Figuring God Out: Absolute Deity or Genie In A Lamp?
By; J. R. Ensey
For thousands of years men have been trying to determine whether God is a true deity who is in ultimate control of all things, or if who we are calling God is merely some ethereal force that can be accessed by incantation or rune to serve our wishes. If He is the true singular Deity, then we mortals are subjects and obligated to conform to His commands. If He is nothing more than a genie in a golden lamp who can be rubbed into reality in order to grant our wishes, then we humans are not obligated to Him at all.
The Israelites historically had great difficulty remaining true to the monotheism of Abraham, Issac, Jacob, and Moses. The influences of the nations around them seemed too strong for their faithful adherence. Their tendency to dabble with the idolatry of the pagans caused them great distress and occasional judgments from the Lord. At one point during a brief national revival under Hoshea, this record is found: “He removed the high places and broke the pillars and cut down the Asherah. And he broke in pieces the bronze serpent that Moses had made, for until those days the people of Israel had made offerings to it (it was called Nehushtan) (II Kings 18:4,5).” Nehushtan means “it is nothing but a piece of brass.” In other words, Hoshea asked, “Why are you treating it like a god? It is nothing but a piece of metal.” The miracle of healing of the Israelites during their wilderness journey out of Egypt, had occurred by way of a brazen serpent on a pole, at which the people were instructed to look for healing (Numbers 21:8). Those who obeyed were healed, so the more superstitious among them figured there was some potent power resident in the metal snake; therefore, for nearly 700 years they treated it as a deity. Although the Bible declared the miracle, the brazen serpent was merely a means to evoke obedience, which was the key to their healing.
The city of Jericho was situated in a lovely place, between the Eastern Judean mountains and the Jordan River. The problem was that the water source, a natural spring, was polluted, causing sickness and making the nearby land unproductive. When the city officials informed the prophet Elisha, he asked for a bowl of salt. He sprinkled some salt into the spring and said, “Thus saith the LORD, I have healed these waters; there shall not be from thence any more death or barren land” (II Kings 2:21). The waters of the spring were permanently “healed” or purified. One wonders how many times others since then have tossed some salt into impure water to hopefully make it potable. But the miracle has never been repeated as far as we know.
Sometime later, Elisha tossed a stick into the Jordan River to retrieve the head of an ax belonging to one of his younger students. As a result the axhead floated and it was recovered (II Kings 6:5-7). Perhaps some of his student witnesses were tempted to try the “stick trick” on their own to see if they could duplicate the floating axhead miracle. If so, there is no record of it occurring.<br/> <br/>
God has used some natural elements in the performance of “special miracles,” as Luke called them in Acts 19:11,12. However, He knows the propensity of men to try to repeat such wonders by the same method, often revealing more faith in the means than in the Master. God likes to use His own methods to surprise us and help us at times and in ways of His own choosing.
Some use fasting so many days (a few have even confessed to trying forty days like Moses and Jesus) to move God to perform some act of healing or provision. Many fast by only eating a limited diet of certain types of food similar to a “Daniel’s fast” (Daniel 1:8-16). There are anecdotal testimonies that God did a healing miracle after some faithful person fasted. While the practice of fasting is not discouraged, if it is done merely to coerce God to perform a physical healing or other notable miracle, it may be misguided. Miracles are seldom “earned” by asceticism or acts of extreme physical self-denial. History seems to affirm that truth.
If we do what the Israelites did, or copied Elisha’s methods, or Daniel’s, or Paul’s, would we discover the “key” to manipulating God to open His storehouse of provisions? Do acts of devotion or repetition of prayer phrases, such as the Roman Catholics employ in saying a certain number of “Hail Marys,” serve as motivators for God to do the miraculous? Would that reduce God to a “formula?” Would it obligate Him to respond favorably to our wishes regardless of what the outcome might mean to that individual or the body of Christ? Individuals would be glorified rather than God. Such is the world’s way, the shaman’s way, the pagan way. In the Bible there are a number of miracles that were never repeated, nor were they meant to be models through which to exercise our faith. The effort to replicate them simply by doing what they did has proved to be futile. If we could find the staff that was lifted by Moses to part the waters of the Red Sea, could we part the waters of opposition the church is facing today? If we put a brazen snake on a pole would everyone who looked at it be healed?
The apostles were praying for people to receive the Holy Spirit when a shaman, Simon the sorcerer, took note that as a result of their laying hands on them, the recipients were speaking with tongues and glorifying God ecstatically. He apparently assumed there was some sort of magical incantation or act that was producing this effect. He offered them money if they would give him the power to do what they were doing. No way, he was told. “Your money perish with you,” Peter said. Simon had personal aggrandizement in view if he could repeat what he saw the apostles doing.
Jesus wants to be viewed as the absolute Deity rather than an ATM machine, pouring out miracles at the insertion of a card with the right pin number. I fear that is exactly what He shapes up to be in the lives of many people. With machines, if the card goes in but nothing comes out, they kick the machine, retrieve their card, and walk away with their faith in ATMs in tatters. If God won’t heal me or bless me when I need it, why should I put my faith in Him? They want God to be subject to them, not the other way around. He is to be their servant, not their Lord.
As revealed in the Gospels, not all the sick in Israel were healed by Jesus. Relatively few instances are recorded by Luke in Acts. People were so desperate for physical relief that they sought the shadow of Peter that they might possibly find deliverance therein. However, we are not told that anyone was healed in Peter’s shadow. If healings were accomplished in that way, neither the Bible nor history recorded a verifiable repeat. Such actions may at times express genuine faith, but also often manifests misplaced faith. We are told to “Have faith in God” (Mark 11:22), not in shadows, or sticks, brazen serpents, or repetitious phrases. God will not allow His sovereignty to be supplanted by the contrived methods or by copying previous miracles.
A woman’s long uncut hair is believed to have been a factor in a specific incident of healing when it was laid across a sick person as prayer was made. It was reported that the person was healed. No denial of a miracle is made by this writer. However, others began to repeat the act as word was spread and the “miracle hair” theory was born, as if a woman’s long, uncut hair had some innate miraculous power. If someone did that and it seemed to work, let it stand as a monument to God’s healing power, not to some thesis about the healing power of long hair. Some have lost their basic faith in God by getting involved in failed practices that have no biblical authority.
I once owned a 1948 Chrysler Windsor. It served me fairly well in my first few months of full-time evangelistic ministry in 1957. However, its semi-automatic transmission failed to the point of not being able to “automatically” change into high gear as I let up on the accelerator. Nothing that was tried had any effect on the problem. I drove it for weeks and quite a few miles in second gear. If a tachometer had been installed, I am sure the old flathead six-cylinder engine may have been red-lining. One day I stopped at a transmission repair shop for an estimate to fix it. The mechanic said the cost would be $80. He might as well have said $800 since I didn’t have near that much money. I kept driving it, knowing it couldn’t last putting highway miles on it in second gear. After a few weeks of doing that, in desperation I pulled over to the side of Highway 259 south of Kilgore, TX. With tears in my eyes, I laid my hand on the dashboard and prayed for it as though it was a sick person instead of a ailing car. When I finished the prayer, I pulled onto the highway, got up to speed in second and eased off of the accelerator. “Ker-chunk”! It fell into high gear and down the highway I went, crying and thanking God for healing my car. It never gave me any further trouble. God just wanted to show me that nothing was beyond His power to perform. I must admit that I have never had an auto healing experience since that time, although a mental “Ebenezer” was built on the side of U.S. 259 to help me remember that nothing is impossible with God. Did I miss a potential fortune by not quickly launching a lifelong ministry of “car healing”?
When I assumed the presidency of Texas Bible College in the summer of 1982, funds were virtually non-existent. I began to meet with our staff on a regular basis for planning, but prayer was the main order of the meetings. One day Sis. Keating, a staff member and wife of our academic dean, shared with us that she was praying specifically for $100,000. That seemed an impossible or at least an improbable amount to expect suddenly. Within a week or so, a man called at my office and introduced himself as the owner of a business that backed up our cafeteria, which was the only building that was disconnected by a street from our campus property. “I want to buy your cafeteria,” he told me. I explained that we have to have a cafeteria since this is a college. “I don’t really want your cafeteria,” he said, “but I know that someday you will be moving from this location and selling this campus. I want to own that property the cafeteria is on since I own the rest of the block. I will buy the building and pay you cash for the appraised amount, and lease it back to you for $1 a year for a long as the college is here, but when you move the lease will be terminated.” My pulse jumped a few notches but I tried to remain stoic and unmoved. “I will take your offer to our Board of Trustees and see what they say.” To shorten the story, after the appraisal and the offer of $70,000 cash was accepted by our Board, we signed a lease for 99 years for $99. A few days later, without knowing the deal on the cafeteria, the Texas District Youth President called to say that their committee had decided to give TBC the portion of funds from the Sheaves For Christ offering that remains in the District. “We are sending you a check in the amount of $30,000!” So within thirty days we had been given exactly $100,000 to the penny that she had prayed for.
That is the kind of miracle that God dearly loves to perform. He likes to surprise us, proving Himself to be above all the elements of nature and physics. Let our sovereign God be God—not some physical image or magic formula.