Again, 80% of Americans believe that miracles are common now. Why would I be so foolish to challenge that belief? I’m not. As I said previously, I’m not here to quarrel with anyone’s belief system, if that belief system includes common miracles. But, as the title of this series implies, sometimes there are problems with miracles and I want to point out those areas of danger, especially for those who within the deep, private area of their soul, are skeptical about miracles. Again, my view isn’t a dogma or any theological position gathered from particular passages in the Bible. It is simply my personal observation of reality over a long period of time and with this view, I do not voice certitude.
Problem # 1. Last time I tried to stake out last time, is the Christian who has an epiphany that the miracles they have witnessed . . . are not real. They therefore chuck all of Christianity as a fraud. I’ve been there. I know a lot of people who did just that and that exodus concerns me because I think it is done over false pretenses. The pretense is that if God is there, if Christianity is true, then common miracles must be part of that faith.
Problem #2. Often, when I’ve tried to have this discussion in person, the person assumes that I question miracles because my God is too small, incapable of doing them. This second problem is almost the opposite of that accusation. It is the believers who think God works in sleight of hand or “quiet miracles” who could tend to have a small God. I will try to explain.
When you hear of miracles today, they are almost exclusively these “quiet miracles.” Things which are clearly within the realm of natural explanation. “I ran into Jim at the hardware store. I had been praying for the opportunity to talk to him.” “God gave me a parking spot near the grocery store entrance.” If we move up the list toward the spectacular someone might say, “God cured me of my breast cancer.” Then, if you look at that form of breast cancer, it was highly curable in general. So this is clearly within the realm of the natural. Even if only 10% were cured and you were one of those, that is still within the realm of the natural course. Of course you can still be very thankful, thankful for how God brought the treatment about. How you body fought and etc.
If I were still an evangelical I would stand up in church and share how God has put my multiple myeloma in partial remission. A miracle! Don’t get me wrong, I am profoundly grateful to be in partial remission after my bone marrow transplant. However, a bone marrow transplant often renders the patient in complete remission. Many of my co-patients in the transplant program achieved complete remission. I prayed my heart out for months for a complete remission and had faith that would happen. Many of these remission patients I sensed from casual observations, were not Christians or praying people (impossible for me to judge) but fared much better than me. So, my outcome was inferior to the typical. A miracle? If not a miracle, and if I were a believer in common miracles I would be left with the emotional–possibly unspoken–feeling that God had betrayed me.
It is rare that a Christian claims a spectacular miracle, something clearly outside of a natural explanation. Virtually all of those turned out to be false. For example, I visited a Christian Reformed Church in Marquette, Michigan. As the service opened, an elder testified that he is a shortwave radio or ham operator. He said that he was talking to his Christian brothers in India. They told him that Jesus had come back there some time ago and was walking around raising hundreds of people from the dead, some who had died many years previously. While hundreds had been raised, according to him, the liberal media in America was blocking the story from making the news. Of course this did not happen and that scenario is not even Biblical. I was so disappointed that the pastor did not refute this story that I never went back to this church.
We had a member of another church, which I did attend for years, who testified in service that her very grave lung cancer had been completely healed. The problem with that is that I knew her as a patient and that was frankly not true. She stopped her chemotherapy saying God had healed her . . . only to succumb to her terrible disease and die a few weeks later, sending shock waves through the church.
People are superstitious. That’s why some claim they saw the image of Jesus or Mary in the burn marks on their breakfast toast. Or that a sunbeam created the shape of a cross (just asked the Roman emperor Constantine, he saw the Latin Chi Ro in a sunbeam).
I spoke in “tongues” as did many did in our group when I was about 20 years old. This was proof to us that God was real. But it was gibberish. I could easily reproduce that today. I didn’t suddenly become fluent in a language which I did not study. Psychology explains how vulnerable we all are to self-deception. The Bible concurs, such as in Jeremiah 17:9 ” The heart (or psyche) is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?”
But to make this clear how believing in common quiet or sleight of hand miracles can indicate a concept of a small God, I will share another story. I think this story made the final cut of my book, Butterflies in the Belfry.
When I was 20 and living in a dorm, a guy on my hall invited me to a “Full Gospel” meeting at a house off campus. I think the two of us were the only students as the rest were more middle aged. The meeting was held in a simple single story bungalow about a mile walk. When we arrived, the little house was packed with about 60 people, spilling over from the living room into the dinning room and kitchen. One man, short and balding with a booming voice was the apparent leader. He told stories of amazing miracles that had happened that week. Then he opened up the meeting for a “healing service.”
This pastor, Will, asked for people to tell of their medical problems. Whatever the medical problem was, bad back, headaches, emphysema, or diabetes, it didn’t matter, he would diagnose each one as being caused by their spine being out of alignment. Had been hanging out with chiropractors? He then claimed that mal-alignment was caused by one leg being shorter than another. He would then call the person to the front, sit them on a chair facing the crowd, pray over them and start his “act of healing.” His act of healing was a simple sleight of hand trick we use to do in elementary school. You squat in front of the person and hold up their legs with your hand behind their calves. Then, as people watched, you simply pushed one hand up toward the knee, pushing the pants with it to create a growing space between the helm of pants and their shoe. In other words as more and more of the sock was exposed, it gave the illusion the leg was growing. It was so silly, that I literally thought it was a joke. I was the only one. The rest of the crowd began reacting as if he had just raised up a dead person. They were screaming and crying and praising Jesus.
Meanwhile, I was dumbfounded. So cheesy. But this went on for an hour. I think because he saw the look of disgust on my face that he had the crowd grab me and drag me to the front. He diagnosed me as having serious back trouble. I said aloud, “I do not have back trouble.” That comment angered him. He slammed me down in his healing chair and started to do the same trick on me. I resisted. I stopped him from sliding his hand with my pants up my calve. He became more angry, stood up, turned around and told the crowd of strangers, “God has spoken to me. He cannot heal this young man because his heart is dark and full of sin.” The crowd looked at me with scowls written across 60 faces.
But there was a woman in the crowd who had an above the knee amputation on the right side due to her diabetes. I noticed that he never even made eye contact with her. So, if we were witnessing real supernatural miracles, you would think she would be the first in line. She needed to grow a whole leg. That would have been a real miracle. But the God there could do a sleight of hand trick but was too weak to grow a new leg.
As a footnote, my friend who invited me to this meeting and I caught Will in bed with his (married) mother a couple of months later. I think that is relevant to his character.
My point being, if you are convinced that God is doing these quiet things, finding your a parking spot, making it not rain on your picnic, or passing a test, but your God cannot do the really big ones, the obvious supernatural events, completely erasing cancer, raising a relative from the dead. Causing a crashed plane to reassemble and go back up into the sky and the passengers all healed instantly from their wounds, then that would make your God smaller.
So, if God is doing miracles commonly, and he is only doing the subtle things, he is not very big. It is like the movie Oh God starring John Denver and George Burns in 1977. When George Burns had to appear in court to prove he was God, first he did a card trick. A sleight of hand “miracle.” When that didn’t convince the judge, he disappeared. Although disappearing can be a sleight of hand trick, which magicians often pull off, in this case it was a supernatural miracle. If miracles are not common or even happening today, that leaves the possibility of a big God.
This brings me to the last point. I think this whole lust for miracles is based on a faulty metaphysical concept. I often talk about how the Greek concept of philosophical dualism, has had a profoundly negative influence on Christianity. In that paradigm, there are two realities. The seen world (nature) which is inferior or even evil and the unseen or spiritual world. Because of this thinking, the Christian dismisses things of the natural world as unspiritual (inferior) and the supernatural as far more important. In that world miracles are sexy.
But I see it profoundly differently. My Bible teaches that God created the entire 14 billion light year-wide universe out of nothing. That act alone is incredibly supernatural. Everything in the universe is precious. As Einstein said, “There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.” This is what he is talking about. Yes, there are atheistic theories of the formation of the universe. But if you are a Christian then, like me, you would see that all of nature is a miracle, outside the possibility of nature alone . . . in other words, supernatural. Therefore it is not inferior to say that the doctor who created stem cell transplants (and got a Nobel Prize for that) is a miracle and my body working with the stem cell transplant is a miracle. I can be profoundly grateful to God without assuming that it has to be something new, outside the natural workings of the universe.
“There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.” Albert Einstein
What I see on God’s heart and in Jesus’ sermons is a profound desire for truth. If we stake our lives on the belief of something that is a self-delusion (like Will’s healings), then it is harder to see the real God. But that’s just my perspective. Yes I do believe that God did supernatural miracles in history. He did it because of our unbelief. It appears that he did them rarely, spaced out with one every few hundred years. I’ve observed none in my lifetime, but I’m still open to seeing one before I die, but for miracles outside the grand miracle of the reality of the universe that God has called into being are not required.
Can I ask you to refrain from sending me personal emails that share your concerns for my soul, that I’m either going to hell, I’m not a good Christian, not a spiritual person, or am unorthodox. I’ve heard that all before and it only cause me hurt. If you don’t believe anything I’ve said, I have no qualms with that. Let’s still be friends. Happy Thanksgiving.