|Photo by stock.xchng contributor A-Hahn|
I believe in signs. I just don’t believe in my ability–or anyone else’s ability–to recognize and interpret signs with any sort of reliability. It’s really easy to tell yourself that you are seeing signs when you’re at a point of making an important decision or waiting on something to change your life. When you’re trying to decide where to move, whether to start or continue a relationship, or waiting on a job offer or a college acceptance, it’s hard to wait in that place of unknowing. It’s tempting to grasp at things you see or things that happen and think they’re God telling you what to do… when really, you’re looking for confirmation of what you want or simply seeking relief from your uncertainty.
I’m not going to make any grand theological claims or pretend I have a litmus test for telling when something is a sign and what it means (I don’t know, and I don’t think anyone else does, either). But I do think we sometimes look for signs as an easy out to our insecurity instead of using what God’s already given us–namely, our intellect and our emotions.
Here’s an example. Rainbows are beautiful and, however much you want to explain the science behind them, they’re miraculous. So, when I saw several rainbows during the course of a dating relationship, it didn’t take much for me to interpret them as God’s confirmation and blessing on that relationship. After all, the first rainbow was a sign of God’s promise and covenant with his people.
Ironically, I also saw a rainbow minutes after we ended the relationship. Oops. Maybe the rainbows were God communicating something, and maybe they weren’t. Either way, I made them say what I wanted them to say. I used the rainbows (along with numerous other personal over-interpretations) to quash the doubts and feelings that were pointing me very much in a different direction.
The BBC drama/comedy Ballykissangel humorously displayed one of their characters’ interpretations of an event in his life. Ambrose, the town guard (policeman), is set to marry his longtime girlfriend. Just a few days before the wedding, he has just stepped out of his patrol car when a stone statue falls from a construction scaffold and crashes through the roof of his car. Ambrose has narrowly escaped death, and because the statue happens to be the patron saint of priests, he decides he has been called to become a priest (and, therefore, cannot marry).
Niamh, his fiancee, doesn’t take his decision well:
“You’re dumping me for God?”
“I’m alive because of Him.”
“You’re alive because of piece of concrete didn’t hit you!”
The clip below will give you an idea of what his actual priest thinks of his decision (there’s a few other parts to this clip, so if you want to get the point, skip to 1:51).
For Ambrose, his vocational call simply didn’t make sense with who he was, and people around him reminded him of that.
Certainly, God works in many different ways, and extraordinary supernatural signs are sometimes a part of that. But we need to be careful when we look for something big, because in the looking, we might miss what’s right in front of us.