Q&R: “If God isn’t controlling, what about prayer, healing & miracles?” Brad Jersak


I have just finished reading A More Christlike God. I found your book challenging and spiritually uplifting. I have a few queries. First, if God doesn’t “do control,” are miracles off the table? Are the miracles in the Gospels and Acts to be viewed as exceptions in ushering in his kingdom and not something we should expect?

Second, following your advice, I try to avoid seeing prayer as either (1) a way to get our wishes or (2) taking the opposite line of being a fatalist. But I am having trouble understanding how to structure prayer when God doesn’t “do control.” Take healing as an example. Let’s say a friend had cancer. I think you can pray for the skill of all those treating them, for us to find ways of supporting them sensitively, for the strength and peace of the person being treated, and that the immune system might be active in combatting the disease, but not for a miracle. Do you have a different view?


I recently wrote a post titled “When is God the Cause?” In that post, I looked at how God is the first cause (Creator) of all things and that within God’s good creation, we also have secondary causes (natural law and human freedom) that God does not violate.

Sometimes we wish God would violate the course of nature or [others’] human agency. We wish that God would magically interrupt the tornado, or the disease, or the murderer. In fact, if God exerts that type of control, then we’d have to admit that God is not very good at it. In fact, as a ‘controller,’ God would be arbitrary and downright evil when we observe when and whom God helps and doesn’t help.

And yet, in the Gospels, Jesus performed miracles, cured diseases and disabilities, drove out darkness, and even commanded nature. He gave his disciples authority to do the same, and even more so after the Day of Pentecost. Was that a temporary violation of nature? And are we out of bounds if we pray for a miracle beyond the natural healing processes you described? I would suggest a few principles to help navigate these questions:

Love is the Highest Law

First, I don’t believe that Jesus’ miracles, signs and wonders violated natural law. That’s because the entire universe was created out of the love of God, and God’s love fills and sustains the cosmos. So “when Love comes to town,” it’s not that love violates natural law for our benefit, but rather, every law of nature bows in submission to the highest law, Who IS love. Jesus’ miracles might seem unnatural to materialists, but even the most analytical scientist knows that mysterious unseen forces (from gravity to dark energy) influence the visible world in mysterious ways. Just so, when divine love or grace or God’s kingdom impacts the visible realm, it may be mysterious, and we may rightly call it a miracle, but it’s really not a magical violation of God’s good order.

It’s Not Control If We’re Willing

Second, just because God doesn’t control or violate secondary causes does not mean that God does not act in our world. It’s just that God is Love; therefore, God does not coerce or control but works in our world and our lives through willing human partners, even in miraculous ways.

Bishop Tutu gives the example of the five loaves and two fishes. Our heavenly (i.e., invisible) Father had a willing human partner, Jesus, and Jesus’ willing human partner was the child who offered that little lunch bag. Because God had a willing human partner who voluntarily welcomed the Father’s participation, a multiplication miracle happened without violation of the material world (the food). Rather, creation responded to God’s love as God’s earthly partners invited grace to perform another creative act.

Prayer Welcomes God’s Grace (but doesn’t control God)

Finally, yes, God is still at work in this world, even in mysterious ways we might call miracles, so we’re called to pray, “Let your kingdom come; let your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” Jesus calls us to ask the Heavenly Father for good gifts, including healing, by whatever means (natural or supernatural). At the end of Acts 4, Peter prayed a bold prayer directly beseeching God, “Stretch out your hand to heal and perform miraculous signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus.”

If God answers such a prayer, it is only because (1) Love is the highest law and (2) God saw, in that prayer, a willing human partner. God may respond to our prayers through very normal means or through highly unusual ways. But here’s the thing: my prayers don’t control how God will answer. I read of Jesus’ invitation to come to his Father with a bold ask, but I cannot presume to make demands of God as if God were my personal genie. When we do, I suspect that it is WE who want control… we want a tiny god who submits to our control.

Rather, I offer up my requests, raw and uncensored (like the Psalmist), and I leave the outcome and the people involved in God’s care. God’s care is always wiser and more mysterious than my diagnosis or my desire for control. But just as I can’t presume what God must do, I have also stopped limiting what God can do. With God, all things are possible, so I take Paul’s exhortation seriously: “Pray about everything.”

Speaking of willing human partners, we both pray for God’s provision and invite your partnership. If you are able and willing to help us continue this ministry, we’re grateful for one-off or regular contributions: https://www.ptm.org/give

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