There is a story I heard about a man who was trapped on his roof during a hurricane. So he decided to pray. He said, “God, I have so much to live for. Please don’t let me die now and I will dedicate the rest of my life to you.”
In about ten minutes a man floated by in a canoe and asked the man on the roof if he needed a ride. The man on the roof said, “No, God is going to rescue me.”
About a half an hour later, a man on a jet ski cruised by and asked the man if he wanted to hop on. The water was rising quickly but the man on the roof simply said, “No, God is going to rescue me”.
After another couple of hours the water was rising almost to the top of the roof, but fortunately a helicopter came by in the nick of time. The pilot lowered the helicopter right above the roof and said “hop in, your house is about to completely be buried underwater.” But the man on the roof insisted that God would rescue him.
Unfortunately, the man drowned shortly thereafter.
The man ended up in heaven and where he met God. But the man seemed quite angry. He said to God, ” I believed that you were going to rescue me and you didn’t. Why is that?” But God just laughed and said, “I sent you a canoe, a jet ski and a helicopter, what more did you want?”
The story illustrates an important point. Often we are waiting for big flashy miracles to happen and we don’t end up seeing what God is really up to. Sometimes the miraculous things that God does are right in front of us the whole time.
On tonight’s episode of The Walking Dead, we saw Father Gabriel wrestling with this issue. In the past we have always known Gabe to be a man who is struggling with his faith. He is also a very flawed man who has done some pretty horrible things. You may recall that the first time that we met him, we found out that he was responsible for the death of his entire congregation. While I have met pastors who have wished for that, I have never known one who actually did it! My guess is that this would be grounds for firing (or at least a forced sabbatical)!
But Gabriel has found some new energy now because he seems to be seeing God doing some miracles in front of him. Every time that something goes his way, he seems to start believing more. He also seems to be getting more excited about his own faith as God keeps seeming to confirm it.
Tonight, Dr. Carson and Gabriel are trying to get to hilltop in very dangerous conditions because the Saviors are looking for them everywhere. To top it off, Gabriel has a serious infection and he is losing his sight. Dr. Carson is very concerned about this, but as they seem to be making progress on their journey Gabe gets more excited about the idea that God is helping them. But more importantly, Gabe seems to be most excited about the fact that God is proving his existence with these miracles.
When they find a hidden house in the woods, Gabe gets especially excited. They enter and they find a ham radio and some logs.
Gabe: We can make it through this if we don’t give up. If we keep believing”
Dr. Carson: I mean, (holding the radio journal) it’s just a script.- It’s not gonna help us.
Gabe: Maybe not. But it sounds like it helped others.
Dr. Carson: Look. “No signal,” “no signal,” “no signal.” I mean, going by the logs, I don’t think so.
Gabe: It still might have. Maybe this person reached other people and never found out. Maybe just by saying it over and over again, this person had reason to believe it. Maybe it gave them the strength to go on, even if they didn’t reach anyone else.
Dr. Carson: Yeah That didn’t happen.
Later on in the episode they continue their conversation.
Dr. Carson: Well your fever appears to have broken (sighs) But your eyesight Well, if there’s not some improvement soon, I’m afraid you’re looking at permanent damage. I’m sorry.
Gabe: You’re sorry I’m going to live? (scoffs)
Dr. Carson: You know what I mean. Losing your vision…In this. The thought of that doesn’t scare you? Or piss you off, even a little bit?
Gabe: I’m letting Him lead the way. (chuckles) I can’t even see it, but I can feel the look on your face. (sighs) I’m not saying God led us to this place. That this is some scavenger hunt He’s put us on. But to search for meaning in this moment simply by looking around Or, Or feeling… (the piggy bank shatters) You gotta be sh***ing me.
Dr. Carson: What?
Gabe: It’s car keys and a map. Here we go Barrington House Living History Museum. We, We can’t be more than a few miles off.
When Gabe says, “Maybe just by saying it over and over again, this person had reason to believe it. Maybe it gave them the strength to go on,” he is clearly projecting. He is excited that God seems to be answering his prayers now (something that he didn’t believe was happening in the past) and so he is trying to figure out the meaning of this.
To Gabe, faith may just be saying something loud and long enough that you believe it. But even this idea would soon come crashing down. Dr. Carson is clearly a skeptic, but even he seems a little hopeful, until he ends up getting caught in a bear trap and then getting killed by the saviors. And this is what devastates father Gabriel.
As he is hauled to the bullet factory where Eugene is, he is crying and lamenting what has happened.
Gabe: I thought I thought I found it. What I was meant to do…
Eugene: You have. So have I. (he hands a box of empty cartridges to Gabe) Now get sortin’.
The ending is so tragic and sad for Gabriel. I have to admit that I have enjoyed Gabriel’s journey recently. I used to really not like his character and felt like he was just another bad caricature of a Christian and a pastor. These images of the hypocritical or highly judgmental Christians are so prevalent on television and in movies these days, and there is just rarely a portrayal of a Christian who isn’t like this. But it has been fun to see him emerge from being just a cartoon to a really three dimensional character.
But tonight we were able to see a major flaw in his understanding of how faith works. Right in front of our eyes we were able to see conditional faith graphically illustrated. Gabriel had no problem believing in a God who helped them find cars, medicine and safe houses while they were on the run. But the minute that something bad happens, Gabe goes back to doubting.
The false assumption that Gabe is making here is that God is a Santa Clause in the sky who never allows His own people to suffer. Gabriel essentially believes in God when there are miracles, but immediately doubts when there are none. And so when God doesn’t seem to answer his prayers for a miracle (or tragedy occurs) Gabe is immediately thrown into all kinds of doubt.
This type of thinking is definitely something that Jesus was familiar with. According to the gospels Jesus did all kinds of miracles and according to John, He did a whole bunch that we don’t even know about (John 21:25). Perhaps he even did some that the crowds never found out about. But the people around him always wanted Him to do signs and He didn’t always react well to this.
38 One day some teachers of religious law and Pharisees came to Jesus and said, “Teacher, we want you to show us a miraculous sign to prove your authority.” (Matthew 12:38-40, NLT)
39 But Jesus replied, “Only an evil, adulterous generation would demand a miraculous sign; but the only sign I will give them is the sign of the prophet Jonah. 40 For as Jonah was in the belly of the great fish for three days and three nights, so will the Son of Man be in the heart of the earth for three days and three nights. (Matthew 12:38-40, NLT)
In this section of Matthew, Jesus has some harsh words to say to the teachers of the law and the Pharisees. Just like the people who had experienced the feeding of the 5000, they seemed more interested in seeing more miracles than they did finding out what Jesus was really up to (John 6:26-7). Here they say it overtly. They need a sign in order to believe.
So Jesus answers them by saying that there is one sign that He will give them and that sign is the sign of the prophet Jonah. Many scholars disagree on the meaning of the sign of Jonah, but I think that the 3 days and 3 nights imagery gives us a pretty good clue. Later in Jesus ministry He would be killed and buried in a tomb for 3 days and 3 nights. But at the end of that time, He would execute the most important sign that He would ever do – He rose from the dead. And that is something He would never let get overshadowed by the miracles He did during his ministry.
I think that what we can infer here is that the ultimate sign is God’s grace through redemption on the cross. Basically what that means is that those miracles that Jesus did throughout His ministry are nothing in comparison to what He did on the cross. If you don’t believe me, read 1 Corinthians 15, a chapter from a letter written by Paul addressing the crucial importance of the resurrection. Why is that? Because those miracles were temporary and what He did on the cross was permanent.
This may seem like a minor point of theology, but as we saw on the show tonight, this (bad) assumption can wreak havoc on a person’s faith. You see, if we believe that true faith results in our physical (or financial) needs being met EVERY time, we are setting ourselves up for a pretty big fall.
All of the disciples suffered tremendously in their lives and all but one (or perhaps two) were killed for Jesus. Most of the early church leaders went through the type of persecution that few of us in the United States have ever experienced. And let’s face it, becoming a Christian doesn’t mean that our life will be perfect right here and right now. So when tough times come along, it shouldn’t surprise us. But more importantly, it shouldn’t make us wonder if there is a God in the first place.
SEASON 8, EPISODE 11 DISCUSSION QUESTIONS:
1) Dr. Carson seems to be a man of science who is skeptical of Gabriel’s faith. But as the miracles keep happening, he seems a little more open. Do you think that miracles sometimes point to the truth that there is a God? Why or why not.
2) Can you think of a verse in the bible that tells us that Christians will experience no suffering? (hint: there isn’t one) Why do you think this is the case?
3) Have you ever known anyone in your life who stopped believing in God as the result of suffering? Do you think that they may have suffered from the same bad assumption that Gabriel is suffering from?
4) In parts of the Old Testament God appeared as a cloud in the sky by day and a cloud of fire in the night. Do you think that God’s appearance in the sky made people believe in Him more? Why or why not?
5) So any miracles compare to what Jesus did for us on the cross?
6) The apostle Paul said “if Christ has not been raised, then all our preaching is useless, and your faith is useless.” (1 Cor 15:14 NLT) Does that help explain the role of the resurrection in the faith of the Christian? Why or why not?
7) Have you ever felt like God isn’t there while you are suffering? Do you think it was true that He wasn’t there? Why or why not?
8) Has God ever allowed you to suffer and when you came through the other side of it, you were even closer with God? If so why do you think that was?
9) In what ways can you help others understand the importance of what Christ did on the cross?
Thom McKee Jr. is a husband, father, pastor… and film geek (and brother of Jonathan McKee). Thom lives in Northern California with his wife and two kids.