I am reading John's Gospel, off and on. Yesterday morning, I had one of those experiences of, "Huh, I never noticed that before!" I was in John 4, reading about an official who begs Jesus to heal his dying son. Here's how John records the exchange:
46Once more he visited Cana in Galilee, where he had turned the water into wine. And there was a certain royal official whose son lay sick at Capernaum. 47When this man heard that Jesus had arrived in Galilee from Judea, he went to him and begged him to come and heal his son, who was close to death.
48"Unless you people see miraculous signs and wonders," Jesus told him, "you will never believe."
49The royal official said, "Sir, come down before my child dies."
50Jesus replied, "You may go. Your son will live." The man took Jesus at his word and departed. 51While he was still on the way, his servants met him with the news that his boy was living. 52When he inquired as to the time when his son got better, they said to him, "The fever left him yesterday at the seventh hour."
53Then the father realized that this was the exact time at which Jesus had said to him, "Your son will live." So he and all his household believed. -- John 4:46-53
So here' s the part that popped out. The royal official asks Jesus to come and heal his son. Jesus assures him his son will live. John describes his reaction as, "The man took Jesus at his word and departed." Then later, after inquiring at what hour his son was healed and realizing it was the very hour Jesus pronounced it so, he and his entire household "believed."
What's the difference between the man taking Jesus at his word and believing in him?
In the first instance, did he merely view Jesus as a psychic, a fortune teller able to tell with great accuracy the turn of events in someone's life? Did he think Jesus was saying, "Eh, you don't need me. I just peered into my crystal ball and your kid's going to be fine..."
That's the only reason I can see for he and his entire household professing belief in Jesus only after discovering the time the boy recovered and the time Jesus uttered these words were exactly the same.
It's like the difference between hearing someone say to you, "God wants good things for your life" and actually experiencing a moment in your life when God steps in.
One suggests intention, even foreknowledge, whereas the other points to personal, loving, hands-on involvement.
The official seems to believe his son will be healed because he leaves; he stops pestering Jesus; he "takes him at his word." Yet it's when he can no longer wonder, "Did this really happen? Did I imagine this? Is this some sort of coincidence?" that he comes to true belief.
God isn't just crossing his fingers for us and wishing the best. He isn't delivering out tarot cards and telling us about that tall, dark stranger we're bound to meet. He isn't predicting our futures. He isn't "intending" good things and then leaving the country for a trip to the tropics, "Check with you when I get back...."
No, God is personally involved in the lives of people. He is intentional about intersecting our lives with his presence and power. He chooses to connect with us. No wonder when people realize this, entire households come to believe.