, January 19, 2020 ; Russell M. Nelson on Twitter, January 19, 2020) Drawing on his decades of experience as a surgeon and medical researcher, as well as his spiritual sight, President Nelson observed that “Producing a safe, effective vaccine in less than a year is nothing short of miraculous.”

I don’t pretend to understand all the science behind the vaccines, but as I have read about the efforts of those working on it, the science is marvelous to me. The Lord did hear our prayers and answered them. He is a God of miracles. We are not out of the woods yet, but there is hope that the end is within in reach—as the First Presidency said just this this week “[w]e are [still] fighting a war against the ravages of COVID-19,” and “we can win this war if everyone will follow the wise and thoughtful recommendations of medical experts and government leaders” (“The First Presidency Urges Latter-day Saints to Wear Face Masks When Needed and Get Vaccinated Against COVID-19,” First Presidency Statement [August 12, 2021]).

Now, I know that there are many people, including many church members, who are scared of the vaccine. There is a lot of conflicting information out there, and a lot of discord sown by people who are invested in undermining trust and sowing suspicion. As devastating and unprecedented as the virus itself has been the wave of conflicting voices and cloud of suspicion and mistrust that has overshadowed the world, and our nation.

In such a war of words and opinions, the first presidency has provided clarity by reassuring us that the available vaccines “have proven to be both safe and effective” (“The First Presidency Urges Latter-day Saints to Wear Face Masks When Needed and Get Vaccinated Against COVID-19,” First Presidency Statement [August 12, 2021]. One thing I have learned as a member of this church is that while I can never be sure that I have all the answers, I can be sure that if I look to the Lord’s prophets for guidance and try to see things through the eyes of faith, I will find peace among contention, comfort among anger, and clarity amid confusion. The world tells us to dismiss miracles as coincidences or hoaxes or conspiracies, but if we look with the eyes of faith, we will see the Lord’s hand.

Charity believeth all things.

I have to confess that I do not find it easy to see with the eyes of faith. There’s a big part of me that is skeptical by nature. Nobody likes to be fooled, and sometimes we let our fear of being deceived guide us more than our faith. We think that if we believe nothing, we will never be deceived. But the gospel requires us to have charity, and charity, Mormon and Paul both teach us, “believeth all things” (Moroni 7:45; 1 Corinthians 13:7; see also Article of Faith 13).

About the same time that the first pioneers were crossing the plains, the great Danish theologian and philosopher, Søren Kierkegaard, wrote some reflections on Paul’s admonition to “believe all things,” and in those reflections, he observed that the spiritual danger of failing to believe someone telling the truth is greater than the worldly danger of being fooled. To get suckered by a scammer is embarrassing and angering, and can be costly in an earthly sense. But in an eternal sense, says Kierkegaard, such worldly deception means nothing. Far worse in an eternal sense, is to be deceived by our fear of deception into refusing to extend our love, charity, and trust to our brothers and sisters (Søren Kierkegaard, The Works of Love, Part II, ch. 2, “Love Believes all things and yet is never deceived” [1847] [Howard Hong, trans. 1995]). I believe that Kierkegaard was right. The more we are deceived by our fear into mistrustfulness, the less able we are to effectively communicate with one another, and the more our communities and nations descend into endless meaningless arguments without coming any closer to agreement, compromise, or understanding.

Joseph Smith taught something similar in his last sermon in Nauvoo: “I never hear of a man being d[amne]d for bel[ievin]g too much,” he is reported to have said, “but they are d[amne]d for unbelief” (“Sermon in the Grove,” June 16, 1844, report of Thomas Bullock). Charity, after all, “endureth all things,” including being fooled occasionally. So while suspicion is natural, the gospel calls us to a better way. We have to be willing to abandon suspicion in order to be able to see with the eyes of faith.

If we are willing to look with the eyes of faith, then one of the most hopeful statements in Joseph Smith’s revelations is the teaching that “in nothing doth man offend God, or against none is his wrath kindled, save those who confess not his hand in all things” (Doctrine & Covenants 59:21). To believe in a God of miracles means to look for his hand in all things, and to do so with the confidence that in doing so, we will not offend him.

Waiting on the Lord.

Believing in a God of miracles requires a lot of waiting. Isaiah wrote that God “giveth power to the faint; and to them that have no might he increaseth strength.” Even strong young people will tire, “[b]ut they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength. They shall mount up with wings as eagles. They shall run and not be weary, and they shall walk and not faint” (Isaiah 40:29–31).

On the Killers’ latest album, out just this week, Brandon Flowers draws on Isaiah’s words to explore the question of what to do when our faith weakens and it seems like miracles aren’t coming, and we’re tempted to think that “religion’s just a trick.” He asks: “So who’s gonna carry us away? Eagles with glory-painted wings?” (The Killers, “Cody,” Pressure Machine [Island Records, 2021]). I think it’s a question that we all ask in such moments.

The question isn’t ultimately answered in the song. The miracle does not arrive. But even without an answer, Brother Flowers expresses a determination to sit in the uncertainty and “wait upon the Lord.” “We keep on waiting for the miracle to come,” he sings, “pour down the mountain like a heaven-fed stream.” “We keep on waiting for the miracle” he repeats, “we keep on waiting for the miracle.” To believe in a God of miracles does not mean that the miracles we want will always come, or that they will come on our timetable. But it does mean trying to be kind of people that will keep on waiting for the miracles to come, and will have eyes to see them in the places we did not expect to find them.

Comments

  1. J. Stapley says:

    This is a generous and powerful sermon. Thanks, Jared.

  2. Thanks, J.!

  3. Thanks. I like this a lot.

  4. Excellent.

  5. Thanks for sharing your talk with a wider audience!

  6. really appreciated this

  7. I still have an uncomfortable relationship with the phrase “Believeth all things”. I see so many people falling for falsehoods because it’s more comforting for them to believe them, than to change their worldview. Satan tempts with lies, we probably shouldn’t give into them.
    I would much rather it be something like “Consider the possibility of all things.” That way you can at least have a chance to filter out falsehoods.
    Still, your talk is magnificent.

  8. Thanks a lot, guys.

  9. it's a series of tubes says:

    Great talk, but one quibble: the mRNA vaccines, culminations of decades of research, were finalized and available long before the April 2020 general conference. Moderna’s vaccine was ready to go two days after the sequence of COVID-19 was published in January 2020.

  10. Clay Cook says:

    Good stuff Jared. For me every morning I find my self getting out of bed and finding way to serve is a miracle. I had a conversation with Elder Maxwell many years ago about “waiting on the lord and having faint on his timing” and yet I have often felt that to certain degree it can be an excuse to not take action. Sometimes I feel that the lord is often “waiting on us!”

  11. Roger Hansen says:

    I would hope that my religious belief does not require miracles. It is not important to me that Christ walked on water. What is important is his message of social activism. I personally don’t believe that God is actively “stirring the pot,” intervening in minor matters. He is letting us mature and develop on our own. He has given us an example and basic principles. It is our responsibility to act according. The world presents us with numerous opportunities for service. We need to avail ourselves of those opportunities. And quit waiting for a sign.

  12. Thanks, Clay. Great point about waiting sometimes being an excuse for inaction.

    tubes, thanks for the info. I am no expert.

  13. Roger, I don’t necessarily disagree. Maybe we need to expand our idea of miracles to include the Lord giving us the ability and strength to do what he asks, and not limit it to supernatural intervention.

  14. Roger Hansen says:

    Jared, describing our modern capabilities to assist others as miracles is okay with me. I was born in 1945. The advances since then have been incredible. They open up all kinds of opportunities for service. And I love taking advantage of them. I have friends all over the world. I can easily stay in contact with them. We can easily coordinate work.

  15. Paul Wright says:

    “Prayer will influence scientists and help them toward discoveries of vaccines and medications that will end this pandemic”
    Not if boneheads won’t get vaccinated. And their resistance more closely resembles a militant anger, not a fear of the vaccine, though one never knows, I suppose.

Trackbacks

  1. […] By Common Consent blogger Jared Cook pointed to scriptures that say believers often have to “wait upon the Lord” to witness miracles. […]

  2. […] By Common Consent blogger Jared Cook pointed to scriptures that say believers often have to “wait upon the Lord” to witness miracles. […]

  3. […] By Prevalent Consent blogger Jared Prepare dinner pointed to scriptures that say believers typically have to “wait on the Lord” to witness miracles. […]

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