Exactly where is God these days? He's obviously not in Somalia, and there are lots of other places where he's desperately needed -- due in large part to depraved human beings whom he seems not to have made "in his own image." And if God could part the Red Sea, why can't he pick up an Arctic iceberg and melt it into rain over drought-stricken Texas? The Bible's a great story, and his miracles were very impressive, but their total absence in the modern world makes it very hard to believe in him.
-- R., Plainview, via email
An old Jewish legend tells that there were some people who left Egypt and walked through the Red Sea who did not see the miracle. The rabbis ask how this could be possible, and they answered this way: "They were always looking down, so all they ever saw was mud."
Look up. my friend. Look up and you'll see the abundance of miracles around you every day. The miracle of love and health, of harvest and freedom. The problem with miracles is not that they don't exist. The problem with miracles is that we do not look up so we can see them.
Acts 7:58 has always perplexed me. It says that during the stoning of Stephen, "the witnesses laid down their garments at the feet of a young man named Saul." Was this laying down of garments part of some ancient ritual for administering a death sentence?
-- S., via email
The Apostle Paul, whose birth name was Saul, was born half a generation after Jesus and began his interaction with the early followers of Jesus as a persecutor of this new Jewish heresy. This verse recounts the death of Stephen, the first Christian martyr, and the laying down of garments makes it clear that Saul/Paul was in favor of Stephen's execution for heresy.
Saul's conversionary experience occurred on the road to Damascus, when he witnessed a vision of the risen Christ. This conversion is recorded by Paul in his letter to the Corinthians (15:3-8) and in the Acts 9:3-9; 22:9,12; and Acts 26:12-18. The key to understanding Paul's conversion is the role of Jewish law in achieving salvation. For Jews, the law, along with repentance, prayer and good deeds, is sufficient to achieve salvation. For Paul, the law taught him the nature of sin (Romans 7:7), but he despaired of salvation until he experienced the grace of the atoning death and resurrection of Jesus.
For Jews, to this day, sin is an act, not an original state of being following Adam's sin. Sin can be overcome by each penitent person standing before God in sincere repentance. For Christians, sin is an ultimate obstacle requiring the supervening grace of God through Jesus. This remains the central difference between Christianity in all its forms and all non-Christian religions.
How do I revive my faith? I'm 53 and starting over again. After 28 years, my marriage has ended. I did two years in prison in 2004 for property crimes. My health is not good and I'm very lonely. God seems distant, and the answer to my prayers always seems to be no! After I got out of prison, I promised both God and myself that I'd never do anything that would hurt anybody again. I've kept that promise. Now, I ask myself every day why I keep going on. Going to church is heartbreaking; it just reminds me of my wife and family.
-- J., via email
I pray for your courage to walk in the path of righteousness. The difference between people and God is that we don't use broken vessels. We throw them out and use new ones, but God is the healer of all broken hearts. When I'm filled with sorrow, I've found comfort in reciting Psalm 130. It was written by King David that you might also look up and find hope to live each day as a journey to the light:
1 Out of the depths have I cried unto thee, O Lord.
2 Lord, hear my voice: let thine ears be attentive to the voice of my supplications.
3 If thou, LORD, shouldest mark iniquities, O Lord, who shall stand?
4 But there is forgiveness with thee, that thou mayest be feared.
5 I wait for the LORD, my soul doth wait, and in his word do I hope.
6 My soul waiteth for the Lord more than they that watch for the morning: I say, more than they that watch for the morning.
7 Let Israel hope in the LORD: for with the LORD there is mercy, and with him is plenteous redemption.
8 And he shall redeem Israel from all his iniquities.