August 27, 2014

Miracles

Tim Stafford is a senior writer for Christianity Today and recently penned and published a book exploring modern-day miracles from a journalist’s point-of-view. He doesn’t claim to be an expert on any one subject, but for the past thirty years he’s written on a wide variety of subjects relating to all things Christian. His says his expertise is in asking questions, listening and then writing about what he learns. He admits that this book is more personal than his usual style because it is born out of his curiosity in a miraculous occurrence in the life of a member of his church.

I think I would have liked the book better had he dived rather than dabbled his way more fully into a personal opinion piece. As it is, the writing comes across too tentative for opinion and too mixed for journalism. Nevertheless, the subject is interesting, relevant and Stafford is a good writer.

In Miracles, Stafford examines what constitutes a miracle, if we can still expect to see miracles, how much of Scripture deals with miracles, hype over hoaxes, lack of authentication in cases of the truly authentic and the Pentecostal movement in the world today. He includes a chapter near the end on science and miracles which makes a couple of good points, but probably isn’t weighty enough to preach the truly scientific minded over to the choir of miracle believers. He closes with a couple of chapters that echo a few of my own thoughts on miracles and which come from an already believing and not very skeptical point-of-view. In what seems an attempt to point out that we Christians are not all gullible and can get embarrassed when others in the faith make questionable claims that only add fuel to atheistic fire, the book is also punctuated with stories about unsubstantiated miraculous claims he portrays as clearly bogus.

With that groundwork put down, the spark for Stafford’s book was first hand observation of a dramatic healing experience in the life of a young man in Stafford’s Presbyterian church which he describes as “a little traditional,” but which “tries to be flexible.” Stafford was puzzled by the reaction of the church when the boy’s mother stepped up to the platform and told the story of what had happened to her son. The crowd’s reaction was lukewarm. Why the subdued response to such good news for a young man they had all known and witnessed in his disability? This prompted Stafford to want to find out more about what other miracles, if any, were happening in the world and why people reacted as they did.

Later, Stafford interviewed the young man to hear his story first hand. “Jeff” had grown up in an active family that hiked and backpacked. When he started complaining of pain in his feet around age 9, Mom and Dad thought it was a shoe issue. His pain continued to increase and a subsequent injury brought swelling that would not dissipate. By age thirteen, Jeff was starting a period of multiple surgeries in his feet that brought no relief for him. Ultimately, he ended up in a wheelchair. His problem was not paralysis, but such intense pain that standing and walking was excruciating and impossible. The whole episode was a mystery.

As a junior in college, Jeff was playing on a wheelchair basketball team. While visiting another town, he and a friend went to a local church that invited anyone who wanted prayer to go forward. In an interview with Stafford, Jeff says he never would have gone forward except his friend urged it. As a result of the prayer for him, he stood up. That was not the miracle. It was something he could always do, but only for a short period time. This time he stood and walked and jumped without pain.

In the days that followed, he dealt with the weakness and sore muscles that resulted from newly working atrophied muscles, but the crippling foot pain he’d had for many years was completely gone. Three years later, at the time of Stafford’s interview, the pain was still gone. Jeff had never returned to a wheelchair and continued to live an active, athletic, pain-free life.

For Stafford, who travelled extensively, met many who claimed miraculous experiences and kept an open attitude when interacting with charismatic believers, this was the first time he had “been close enough to a miracle to be sure that one occurred.” He was hearing first hand testimony from a young man who had not been looking for a miracle, who was hesitant to talk about it and who was clearly happy to have moved on with his life. He was no attention seeker. Besides, Stafford had witnessed him in his church in a wheelchair in the preceding years and there was his medical history to boot. This was real.

Stafford’s natural next step was to visit the church where Jeff had received his healing. What he found there was a pastor and staff who were friendly, welcoming and undemanding. They were simply willing to pray lovingly and believingly for any who asked for prayer. They told stories of many occurrences like Jeff’s, but when Stafford asked for contact information of miracle recipients for the purposes of authentication, no information was forthcoming. Stafford makes no judgment as to whether their claims were exaggerated or whether they had simply made no efforts to keep records of their transient population

Most of us have heard similar claims. Even if we are believers in miracles, either by faith or by first hand experience, we tend to let the doors of our minds slam shut when we hear a story for which no proof is offered or when any money is involved. We’ve all seen the shameless televangelists, who “for your best gift now” will send you a healing handkerchief or pray prosperity prayers over a pile of unpaid bills. It’s a bit nauseating.

On the other hand according to Hebrews 11:6, “without faith it is impossible to please God.” Jesus himself chastised people and left towns without doing many miracles (Matthew 13:58) when he encountered a dearth of faith. He also marveled when he witnessed faith as in the woman with the issue of blood (Luke 8:43-48), the Syro Phoenecian woman expecting a healing for her daughter even though she was a Gentile (Matthew 15:21-28) and the Roman centurion believing Jesus would heal his servant (Matthew 8:5-10) without even entering his home. He told his disciples in Matthew 17:14-20) that if they had faith the size of a mustard seed, they could move mountains, or more specifically, cast out stubborn demons. In the face of a withered fig tree (Mark 11:22-24) he also commanded, “Have faith in God … whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.” He demonstrated all of these things for his disciples and sent them out to do the same. In John 14:12 he also told them they would do even greater things. Faith accomplishes all sorts of things … salvation from sin, freedom from captivities and enslavements, provision for material need, physical healing (whether slow, spontaneous, medical or supernatural) that God in his wisdom chooses to give. It also brings grace to suffer when God in his wisdom withholds miracles.

Many modern day people have had some kind of encounter with the miraculous or supernatural, but as Stafford points out, they aren’t always talking about it. Either they fear trying to defend themselves before skeptics or they cherish the occurrence as something very personal and to be treasured within themselves. They may also not be sure whether faith requires them to always expect miracles. Perhaps that is putting God to the test or viewing him as a personal genie. For some, faith is recognizing God omnipotence and sovereign right to break in to earthly circumstances when and if he wills. They welcome miracles, but don’t seek them.

For the sake of launching discussion among the Internet Monks, I will confess my leanings, fearing (a little) backlash from skeptics and from those who get upset that discussion of supernatural experiences seems like spiritual bragging meant to demean those who haven’t had such experiences. I mean no such thing. I believe God interacts with each person in the Body of Christ for his unique and mysterious purposes. Sometimes we won’t immediately know why he does what he does and sometimes we won’t ever know.

I was raised going sporadically to a Presbyterian church with my mom. I spent almost as much time sitting in a Catholic church with my best friend. When I visited my dad on some weekends we occasionally went to an AME church because he liked the music. So I was a bit of stray pup theologically, but I began earnestly seeking God at a young age and had a supernatural experience that is so personal I won’t tell of it here. Suffice it to say, it was a rescue and I am here because of it. It was my first encounter with God’s power. I couldn’t explain or understand it, but it was the beginning of my belief that God does miracles today. Then, at fourteen, I became a Christian when my stepsister told me that Christ went to the cross so I could be reconciled to God … a miracle in itself for the clear turning point it represents to me.

During my married life I have spent time in a Baptist church, a non-denominational church and am currently worshipping in an Assemblies of God church, a part of the Pentecostal movement that Stafford describes in his book. I ended up there at the invitation of a friend. Since I haven’t been in any other AOG churches I can’t comment on its degree of charismatic demonstration, but it is probably on the reserved end of the spectrum. Visitors often don’t know it’s an AOG church for quite a while. To be honest, I am a quiet person, not given to public displays. I won’t say it’s the perfect place for me (or perhaps I am not the perfect person for that place), but aspects of it fit my quietly charismatic beliefs, which I fell into by experience more than by any steady denominational formation.

Years ago, before I was a conscious charismatic, I had just moved to a rural area and heard of a nearby family with a newborn baby. The baby had been born with visible malignant tumors all over his body. Doctors said they could only monitor his condition, as he was too frail for treatment. I left a note on the family’s front porch telling them I and another neighbor were praying for their child and offered to care for their dog while they spent their days at the hospital. Two weeks later, the new mom called me and asked to come to my house for a visit.

When she arrived with her baby, she told me she was not religious person but wanted to thank me for praying. The week before she had been dressing him in the morning for a visit to the children’s hospital for a consultation with an oncologist. She called her husband to say the baby’s tumors looked smaller. He told her it was her imagination. But when she got to the hospital and undressed her baby for the doctor’s examination, the tumors were no longer visible. His cancer was completely gone. Several subsequent tests confirmed this and the little boy grew up with no further medical problems.

My own third daughter was born long after my first two when I wasn’t expecting more children. At her first birthday, a routine exam with our pediatrician sounded an alarm. Looking into Emily’s right eye, the doctor saw an abnormality. The doctor was tightlipped but referred us to a pediatric ophthalmologist, the best in the Midwest. I pressed her for the reason. She suspected a malignancy. The few days we waited for the doctor to return from a conference were hellish. To our relief, the exam revealed no malignancy, but Emily was legally blind in that eye. The specialist commended our pediatrician for the good catch and told us our baby would be wearing glasses, an eye patch and need future surgeries to help heal her eye. We started with the glasses and were delighted with her obvious delight that she could see well for the first time.

A year later, the pediatrician found a significant heart murmur in Emily. “Don’t worry,” she said, “we can fix this.” We were sent to the same children’s hospital my neighbor took her baby to for his cancer. There we spent most of a day taking her through various tests and saw a cardiologist. In his opinion, the murmur was moderate but didn’t demand surgery. We’d watch it for a while.

With Bible verses taped all over Emily’s bedroom and me often sleeping in a bed near her crib just to pray, I could lie and say I did this as a ministry of loving intercession. It’s true, I did, but it was primarily driven out of personal fear. Those early days were filled with my anxiety over her life. I lived for each doctor appointment, so I could hear again that her heart was fixable and there really was no cancer in her eye. Every year, the ophthalmologist decreased the strength of her prescription lens and said, “No eye patch or surgery just now.” Each year, the cardiologist decreased the rating on her murmur a bit, or said, “I only hear it when she’s lying down now.” Then one year the ophthalmologist pronounced her right eye perfect and released her to an optometrist for annual exams. The following year, the cardiologist released her as well. Those healings were not instantaneous and both involved the medical profession. One intervened with corrective eyewear but not the anticipated surgeries or patches; the other monitored what was happening in her body without intervention. Maybe to some, these do not constitute miracles, but being a primary in the story, seeing serious infirmities made well and being the recipient of the comfort and presence of the Holy Spirit in the midst of crushing fear, I beg to differ.

What about information that comes in a supernatural way, but does not bring a miracle? I was once in a meeting at church with a man I barely knew. As we were finishing, I heard these words in my mind. He has cancer in his neck. I was supposed to tell him, but I couldn’t. I was completely shocked and didn’t know what to do. That night I couldn’t sleep and felt pressed by God to communicate this information. In the morning, filled with fear, I called the man’s wife, apologized for what I was about to say and explained what happened. I was surprised she took it seriously and they then visited their doctor. The man had a metastatic melanoma in his neck, not visible on the exterior. I have never understood why that knowledge was given to me, but no healing was given to him. His wife believes treatment prolonged his life and gave him two years with his children he wouldn’t have had otherwise.

A friend at church was recently devastated with an ALS diagnosis at the same time his wife learned she had breast cancer. One day at the end of the long, hot summer and at the end of his faith, he sat down on his back porch with a glass of iced tea and told God he could not face what was happening to him and his wife. On that hot perfectly still day, he felt the cool blast of a strong wind and the comforting presence of the Holy Spirit. Although he was not being promised a healing, he was receiving an outpouring of grace to face his suffering and he began to relax for the first time in weeks.

In another instance, a loved one was freed of a lifelong obsessive-compulsive disorder during a time she was undergoing a severe trial in her marriage and began to cling to Christ for the first time. Another loved one experienced a brief period of being able to discern the presence of angels and demons without knowing why.

These are a few of the unusual occurrences I’ve experienced or been told about in the years since believing Christ. I did not expect them or need them to continue believing Christ. In fact, it’s been a long while since anything of this sort has happened to me personally and there have been plenty of other opportunities I’ve experienced or witnessed where a miracle would be so very welcome, but suffering came instead. Still, I believe. I want to believe, not because I need miracles to increase my faith. I want to believe because faith pleases God and I want so much to please him.

So Monks, what your thoughts and experiences on this subject? Do you think God’s intervention into human life with miracles is in anyway predictable or related to us expecting them and praying for them? Or do you think he performs them in a way that seems random, mysterious and inscrutable? Are miracles more prevalent in circumstances of deprivation or suffering? If so, why? Does an absence of miracles indicate a lack of faith or could it also indicate God’s pleasure and trust that we believe without seeing?

 

Comments

  1. I don’t know about anyone else, but I definitely believe in miracles. One happened to me involving my heart. One happened to my wife involving her knees and one shoulder. One happened to my oldest grandchild when he was still surrounded by amniotic fluid in utero. One happened to a 5-year-old boy in our church whose foot had been almost completely severed by a lawn mower. I will not bore you with the details.

    I think miracles happen all the time. They are not predictable, and they don’t depend on our expecting them. They happen on God’s timetable. But they do require that we recognize them and that we give thanks to God afterward for his love and mercy. Otherwise, miracles are just “coincidences” that we can’t explain, or that term the medical community likes to use, “spontaneous remissions.”.

  2. Beautifully written, Lisa. I agree that there are miracles. Mine have mostly been financial, not medical. One at least can be explained in no other way than miraculous intervention. I had asked for a miracle, because I needed the money but more because I wanted to know that God could really do what the Bible claims. Since being given that miracle, I haven’t asked for many more but tried instead to learn to accept whatever God gives. Sometimes his gifts have seemed miraculous, but mostly they have been graces to deal with problems and tragedies.

    There have been miracles I’ve prayed for desperately that God never performed. In being denied I’m in good company — Jesus and Paul, as well as many others.

  3. One aspect of this question which is not very well developed is that of human expectations. Paul wrote:
    “22 Jews ask for miracles, and Greeks want something that sounds wise. 23 But we preach that Christ was nailed to a cross. Most Jews have problems with this, and most Gentiles think it is foolish. 24 Our message is God’s power and wisdom for the Jews and the Greeks that he has chosen. ” (I Cor 1, CEV)

    It appears that different human cultures have different ideas of what is meaningful intervention on God’s part. Some are convinced by this, others by that. I think that in the text I cited, Paul is giving two examples of human demands, not a definitive and exhaustive list. Probably in the modern west, different sub-cultures have different expectations.

    On the one hand, God is patient and kind to speak and demonstrate himself to us on our level. On the other, he will not be tied to the type of proof constructed by our fallen human cultures.

    I see God sometimes breaking through to the pure of heart even when they demand something based on their cultural understanding, but refusing to bend to the cultural, ideological other other demands of those who are not pure in heart. But that certainly does not explain all the cases.

    A godly man in my church contracted ALS. It progressed rapidly and he died within a year of diagnosis. So sad. Yet the testimonies at his memorial service were amazing, including testimonies of how he dealt with the ALS. For me, that is a miracle of grace and shows God’s power just as much as healing him would have. Am I right or wrong to perceive that? So, do we miss some of God’s miracles because of the perceptions of our culture, beliefs and worldview? Or, do we see some where they don’t exist. Probably some of both.

    • Yes, culture definitely seems to be a factor in how we view miracles. On the other hand, part of what makes a miracle a miracle may be that God defies our individual cultures as much as he does science in his interventions at times. This is good food for thought, Ed. Thank you!

    • Brianthedad says:

      For something to be a miracle, does it have to be inexplicable, or just unexpected? I’ve often wondered if the perceived dearth today of what we call miracles is because of how we, in our respective cultures, define them. Does it have to be a suspension of the laws of physics, or medicine, or nature before we ascribe miracle status to it? How many of the ordinary things we see happening today would have been described as miraculous 50 or 100 or 500 years ago? Just because I can explain it after the fact, does it make it any less of a miracle that it happened to me, at that time, at that particular place? Just some questions I’ve kicked around from time to time.

  4. I’m sure that God heals people. But then there are times when He does not.

    And all of us will end up in the grave, so any physical healing is only temporary.

    __

    I have found that the greatest miracles are when God creates faith in someone. When all the evidence in the world points to a God who does not exist, or who is absent, who lets all manner of evil and suffering flourish…in the midst of all of that, He creates faith an sustains faith in Himself. That is miraculous.

    • +1

    • I was about to give this +1, then I thought, but wait, does “all the evidence in the world points to a God who does not exist, or who is absent”. I don’t agree with this statement. If it were true I would not believe in God. Instead, I see God at work in this world in many different and wonderful ways. So I was about to give it a -1. But then I thought, but I do agree with, “in the in the midst of all of that, He creates faith an[d] sustains faith in Himself. That is miraculous.”

      So, good comment Steve, even if I don’t completely agree!

      • Thanks, Mike.

        Maybe I should have said, ‘the overwhelming evidence’.

        If we could somehow take in all the suffering and evil, and grief and pain in this world, it would drive us mad.

        Thankfully, we walk by faith, and not by sight.

    • Don’t laugh…but I’ve been challenged to read and journal 5 books in the Bible. I’m on the third….reading thorugh chapters 5-9 in Hebrews. I don’t know if this is going to work….but we’ll see.

  5. Headless Unicorn Guy says:

    Many modern day people have had some kind of encounter with the miraculous or supernatural, but as Stafford points out, they aren’t always talking about it.

    As I said when LA Governor Jindal was getting lots of flak for claiming he was in on an exorcism, “Everybody has their Weird S**t experiences — that was his.”

    Now the story of Jeff sounds VERY credible. Medical records, before-and-after witnesses, no sign of capitalizing on the Miracle or Miracle-working like so many Pentecostals, all done in the open in a First World country. The usual miracle claim is something spectacular like Raise Dead or Regrow Lost Limbs done in some Third World boondocks with only one Missionary as witness, more like a Weekly World News headline and provenance than a fully-documented incident.

    My take on Miracles in general is that they are a sub-type of the Paranormal, and like most Paranormal incidents are by definition rare, unusual, and often subjective and ambiguous. Like Star Trek V’ger’s “Unknown Space Anomaly of the Week”, if they were common they wouldn’t be miracles, they’d be what’s normal and Chaos covers the land.

  6. Headless Unicorn Guy says:

    We’ve all seen the shameless televangelists, who “for your best gift now” will send you a healing handkerchief or pray prosperity prayers over a pile of unpaid bills.

    “Healing handkerchief” or “Magick Charm”?

  7. One wonders, if these “preachers” really have the ability to heal people, why don’t they spend all of their spare time in all the children’s cancer wards that are all over this country, and the world?

  8. Joseph (the original) says:

    Miracles. I believe they happen all the time, but not in ways that are ever to be sensationalized, exaggerated (lying really), promoted thru books or travelling ‘testimony times’ replete with the de rigueur ‘love offerings’, etc. This includes the comparable fascination with Christian™ NDEs claiming visits to heaven, visits to hell & other supra-natural encounters of the 3rd & 4th kinds, etc.

    I exited the uber-charismatic camps ~12 years ago & have not looked back since. There was the supra-sensationalistic Christianese urban legends talked up & recounted with such fervor you would have thought each person telling the story had actually witnessed said event firsthand yesterday! But that was never the case. Nor were any of the stories ever substantiated, critically (soberly) questioned or even remotely considered inaccurate.

    {sigh}

    After the 72 disciples came back from their first on-the-job-training episode, Jesus did put their results into proper perspective: “However, do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” And really, what is the litmus test the world is supposed to use to recognize Jesus’ disciples today? Is it their faith? Or is it their love?

    There is still an emphasis on “faith” & the supposed results that are demonstrated in divine healings, miraculous interventions, supernatural encounters, etc. Sorta implying an unspoken faith level hierarchy/niche those that promote such things either in a prideful manner, or subconscious way, measure/pigeon-hole all others by/into.

    My skeptical bent has me questioning any recounted stories of a miraculous nature, only because there is often a subtle manipulation of emotions going on, if not outright “can you top this!” juicy tidbit of supra-natural goings-on. And it is the overly dramatic emphasis of such things that are a bit more nebulous: legs lengthened, pain gone, mental/emotional issues “healed”, etc. I suppose those that want to be healed are happy if such things happen. But then there are those that like their moment in the spotlight ‘claiming’ their healing to the hearty applause/recognition of a receptive audience…

    Since miracles by classification are always the exception & not the rule, chasing after signs-and-wonders & teaching a divine precedent was set with the recorded miracles in the gospels & book of Acts the manner which all Christians should be experiencing today is a bunch of religious hooey in my most humble theological opinion. Of course, other results may vary…

    You wrote, “I believe God interacts with each person in the Body of Christ for his unique and mysterious purposes. Sometimes we won’t immediately know why he does what he does and sometimes we won’t ever know.” The what, why, when, how & to whom question of why God does or does not intervene miraculously in the lives of everyone wanting such things will not have one common denominator to it. As much as the element of faith is being championed in this book review, there are those inexplicable events that happen without any such clear-cut explanation associated with it. And if there are those of other faiths that experience miracles, does that automatically relegate them to the ‘demonic’ rejection bin of contrary religious understanding?

    Good job Lisa. You bring up many questions about personal perspectives to ponder & discuss. I look forward to the responses this topic elicits from others.

    • “My skeptical bent has me questioning any recounted stories of a miraculous nature, only because there is often a subtle manipulation of emotions going on, if not outright “can you top this!” juicy tidbit of supra-natural goings-on.”

      Joseph, this “can you top this” phenomenon is something I have noticed as well. Talking about miracles can devolve into a contest of sorts, much as it does when we talk about suffering. That’s why it seems important to include a spectrum of thougts here, from occurrences that seem outright miraculous to things that don’t seem miraculous to others, but may be accompanied by an internal affirmation that makes us know that God did something … like with my friend from church who didn’t receive a healing but received grace to bear suffering. Sometimes the miracle may be that we keep plodding along in a great trial while God is silent and seemingly unhelpful. We can’t put him in the boxes we would like to.

  9. I am a medical doctor.

    I believe in miracles. But I’m also a skeptic.

    One thing I notice, those who are dramatically healed, like this young man who left his wheelchair, it’s usually people who are suffering from “medically unexplained” problems, and thus no objective disease (I haven’t read the book, just going on the post above). You don’t see healings of things like ALS, where there is objective evidence of an incurable condition. You don’t see missing limbs regrow. Sometimes cancers are “miraculously healed” it seems, but usually not in a way that goes against the known potential for tumour regression. All healing comes from God, but I’ve not seen any convincing reports of miraculous healings where there is medical evidence. I have read reports by christian doctors who have sifted through dozens of reports claimed miracles, but found no medically inexplicable objective healing. I wonder if God refuses to be pinned down or “proved” with hard evidence…

    But neither do I dismiss “miraculous” healing of medically unexplained symptoms or diseases like ME, as these symptoms tend to be particularly resistant to modern medical treatment. Most of the “got up from her wheelchair and walked” healings seem to be from diseases of this nature. No hard evidence of disease, but no progress either with medical treatment, so if prayer can heal them, praise God!

    The only “cancer miracle” I’ve been at all close to was a friend’s dad who apparently had a cystoscopy that showed “all the tumour had gone from his bladder” after prayer for healing. My friend rejoiced, and told me excitedly about the amazing healing ministry he had attended. But her father died soon after from metastasis, which rather makes one wonder about the original report of healing. I fear many reports of this nature may be related to optimistic misinterpretation or mis-hearing of what a doctor has said, shored up by a desperate need for positive news.

    I was once dramatically healed from a severe migraine headache. (Again, a condition where there was no medical evidence before or after to “prove” healing, just my subjective sensation of severe pain) The thing was, although it was a really bad headache, I’d rather welcomed it as there was something I really didn’t want to do that day. My irritatingly spiritual team members brightly suggested they pray for me. I just wished they’d push off and leave me in peace, but allowed them to lay hands on me while I pouted inwardly. They prayed. The pain was there one moment, and gone the next (I looked for it and couldn’t find a trace!) I was quite unhappy with this, but had to admit I was completely better. So obviously the faith of the person healed doesn’t need to be great…

    • Have you ever considered what being healed of a motor neuron disease like ALS is like from the patient’s side? Most of us aren’t Hezekiah – we don’t get a time stamp “16 more years to live”.

      Picture this hypothetical situation. You have a MND, you’ve signed your living will and power of attorney. You talk with a speech device, haven’t eaten solid food in a year, and are considering whether to vent or go into hospice. Then one day, instead of getting worse you get better – maybe MUCH better, maybe a bit better. Impossible things are happening: muscles that have been paralyzed for years and have no nerve hookup anymore are moving, atrophy reverses, tendon contracture reverses. You can talk, sing, or even stand. You can breathe laying down!

      So… what do you do now? There’s no reasonable explanation, and who has time to worry about one! No, you go and do all the things you’ve missed doing, living life as only one who has been dying knows how to. You don’t go to your neurologist, that isn’t even on your mind. You seize the day, appreciate every little thing: the taste of food, texture, being able to do the dishes, everything.

      After the initial high, you start to wonder how long this will last. Most healings in the Bible don’t tell you what happened when Jesus moved on to the next village. You don’t know why or how this has happened, and there is always that possibility that this is just a vacation. So in the short term, you realize you don’t actually WANT to put this on your medical records. Docs don’t declare you cured of a MND, they declare you never had it in the first place, no matter the evidence you did. What if it comes back, only now you have to fight your insurance for everything tooth and nail?

      Once the effect lasts a few weeks or months, now you have to decide who to tell. You want to share the good news with out of state relatives, but how will they take it? Will they believe you? What if it comes back before they ever get to see it for themselves, wouldn’t that be a terrible tease? You even wonder about going to common social venues, how will they take it? Would it be kind or mean to share it with friends with MND who haven’t been healed? Everyone who does see you want to know what you attribute it to, as if you had any idea. Sometimes it is easier to be among strangers, who don’t know you shouldn’t be walking and talking.

      You want to give glory to God, to share this news of his power, but not be dissected on the nightly news or interrogated by skeptics. Most of all, you don’t want to waste this amazing time doing things you didn’t appreciate properly before the disease.

      I would submit there is little incentive to do anything to prove you were healed of something like ALS or even to admit it publically! There is great incentive to live gratefully and quietly with this new life as long as it lasts, sharing only with your closest friends and family and your church. Avoiding doctors is much easier than trying to explain your contradictory medical history unless things get bad again. And if you’ve had a motor neuron disease, your definition of bad is pretty hardcore.

      The only person who is incentivized to admit to what happened on record is someone who recovers slowly, requiring therapy and support, more of a gradual miraculous healing. Those who receive fast, over the top supernatural healing of incurable, objective diseases… you’ll never hear from those people until they REALLY need something. But if you meet someone who is passionately thrilled to be able to grocery shop or relishes a piece of lettuce like it is a gourmet food and doesn’t talk a lot about the past, you may have just met one.

      • Tokah, I love reading your comments. Thank you for sharing in such a personal way. You have make the perfect case for why some people want only to keep such happenings to themselves. While reading this I thought of Mary’s response to hearing the shepherds’ account of what the angels had told them about her baby. “But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.” (Luke 2:19) After her own visitation by Gabriel announcing she would bear God’s Son conceived in her by the Holy Spirit, how could she doubt what the shepherds were saying? Surely, she couldn’t have discussed the miraculous things that had happened to her very much. Who would understand? Only Joseph, who’d had to be convinced by his own angelic visitation, could have an inkling. I imagine that their lives, though rich in fellowship with God, were lonely with regard to other people.

      • “Docs don’t declare you cured of a MND, they declare you never had it in the first place” Good point. If we doctors can’t understand what happened, we can always say it didn’t!

        Reading what you say also makes me wonder about how Jesus told people to “keep it quiet”. Why? (Not that they di keep it quiet, anyway!)

        • I’ve pondered that myself. I could be wrong, but I think it was his way of saying, “this was done for you, not a publicity stunt for me, even if I used it as a teachable moment at the time”. Even just having a sore declared ok for living in general population back in the levitical law required a public sacrifice. False messiah’s were very common in Jesus’ time, and I’m sure they milked every success for fame.

          Jesus had a whole different style. He raised a girl from the dead and then reminded her stunned parents she was hungry. He not only cast the legion of demons from the gerasene demoniac, but they clothed him before the townspeople returned. The people he healed and helped weren’t stage exhibits or notches on a belt, he really cared about them.

          So I think he was releasing them from the obligation they might have felt to making public displays of gratitude or support. Obviously people were going to find out and ask them questions, the blind guy sorting things by color and the lame walking to work and the woman with an issue of blood living healthily were not subtle to their hometowns and neighborhoods. Jewish people were tied to their land, they couldn’t easily just start a new life elsewhwere, they were stuck with the fallout of the miracle. But they knew they weren’t expected to shill for the new messiah candidate or make a spectacle at the temple.

  10. Amazing post to think and chew on. I love topics that make me think and to observe my own faith … my faith … or in Jesus Christ. The most amazing miracle is God’s undescribable Love, my sinfulness and that God’s grace would draw me to confess my greatest need. Jesus Christ atoning work in all who believe. Thank you for the encouragement.

  11. My immediate thought while reading this was John 9. No question miracles still take place. This only leaves the questions of “why, who and how.” I think Jesus provided that answer.

    “but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him. . . . “

  12. I take it that pictures of Jesus on toast are not miracles?

  13. I am very conflicted about miracles. There are so many silly bogus claims, that I find myself doubting almost all claims. I find myself defining miracles a little more openly than fundamentalists. I look forward to adding the book to my list.

  14. Yes, miracles are real! Look:

    http://blog.tsemtulku.com/tsem-tulku-rinpoche/personal-attendant/the-miracles-of-tsem-rinpoche-true-story-1-2.html

    (And this is only the first installment of a series of a dozen or more.)

    • Well, this should make for an interesting discussion – i.e., what to do/say about non-Christian divine miracles, assuming they’re real.

  15. About 20 years ago I read an article in the “Banner”; the magazine of the Christian Reformed Church. The writer’s son had recently died from leukemia and he talked about the miracle that was so hoped for but never received. After a long heart wrenching article, he concluded that miracles are little snippets or views into Christ’s Kingdom. These come according to God’s timing and wisdom, and we can never expect His kingdom to be fully realized a the present moment. I have a lot of issues with Calvinism, but this view of miracles, and the times they are withheld, made sense to me.

  16. I believe in miracles. Not all of them involve healing, and here are a couple that I witnessed two that weren’t.

    The first involved the coffee shop ministry at the church I attend, opened after several of us felt God’s call to open it. After a couple of months of basically no evidence of why God wanted us to open it, I remember driving in one morning praying to God and saying, “I’m not sure this is what You wanted, Lord. I think maybe we got this ‘call’ wrong.” That day, four teens came in off the street to check us out. Those of us involved in the ministry just looked at each other and said, “Okay…I guess it WAS what God wanted.” I view those kids coming in as a miracle.

    The second involved the food pantry ministry at the same church. If I had taken a picture of the amount of food we had on the shelves at the beginning of one particular day, you would’ve said we could’ve given food to six families, eight at most if we really stretched it. We ended up giving food to 14 families, and all of them two full bags of groceries. When the day was over, two of us working the pantry looked at each other, examined the list of people who had come in, and said, “Do you remember the shelves when we started the day? I think we just witnessed a miracle.”

    Miracles come in very interesting packages and in very interesting ways.

  17. I was working in a factory with other Bible school students when I was around 19. This guy notices something and asks me to stretch my arms out and it turns one arm is about an inch and a half longer than the other. I tried shifting my posture to see if it would even my fingers up but that’s pretty much the way they stayed. I wasn’t suffering. He prayed and when I stretched my arms out again, my fingertips were even.

    I was driving home from Oklahoma to West Virginia during my time at the same Bible school. Along the way I fell asleep and my car drifted off the road to the right. Something jarred me awake and I stopped the car. Turning around I saw a heavy concrete pillar supporting an overpass. I looked at the right side of my car and saw a half inch indentation running all along that side beginning right at the front bumper. If my car had drifted even an inch further that might have been the end of me on this earth. I don’t know why God didn’t keep me from falling asleep but I believe he kept me from slamming into that concrete bridge pillar and I’m thankful for that.

    I had to go to after school suspension for skipping class on Senior skip day in high school. I suggested to my searching classmate who shared the same fate to read the book of Ecclesiastes. He ended up reading Ecclesiastes, gave his heart to Christ, and ended up walking across the Philippines for many years sharing the gospel in Tagalog to the Philipinos.

    I am ashamed I didn’t support my friend more than I did financially. I was so busy struggling financially, trying to get established, and dealing with my own hardships, I neglected my friendship with this incredible young man.

    The biggest miracle of all is that God still loves me and forgives me in spite of my significant failures and shortcomings.

    This turned out to be a very personal reply. I guess miracles are often personal.

    • Dan,

      If your friend hadn’t healed your arm length issue, you would have pushed with an inch longer arm on the one side and your car would have been over that last inch. Maybe that arm miracle was a two-fer.

      • Wow! I never connected those two things together. Seems eerie to think about in a way but I suppose the connection between the two events isn’t that far from God’s perspective.

  18. I hesitate to write this for many personal reasons. I say this becuase I’ve doubted and walked through agnosticism being totally disillusioned. Plus I remember hearing these types of stories in church and asking, “why doesn’t that happen to me?” But here they go….

    1. My Mom getting through pancreatic cancer and surviving. Please don’t ask me…IDK…
    2. My Dad getting through a brain tumor and surviving. Again please don’t ask me…IDK…
    3. Getting through the ICU and emergency clinic on July 29 when I was dealing with sepsis.
    4. All of you guys at I-Monk showing me love and grace when I clearly don’t deserve it.
    5. Here’s another one….though this IDK how it happened. Years ago..maybe about 12 or so. I was coming home from ministry event. I was going through school and working…so I was sleep deprived. It was late at night…and something happened and I fell asleep. The next thing I knew I was stretching in my car in the parking garage where I parked it. I don’t know how I got to point A to point B, and I’ve wondered that…..
    6. And I also have this weird situation that I’ll share… I’ve ranted and raved on blogs and amongst freinds about how shallow Christians can be. Trust me..I still believe that about a good number. However, for the past 3 years I’ve been having deep discussions and challenges with two poeple who came in my life. One through the internet and another one through work. The guy on the net is a train nerd like me…and we have these intense discussions through email and phone on evil, prayer, refromed theology, etc.. When we get frustarted we’ll talk about trains, in his case the Nickel Plate Road, mine the Milwaukee Road. Then there is another person out here who I’ve spoken with. We’re reading JI Packer “Knowing God” and having livily dialog. Last week over dinner we went back and forth for an hour on Romans 1:20-21 and that all people have no excuse for knowing God. It’s amazing we can talk given how far the divide is between the two of us. I still can’t buy his exclamation…but I am grateful that there are some people willing to talk and discuss things with me.

    I hesitate to say any of this becuase I don’t know what I am… And some people have lost relatives to cancer and I don’t want to intensify their pain or give them false hopes. I don’t know why things went the way they did. I truly don’t….

    • Eagle:

      You’re a train nerd? I assume you have this DVD then: http://www.thestationagent.com/ :)

      • Actually I’m a member of the Milwaukee Road Historical Association, Northern Pacific Historical Society, and Great Northern Historical Society :-)

    • I love reading about people’s honest, truthful, soul-searching and faith-searching “wrestling.” Thanks for this, Eagle.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        I remember a Rabbi Boteach essay about how Judaism differs from Christianity and Islam in having knock-down-drag-outs with God instead of just sighing “Thy Will Be Done”. The Rabbi’s examples were Abraham haggling God down over Sodom & Gomorrah (“How about twenty just men? Fifteen? Ten?”) and Jacob fighting it out with God (“You WILL give me the Blessing!”) and getting his leg broken in the process.

  19. Here is one miracle that occurred in our family.

    My father-in-law was not a person of faith. One evening while he was driving home from work he suffered an epileptic seizure. The next thing he remembered was that he was parked on a dirt road, and that his car wouldn’t start. He could see the lights of a hotel about 20 minutes down the road and walked to it. He was suffering from temporary amnesia, and when he got to the hotel and was asked if he needed help, all he could remember was his wife’s name and phone number. Nothing else. When told I would come and pick him up along with his daughter he said, “Whose that?”

    We got to the hotel which was about 20 minutes from us, and called an ambulance. After he had been looked after in hospital we tried to find the car. We new that it was probably only a five minute drive from the hotel, but we could not find it that night. It was only in the light of the next day that we realized what had happened.

    While he had been driving home on what would be the Canadian equivalent on an interstate-highway, he suffered an epileptic seizure. This, while munching on a cheese burger and driving 65-70 miles an hour.

    His car left the highway, and went down into a steep median. He missed a large concrete lamp post by about a foot. Had he hit it, he would have been dead. He traveled up the other side of the median, and over the the other 3 lanes of traffic going the other way. Had any car been coming, he would have been dead. His car went down a very steep embankment on the other side. Going down is probably the wrong word to use. There were no tracks going down this embankment, the car was airborne. He crashed through a wire fence, with two very large fenceposts, 6 inches on either side of his car. He then missed a large heavy water tank, again by about a foot. Had he hit it, he would have died. Eventually there was a bit of a rise in the ground and the car eventually plowed into an embankment. He ended up with a slight cut on his face. No one saw the accident. The car was not visible from the highway. Had he suffered a serious injury, or bleeding, at best he would have been found the next day. All we would have known is that he disappeared on a 20 mile stretch of highway.

    My father-in-law interpreted the accident as God giving him a second chance, and decided to put his trust in Christ.

    Was this all a coincidence that he survived such a terrible accident? Maybe. But I know that in my life and in the life of my family coincidences keep happening.

    When I was laid off a little more that a year ago, our family was going through a very difficult time. I needed a job that did not add to the stress that we were already experiencing. I needed to be close to home. A recruiter called, he had a potential local job for me. Did I know where the Montfort restaurant was, and the prospective employer was interested in interviewing me there. Yes, I replied, the restaurant backs on to my house!

    More recently we had been praying for my son as he was going away to university. Much to our surprise, two of his assigned roommates are from faith backgrounds and have been attending church with him. The odds of that happening in Canada? Probably less than 1%.

    I could go on about stories of God working in the lives of those around us. For now I will just conclude with a quote by Sir William Temple: “When I pray coincidences happen, and when I don’t, they don’t.”

    • Good stuff, Michael! Thanks for sharing.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      My father-in-law interpreted the accident as God giving him a second chance…

      I’d wonder if that kind of miracle means God is a Dukes of Hazzard fan? Too bad there were no witnesses and your dad couldn’t remember the accident — sounds like it was pretty spectacular.

    • I think this passage is interesting as it pertains to miracles. The father conducted an investigation to see if his son’s healing was natural or from Christ. He matched up the time his son began to amend with when Jesus told him “thy son liveth.” Jesus seemed a little perturbed that he and his family need to see a miracle before they would believe. The father believed, yet he approached his son’s healing with skepticism. I think, for some people, skepticism is a filter the truth has to travel through and not a roadblock. I wonder if the Church is patient enough with skeptics.

      John 4:51 And as he was now going down, his servants met him, and told him, saying, Thy son liveth.
      52 Then enquired he of them the hour when he began to amend. And they said unto him, Yesterday at the seventh hour the fever left him.
      53 So the father knew that it was at the same hour, in the which Jesus said unto him, Thy son liveth: and himself believed, and his whole house.

  20. I’ve been a Christian as long as I can remember. In my church when I was growing up I think we believed in miracles and prayed for people, but it wasn’t emphasized. When I was a young adult a missionary couple we knew had a son dying of cancer. I woke up one night a felt “led” to prayer for his physical healing here on earth. Well, he ended up dying soon after that. Ever since that time I haven’t even known how to pray when someone is sick or in need of special help from God. I haven’t know what to believe about that type of prayer.

    Almost 2 years ago my husband and I moved to S. Korea. While we were visiting our son and his family who are missionaries to Croatia I fell down a flight of stairs and tore the supra…something ligament or muscle from my shoulder. I went to numerous doctors and had MRIs which showed the muscle had contracted away from the shoulder. One doctor said even if it was reattached it would probably separate again because of the weakness I already had had in the shoulder. Another surgeon told me he could reattach it but I’d be in a cast or sling for 6 months. I said no thank you. I’d been going to physical therapy for several months 5-6 times a week, but with very little results. I could only lift my arm out a few inches from my body. It was very difficult because it was my right arm and I’m a teacher who writes a lot on the board. Anyway, I’d given up hope of ever having use of that arm again, without major surgery and a long time immobilized.

    One Sunday morning in church we were singing the last song, “Beautiful One” and I was enjoying the music and praising God. Then I felt/heard God saying to raise up my arms. Of course I said, But I can’t. I heard/felt it again and again. So, I did, with no trouble. I raised them all the way up. It was the first time in months I’d been able to do that. Then I heard/felt God saying to tell everyone about it. I had fears that it might not be real, that it wouldn’t happen again, that I didn’t want to draw attention to myself, etc. But I did it anyway. And the pastor had me come to the front and pray the benediction…with my arms raised. The shoulder continued to get better and better and I’ve had no problem since then. It’s been almost a year since that healing happened.

    So my skeptical self was surprised by an unexpected miracle…for which I’m truly thankful.

    • A friend of mine here at my church had a similar experience recently. He’d broken his collarbone in a car accident and 2 weeks later he was in worship service and felt led to raise his hands, so he did so. He came to me after the service, raised his arms, and said, “Do you realize I shouldn’t be able to do this?”

  21. Three stories, if that’s okay. The first was when I was in my mid thirties. It was less than a year after I had gotten married. My best friend called at night and said that her husband had passed out and was being taken to a hospital, in a lot of pain. Turned out it was a burst aneurism. We prayed and prayed for healing, but he died about 2 weeks later. No miracle, right? My friend was 35, a widow with 4 children to raise on her own, the youngest only 6 months old.

    But there was a miracle of a different sort. You see, several years before, when her then youngest was barely in school, her sister uncharacteristically challenged her to go back to college. My friend uncharacteristically responded and was just at the point of being able to begin a new career as a teacher. The miracle was that they were not left completely destitute. God had already provided a way forward.

    The other two were more recent. I think the first one happened to our women’s bible study teacher, who was also a nurse with a ministry to medically fragile children. She got a terrible headache and went to the hospital where it took some time to diagnose her problem as a sub-arachnoid hemmorhage. There were a lot of ups and downs as the whole group kept praying for healing. At her request, we prayed mostly for correct diagnosis and a good treatment plan. But things kept getting worse. I don’t know how others were praying but I finally departed from the plan and told God, I didn’t care what the doctors did, this was like the woman with the issue of blood and like her, we wanted it to stop. It did and she recovered, though not without some aftereffects. I believe God was waiting for that sort of prayer from me, and perhaps others as well, almost like a training exercise.

    The other happened in 2010. It was labor day weekend and my husband had just had surgery for a ruptured appendix while out of town. Seeking prayer support, I went to my e-mail list. In the process, I noticed an e-mail requesting prayer for one of my friends, who had that day been in an accident on the freeway. They were concerned about bleeding on the brain. Being quite distracted I sent up a quick prayer for her in the midst of all my worries about my husband, and how to get to him and what to do about my two teenagers at home.

    Later, I heard her story, her van had been pancaked right up to the back of her seat when the car behind her did not notice cars slowing for an obstacle. First miracle was that she never lost consciousness. But she did have a subdural hematoma and her tests the day of the accident showed her head filling with blood. Only the next morning, it was gone in a second test. The doctor said that was impossible but it happened and was medically documented. He also told her she should have been in a coma. She also recovered slowly and has been able to return to work, though she does have bad headaches sometimes and some balance problems.

    Do I understand why one person is healed miraculously and another isn’t? No. Will I continue to pray for healing? Absolutely! It is a great mystery, but God somehow uses our prayers to accomplish His will. Often where there is not physical healing, one finds there was relational healing through someone’s death. I let God do as He wills, but I firmly believe that He wants us to participate and to pray specifically, not just vaguely suggesting He knows best. I leave the whys up to Him. Sometimes He reveals them in time, sometimes not.