Should You Pray for a Miracle?
Dr. James Boice on God’s Sovereign Goodness in Suffering
By David Burnette
On June 15, 2000, Dr. James Montgomery Boice went to be with the Lord. Dr. Boice was the Senior Minister of Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia, as well as an author and leading spokesman for the Reformed faith in America and worldwide. He is well known for his teaching on “The Bible Study Hour.”
After being diagnosed with liver cancer, Dr. Boice addressed the congregation at Tenth Presbyterian Church concerning how to pray for and process his illness. His words serve as a model for how to think of our suffering in light of God’s sovereign goodness. Here is an excerpt from his address:
A number of you have asked what you can do, and it strikes me that what you can do, you are doing. This is a good congregation, and you do the right things. You are praying certainly, and I’ve been assured of that by many people. And I know of many meetings that have been going on.
A relevant question, I guess, when you pray is, pray for what? Should you pray for a miracle? Well, you’re free to do that, of course. My general impression is that the God who is able to do miracles—and he certainly can—is also able to keep you from getting the problem in the first place. So although miracles do happen, they’re rare by definition. A miracle has to be an unusual thing.
I think it’s far more profitable to pray for wisdom for the doctors. Doctors have a great deal of experience, of course, in their expertise, but they’re not omniscient—they do make mistakes—and then also for the effectiveness of the treatment. Sometimes it does very well and sometimes not so well, and that’s certainly a legitimate thing to pray for.
Above all, I would say pray for the glory of God. If you think of God glorifying himself in history and you say, where in all of history has God most glorified himself? He did it at the cross of Jesus Christ, and it wasn’t by delivering Jesus from the cross, though he could have. Jesus said, “Don’t you think I could call down from my Father ten legions of angels for my defense?” But he didn’t do that. And yet that’s where God is most glorified.
One other thing many of you have done has been sending cards, and I want to say how much I appreciate that. My wife and I have been reading them all. There are far more than I would ever have believed could come. One person in the church said that he has taken out a special prayer concern for the postman that delivers the cards that he won’t develop a hernia, and I think that’s thoughtful. Many prayers should be made along that line.
I think, although I want to assure you that I’m reading the cards, I don’t envision ever being able to answer them all. And then some of you who are in a position to do so have said, “We would like to be of help in any way we can.” And many have been already. Again, we’re overwhelmed with offers. We’ll never be able to take advantage of them all, but we appreciate all of those offers.
If I were to reflect on what goes on theologically here, there are two things I would stress. One is the sovereignty of God. That’s not novel. We have talked about the sovereignty of God here forever. God is in charge. When things like this come into our lives, they are not accidental. It’s not as if God somehow forgot what was going on, and something bad slipped by. It’s not the answer that Harold Kushner gave in his book, Why Bad Things Happen to Good People. God does everything according to his will. We’ve always said that.
But what I’ve been impressed with mostly is something in addition to that. It’s possible, isn’t it, to conceive of God as sovereign and yet indifferent? God’s in charge, but he doesn’t care. But it’s not that. God is not only the one who is in charge; God is also good. Everything he does is good. And what Romans 12, verses 1 and 2, says is that we have the opportunity by the renewal of our minds—that is, how we think about these things—actually to prove what God’s will is. And then it says, “His good, pleasing, and perfect will.” Is that good, pleasing, and perfect to God? Yes, of course, but the point of it is that it’s good, pleasing, and perfect to us. If God does something in your life, would you change it? If you’d change it, you’d make it worse. It wouldn’t be as good. So that’s the way we want to accept it and move forward, and who knows what God will do?