Many, therefore, of His disciples, when they had heard this, said, “This is a hard saying; who can hear it?”
I was chatting with a friend at church yesterday about a variety of topics, one of which was the question of why there seem to be so few miracles today, at least in the West, in comparison with the picture in Acts. We did not come to a firm answer, but we considered some of the reasons that have been advanced over the years:
- Lack of faith;
- That was for the Apostolic Age;
- Holiness; and
- We are to walk by faith and not by sight.
Now the point of this post is not to discuss the vexed problem of miracles (but feel free to do so in the comments below), but to consider whether our social conventions (and personal baggage) make us shy away from certain topics. In our conversation, and later when I was reflecting upon it, I thought about how some suggested answers to the question would make people feel condemned: “X is not happening because we are doing something wrong.”
Sometimes we need to endure stiff criticism in order to grow. In the Bible, the metaphor of pruning is used, along with the idea of a father’s discipline, as a way of conveying the idea that growth can be painful, even though the end product is beautiful. It is natural to fear the pain: Jesus asked in the Garden of Gethsemane if there were some way to avoid the Cross. Once the way forward is clear, however, we must walk it – however long it takes.
The way is not always clear though – sometimes we need to allow space just to listen, to reflect, so that we can receive revelation on the way forward. This involves humility, acknowledging that we do not have the answer – and a willingness to accept the possibility of discomfort.
Some of the problems we see in the Church today seem to spring from an unwillingness to endure discomfort in our theology as well as in our physical lives. A good example of this is the trend to be overly positive in our theology of the body because of a desire not to be seen as a gnostic. The problem with this is that Paul very explicitly denigrates the flesh in a way that is not merely a synecdoche for evils committed in the body. His point is that these bodies are subject to decay, and decay is an inferior state compared with the gloriousness of a spiritual body such as the angels possess. It is not gnostic to affirm these things: Gnosticism involves claiming that the path to salvation lies in the possession of secret knowledge, and so on. See David Bentley Hart’s critique of NT Wright’s doctrine of the resurrection:
So, hard sayings are part of Scripture, and part of Christian growth. We all need to hear them from time to time.