In the movie The Stoning of Soraya M., as blood fever rises in a small mountain village in Iran against a woman accused of adultery, the conflicted mayor enters a humble mosque to inquire of Allah for direction. If he should not go ahead with the stoning, please send him a sign.
Later at the town square where all the villagers have been convened for the trial and sentencing of Soraya, the formalities are abruptly halted at their most solemn point by the jarringly incongruous appearance of a van, out of which tumbles a colorful assortment of clowns and jugglers and comedians, who have brought their show to town.
About an hour later, as the stoning is about to begin, and the father of Soraya throws the first three stones and misses, an old woman from the crowd shouts, "A sign!" and warns that they should cease the proceedings. The mayor, apparently oblivious to the two speed bumps sent from heaven, allows the execution to continue.
On Saturday night I was driving with my 19-year-old son in unfamiliar territory. I had tossed an important outgoing letter on top of the dashboard (I never learn), and a wind lifted it up and out the window. It was 9 o'clock and my son and I made a sweep of the area with the high beams on, going back and forth over an increasingly long and uncertain swath of highway, looking for the letter. Finally I pulled over and prayed that God would let us find it. We made one more pass and then drove home empty-handed, and with me being disappointed at God for not taking the opportunity to build my son's faith.
The next morning before church, having more or less forgotten the letter, I was pouring out my heart to God asking for more assurance of faith, asking that the sun would not go down today without a sign from him. After church I arrived home to find a message on my machine from some man named Walter who had found my letter, drenched and mangled. I drove back to Feasterville to get it. Turns out the man and his wife are Christians and they showed me around their lovely gardens and pond stocked with the largest koi I've ever seen.
What I learned that day is that there is no sign, no wonder, no miracle that will clinch faith or give assurance, though we imagine that this is what we need. Five minutes after a sign, the heart will find naturalistic explanations. This doesn't mean I'm going to stop asking for signs. I'm just going to ask for spiritual eyes as well.
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