At a retreat, I was sitting next to a physician who was the radiologist at the local community hospital. The speaker told about the miracle that happened when his wife was diagnosed with cancer. Just before surgery, they took another X-ray. The cancer was gone.
I asked the radiologist, “Does that really happen?” “More often than you think,” he replied. This is the doctor who reads X-rays and diagnoses cancer. Usually, he is the one to read the pre-surgery X-ray, too. Spontaneous remission like this is not explainable by medical science.
Do miracles really happen today? In my heritage, we accepted that miracles did happen in Bible times. Influenced by John Calvin’s position that miracles ceased after the New Testament, we didn’t and still don’t officially accept that miracles happen today. Or do they?
For years my heart’s desire was to experience or witness an undeniable miracle. I came close. But my doubts have gone away. How the Holy Spirit influences the human spirit is explainable only as a supernatural intervention. Take away the possibility of miracles and the Spirit’s role in church life is considerably diminished. It is reduced to something confessed in the Third Article but no longer believed by “moderns.”
The close encounter with a miracle came on a Sunday morning. A mother requested prayer for her teenage daughter, who was in a coma at the hospital. Mother and daughter had been out shopping on a Saturday evening. Suddenly the daughter started talking gibberish. Mom knew something was seriously wrong and took her to the Emergency Unit of the local hospital. They diagnosed a brain aneurism. Doctors said that even if she survived the night she wouldn’t walk or talk. We gathered a large group of about fifty to pray after the service at about 11:00 am. That afternoon we got the report that at 11:00 she woke up, talked, and walked.
Was this a miracle? I think so. But it could be explained by a faulty diagnosis or just a coincidence. Anything can be explained away as a coincidence. But you keep track of enough “coincidences” and it is hard to avoid the conclusion that God can intervene in natural processes.
We live in a time with two competing explanations for where human life came from and how it can be lived well. One is the scientific approach that starts with evolution and accepts as truth only what can be seen and measured. The other, of course, is the biblical view that God created life and seeks a relationship with his people.
In terms of logic, proving a negative is very difficult (e.g. God does not exist). That God does not exist will never be proven; it can only be a belief. Proving a positive (God does exist and is at work today) is much easier. It starts by finding an event for which there is no natural explanation. It continues with the almost universal belief that a Supreme Being does exist. From experiences, we can gain more confidence to accept Scripture’s inspired description of God the Creator, his Son the Redeemer, and their Spirit as the Energizer of life in Christ.
A scientist cannot persuade me that God does not exist because I am moved to believe he does. Nor can I persuade a scientist of God’s existence if he or she has already chosen to not believe in supernatural life. Thank God there are many scientists who have retained the traditional belief. All I or any Christian can do is to keep pointing to evidence that the supernatural can intervene in the natural, that God can do miracles today. Why do some believe and others not? There is no satisfactory human explanation.
All we can do is to join Paul in his prayer that “the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and his incomparably great power for us who believe” (Ephesians 1:18).
Meanwhile, I am still pondering the result of a survey I did about fifteen years ago on prayer practices of Lutheran pastors. About three out of four reported they had experienced or witnessed a miracle, defined as an event for which there is no natural explanation. Almost all of these also reported experiencing more than one such miracle.
Yet Lutheran pastors don’t talk about miracles. I am sure that is true with other mainline pastors. University educated, we don’t want to appear irrational. But ultimately the biblical God exceeds our expectations of what is humanly rational.
Let’s pray that we mainline pastors lose our fear of embarrassment and accept God for what he does.
Have you ever experienced or witnessed a miracle, an event for which there is not a natural explanation? Have you told anyone about this experience?