When Jesus Shows Up: A Response to James Stuart Bell’s ‘Encountering Jesus’

When Jesus Shows Up: A Response to James Stuart Bell’s ‘Encountering Jesus’ October 9, 2015

BC_EncounteringJesus_1-3God is present everywhere, inspiring everyone, all the time, and every so often we notice it. Revelation is natural and built into reality in all its dimensions, both human and non-human. Accordingly, I affirm with James Stuart Bell and those he invited to share their stories that when Jesus is experienced, that experience can change our lives, even in dire and apparently hopeless situations. Bell’s compilation of miraculous moments, titled Encountering Jesus: Modern-Day Stories of His Supernatural Presence and Power, invites us to explore the impact of moments when Jesus shows up on the rest of our lives.

While some moments more fully reflect God’s vision than others, I believe that these “miraculous” moments are in continuity with God’s presence always and everywhere. I don’t see God’s work in the world as “supernatural” – that is, violating the predictable relationships of life, but rather reflective of their deepest reality, the godwardness at the basis of every moment.

James Stuart Bell shares remarkable stories of personal transformation through the presence and power of the living and contemporary Jesus. Jesus comes to people at a critical moment and provides guidance, protection, comfort, and insight. As in his Galilean ministry, Jesus wants us to be whole and does everything that he can do for us to experience abundant life. Jesus was a healer and his healing touch comes to us in many ways, most especially when we are in need of a boost in divine energy and insight.

I see these moments as “naturalistic” rather than “supernatural.” I believe that a naturalistic approach preserves our interpretation of these experiences as “miraculous” without suggesting God chooses some people and not others for God’s revelations. I believe miracles involve manifestations of divine energy and presence that transform our lives. Miracles do not come out of nowhere and without an historical context, but occur within the interplay of many factors – God’s call and healing presence, our openness, our prayers and the prayers of others, the environment, previous decisions, DNA, and so forth.

God does not work apart from these varied, and occasionally contradictory, factors but within them. The shape and intensity of God’s ubiquitous energy and possibility is personal and intimate and related to the concreteness of each life. God’s desire for wholeness is both enhanced and limited by our choices and the quality of the environment. One can open to the miraculous but one cannot control it or anticipate the form it will take in our lives or the lives of those for whom we pray.

Jesus once invited his followers to “ask, seek, and knock.” I believe these behaviors create a positive field of force that enables God to be more active in our lives. When we ask Jesus into our hearts, we enable his first century energy to come alive in us, filling us with greater insight and power as it did in the lives of his first followers. Such transforming moments emerge from a divine-human synergy, instead of unilateral divine activity or human faith alone.

We can’t explain the fact that many devout people never experience Jesus or struggle year after year with chronic and intractable problems. Could it be that Jesus comes to them in the unconscious and not a dramatic way, or that Jesus’ work is more effective in a gradual rather than dramatic way? Or could it be that Jesus, “the fellow sufferer who understands,” must also live with the limits of destructive environments, cancer cells, and oppressive families and social structures?

I suspect we will never know the ultimate origins of life’s most miraculous moments. But, we can trust that Jesus is quietly at work for our well-being, healing our cells as well as our souls, and enabling us to find wholeness in the dark valleys of death, diminishment, and despair.

Read an expert from Encountering Jesus at the Patheos Book Club here.

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  • Lazarus

    “Godwardness”. Beautiful.