Negative Miracles

Try to see the positive.

Acts 16:26–27

Suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken; and immediately all the doors were opened and everyone’s chains were loosed. And the keeper of the prison, awaking from sleep and seeing the prison doors open, supposing the prisoners had fled, drew his sword and was about to kill himself.

Think of this from the jail-keeper’s point of view. He’s been ruined by a supernatural event (or so he thinks).

One of the most important, and most difficult, applications of Christian eyes is with respect to negative (or apparently negative) events. I have a personal term for some of these — “negative miracles.”

I know that’s a misnomer. The apparently negative events aren’t really negative (as per Romans 8:28). It’s just hard to see their good purpose. (In the jail-keeper’s case, this clears up quick.)

But misnomers can be a good way to communicate something. Yogi Berra is famous for his brilliant, wrong sayings. One of my favorites is, “If you don’t go to other people’s funerals, they won’t go to yours.” The contradiction is what makes this quip work. You know what he meant, and the wrong way he said it makes it unforgettable.

Negative miracles are those events that combine two things. They seem horrible and the way they happened looks virtually impossible.

The important thing to do in response is to remember your Christian eyes. Stop being angry about your “incredible bad luck” and try to figure out what’s going on.

Whatever happened, it wasn’t just random. The Lord may be trying to get your attention.

In my experience, negative miracles are rare but very important. They’re the most attention getting events I know of. A negative miracle is how I became a Christian. Here’s the summary — “In response to my befuddled, agnostics prayer for help, an incredible weather-related event forced me to drop out of the electrophysics PhD program at the University of Maryland.” That definitely got my attention.

Now I see things differently. Negative miracles are more than just curious. If I keep my wits about me and don’t forget my Christian eyes, I’ll say a prayer like, “Seriously? Do we really have to do this now?”

I should also remember to follow that up with, “A-nee av-de-kha,” which is Hebrew for “I’m your servant.” The point of all my whining is to get me in the mood for walking whatever road the Lord is putting me on. I’m reminding myself of my commitment and steeling myself for the next step.

That said, it’s perfectly OK to pray for the road to be short, or even for the whole thing to turn out to be a false alarm.

I don’t seem to have any trouble remembering to pray for that.

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Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. ESV stands for the English Standard Version. © Copyright 2001 by Crossway. Used by permission. All rights reserved. NIV stands for The Holy Bible, New International Version®. © Copyright 1973 by International Bible Society. Used by permission. All rights reserved. KJV stands for the King James Version.

Mike Slay

As a mathematician, inventor, and ruling elder in the Presbyterian Church in America, Mike Slay brings an analytical, conversational, and even whimsical approach to the daily study of God's Word.

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