It’s easy to joke about divine intervention: “I won’t pass this test without divine intervention.” “Nothing but divine intervention can stop me from binging all five seasons.” “Hey God! I could really use some divine intervention right about now.”
But what exactly is divine intervention? Lifelong Christians grow up hearing the phrase and knowing it has something to do with miracles and plagues and fire falling from the sky.
However, few of them can actually define it; when asked, they usually list one or more of the examples I mentioned and leave it at that.
Dictionary.com is equally unhelpful in this endeavor; it defines the phrase as “the interference of a deity in human life, popularly extended to any miraculous-seeming turn of events.” Since the Internet let me down, I asked my brother, Chandler — a religion major with plans for seminary — for a definition more specific to Christians.
“I don’t like divine intervention at all,” he said. “The term comes with a self-focused bent where people see it as God going against His plan because we prayed hard enough. But that’s not it at all.”
When I asked him what it actually is, he said divine intervention is God doing something He was going to do all along and calling us to participate in it. “When we pray for a miracle, we pray because God guided our circumstances in a way that made us want to,” he explained. But since God let us pray, we get to be part of the plan He laid out before the universe ever existed.
With that approach to divine intervention in mind, what are we supposed to do when we see it in the Bible or in life?
There are three types of divine intervention based on this view: Big showy miracles, ordinary displays of God’s mercy, and one act of love so powerful it gave us the reason for our faith.
1. Healing and Smiting
This type of intervention, as I said, is big and showy. Some of the most well-known examples are the 10 plagues of Egypt (Exodus 7:14-12:36), God destroying Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 19:24-25), and Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead (John 11:38-44).
These acts of God showcase this belief that human actions have no bearing on His decisions. For example, Moses begged God to send someone else to confront the Pharaoh (Exodus 4:1-14) and Lazarus’s mourners didn’t believe they would see Lazarus again in this life (John 11:17-37).
That doesn’t mean that God never listens to us, though; Abraham pleaded with Him to spare Sodom and Gomorrah if there were any righteous citizens (Genesis 18:16-33) and God said He would. But in the end, events played out as God said they would because, despite Abraham’s pleas for mercy, there was no one in Sodom or Gomorrah who wanted it.
2. Everyday Grace
Most Christians only think about divine intervention in terms of healing and smiting because that’s when God’s power is the most visible. This perspective stems from the faulty assumption that God only intervenes in big ways and doesn’t interact much with everyday life.
My brother believes that God shows Himself every minute of every day. I’m inclined to agree because the Psalms says the same thing. The Lord searches and knows every inch of us (Psalm 139:1-6). He is present in every corner of the world so, we’re always in His arms (Psalm 139:7-12). He put every piece of every person together with unconditional love (Psalm 139:13-16).
If that isn’t enough to convince you, the author of Lamentations tells us that God’s love never ends, and His mercies are new every morning (Lamentations 3:22-23). Oftentimes, we can’t see them because we’re looking for healing and smiting, taking the sparrows and lilies (Matthew 6:26, 28-30) for granted.
Sunrises, coffee, hugs, golden retrievers, and every other good thing comes from God, and He gave us our lives so we can experience these things with Him. The sooner we stop taking the little things for granted, the more we’ll realize how involved God is in our lives.
3. The Cross
There’s one act of divine intervention so powerful, so selfless, and so unconditionally loving that it deserves its own category: The death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Jesus let himself be spat on, flogged within an inch of his life, and hung to die on a cross because it was the only way to save us from eternal torment.
Why would God do that? Why would He sacrifice His son to give liars, murderers, rapists, and thieves the chance to go to Heaven? As Chandler said, humans have done and never will do anything that could make the almighty God change His mind. So, why on earth did God intervene when He had every right to let us pay for our sins?
God didn’t save us because of anything we did (Ephesians 2:8-9), God saved us because His love is bigger than our hate. And despite everything, He knew what we would do after Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit — He wanted us to feel that love for all eternity.
So, Now What?
Today we explored the finer points of divine intervention. Thanks to the profound insights of my little brother, we learned how people perceive this concept versus what it actually is.
Then we explored the implications of applying the right worldview to flashy miracles, ordinary mercies, and the grandest display of love in the universe.
Now that you know what to look for, I challenge you to actually look. The more you look, the more you’ll see. And the more you see, the more you’ll know God loves you.
©iStock/Getty Images Plus/kevron2001
Sonya Downing is a novelist, freelance writer, and content editor with a bachelor’s degree in professional writing. Her freelance work has been published in Focus on the Family’s teen girl magazine Brio, The Evangelical Church Library Association, and The Secret Place quarterly magazine. She has also blogged for IlluminateYA Publishing and edited for Mountain Brook Ink. You can follow her on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn.