Today I was listening to a talk (or sermon depending on your faith tradition) and was granted a new insight into a scripture story I’ve read and contemplated many times before. The speaker brought up the miracle of the loaves and fishes, where Jesus miraculously fed the multitudes. Often this miracle is the focal point of the message. As the speaker continued with the story, I was struck by what followed.
In John chapter 6, we read about Christ feeding the masses with five loaves and two fishes. In addition to the marvelous teachings they heard, all who were there witnessed a miracle that resulted in tangible results: they had full bellies when they otherwise would have gone hungry. Many who were there followed Christ, and I’d like to think that I would have been among them had I been there.
Unfortunately, many were only converted to the physical rewards of discipleship. They had hungered and were fed. This miracle was what they sought. Christ knew this and decided to use it as a teaching moment to help the crowds understand a much deeper lesson about the atonement and His mission. When the food from the previous miracle wore off, the crowds were again hungry. Christ could have easily broken bread again sufficient to feed the crowd, but he opted not to in order to do something much more important. He knew that no amount of miracle bread and meat would convert the hard-hearted, so he used it as an opportunity to test the righteous and teach them about eternal life.
All of this should sound familiar to anyone who has studied the New Testament. Nothing I’ve written so far could be construed as a new insight. The insight for me comes from elsewhere in the scripture. After Christ finished teaching the lesson he had for the masses, many who had followed him left. They had come hoping for a tangible and temporal miracle, and were unwilling or unable to accept the miracle of wisdom that was offered in its place. Not receiving what they had desired or expected, they fell away.
This interaction reminded me of an experience a friend of mine has had. He was an active follower of Christ, and appeared to be strong in the faith. However, some time after we parted ways (he to one state, and me to several others) he began to experience some serious health issues that interfered with several things that were very important to him. He sought for a temporal blessing, and was hurt when it wasn’t granted. At least in part due to this experience, he went through what he describes as a “faith transition,” eventually convincing himself that there was no God. Because he didn’t get the miracle he sought, he, like the people in the scripture story, no longer followed Christ.
What higher blessing could have been available to my friend had he maintained faith and continued on the path of discipleship nobody will ever know but the Lord himself. However, what is certain is that he gave up a great deal. Unfortunately, this case study is far from unique. I’ve known far too many who have grown resentful at God because they were not blessed in the way they desired and expected. I believe it is likely all of us experience this to some degree or another. For one, it is a failure to be healed of some physical malady. For others it is a blessing sought for family or other loved-ones. There are innumerable ways we can feel like we are being denied a blessing or miracle we righteously seek. Unfortunately, our perspective is terrible. Sometimes the worst thing that can happen is for us to be given exactly what we ask for.
The key, I think, is to keep in mind Peter’s response when Christ asked him if he too would go away:
“Then Simon Peter answered him, Lord, to whom shall we go? thou hast the words of eternal life.”
Where else could we go that would better prepare ourselves for the trials that surely lie ahead? Who else could we turn to when the burdens of this life feel overwhelming? What other source could we turn to in order to find happiness in this life and the next? The answer to all of these questions is simple. There is no other way to enjoy the fullness of this life and the potential of the next than through faith in Jesus Christ, and that includes the faith to forgo a blessing we feel we need and trust that the Lord knows what he’s doing.