Mary Doriah Russell is a Jewish author who has written The Sparrow and Children of God. The two books are very enjoyable reading that I would classify as philosophical science fiction. The stories are set in the future and deal with first contact between humans and intelligent beings from another planet but the main themes have to do with faith and world-views. They ask questions about what happens when two different cultures meet for the first time; which culture prevails; and does the other culture get subjugated. In the reader’s guide to The Sparrow she says something interesting about “religion.”
Writing The Sparrow allowed me to look at the place of religion in the lives of many people and to weigh the risks and the beauties of religious belief from the comfort of my own home. . . . The beauty of religion is the way in which it enriches your understanding of what your senses tell you. . . . The risks have to do with believing that God micromanages the world, and with seeing what may be simply coincidences as significant and indicative of divine providence. It’s very easy then to go out on a limb spiritually, expect more from God than you have a right to expect, and set yourself up for bitter disappointment in his silence and lack of action.*
Russell has indeed hit upon an important tension with which we must struggle. How much does God intervene in the day-to-day lives of people? How much does His divine providence affect an individual’s life? I would agree that we dare not “expect more from God than [we] have a right to expect.” But how much can we expect from God? In the passage we studied at our house-church gathering Sunday night, “Jesus said to the disciples, ‘Have faith in God. I tell you the truth, you can say to this mountain, ‘May you be lifted up and thrown into the sea,’ and it will happen'” (Mark 11:22-23 NLT). That passage assumes a good and divine reason for the mountain to be moved into the sea. Jesus was not suggesting that God will remodel His creation simply because a mountain is blocking our view. But it does suggest that the bounds of what we can expect from God in situations that serve His divine providence are much more than we might first expect. As I struggle with this tension and seek to be realistic in what I see as miracles in our world, I choose to live with high expectancy of what God can and will do through the prayers of his people.
*Mary Doriah Russell, The Sparrow. (New York, Fawcett Books, 1996), 412 (Reader’s Guide).