Do Miracles Still Happen?
Tanya Marlow was just six days old when she was rushed to Great Ormond Street Hospital in London, one of the world’s leading children’s hospitals.
She was a tiny baby, just 6 pounds, and she’d suffered a brain hemorrhage. The doctors scanned her brain, and they told her parents it didn’t look good. It was a “bleeding out” thing, Marlow says, and there was nothing they could do, no operation they could perform.
Even if she recovered, they told her parents she could be a “vegetable,” she says. She could be severely disabled. She might never read or write.
And so the doctors suggested maybe they should pray.
Marlow’s parents weren’t Christians, but they found a nurse who offered to pray with them. The next day, after the next scan, the doctors couldn’t believe it: It was completely normal. It showed a healthy brain.
“The doctors actually said to my parents, ‘This is what is known in the trade as a miracle,’” Marlow says.
Not only did she recover, but the girl who the doctors said might never read or write went on to earn a degree in English literature, and she now makes a living as a writer in Devon, England.
The miracle also had a profound effect on her parents, she says. It led them to search for the God who had so clearly answered their prayer. Six months later, both of them became Christians.
“When I was growing up, I always had this awareness that God was real, that He did answer prayer and that He had intervened in my life to save me,” Marlow says.
A miracle is when something—or Someone—outside of space and time reaches into space and time, according to Eric Metaxas, author of Miracles: What They Are, Why They Happen and How They Can Change Your Life.
And it’s something nearly 80 percent of Americans say they believe in, according to a 2010 report by Pew Research Center. That’s not just 80 percent of all Christians or even all religiously-affiliated; that’s the majority of all Americans.
“I think it’s just really cool to look at these facts and try to figure out, well, what do we make of it, then?” Metaxas says.
“I think it’s a powerful apologetic for God, and I think we should have that conversation in the mainstream. It’s not a religious conversation; it’s about truth, it’s about what science can tell us, it’s about observation.”
The Evidence for Miracles
For Metaxas, the evidence for miracles begins at the beginning, with the creation of the universe, with the very existence of life as we know it.
There are more than 200 known parameters necessary for a planet to support life, he writes in Miracles, and Earth meets each one. There’s the particular makeup of Earth’s atmosphere and the precise speed at which Earth orbits the sun. There’s the proximity of Jupiter, which takes the brunt of asteroids otherwise headed for Earth. There’s the unusual size of the moon relative to our planet, the way it is positioned at just the right distance to cause the occasional solar eclipse.
“If you cut the miracles out of the Gospel, you cut it off at the knees. I think what you’re left with is a wise, yet weak Jesus. It’s a Gospel that lacks any kind of power." —Mark Batterson
“At least when you look at the scientific facts, it is so implausible that it makes the most implausible miracle seem plausible,” he says.
And the whole Bible is full of miracles, stories of God delivering Daniel from the lion’s den and Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego from the fiery furnace.
In the Gospels, Jesus turned water into wine and raised His friend Lazarus from the dead. He walked on water and restored sight to blind men. Then He told His disciples, “Whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these.”
But even after thousands of years, even with a universe and holy book that seem to clearly testify to their existence, even with most Americans in agreement about them, Mark Batterson says, “Miracles are kind of one of those subjects that can almost divide the Kingdom into theological camps.”
Batterson is pastor of National Community Church in Washington, D.C., and author of The Grave Robber: How God Can Make your Impossible Possible<
There are those who believe in miracles, and, with that, will believe all kinds of New Age ideas, Metaxas says.
And there are those who discount miracles because they don’t fit into their paradigm, who explain away the parting of the Red Sea with a tsunami or Jesus walking on water with rare “spring ice.” U.S. President and Founding Father Thomas Jefferson famously cut all the miracles out of the four Gospels with a razor, pasting what was left together to produce what’s been called The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth.
But Batterson says, “If you cut the miracles out of the Gospel, you cut it off at the knees.”
“I think what you’re left with is a wise, yet weak Jesus. It’s a Gospel that lacks any kind of power. There’s no punch to it. So I appreciate different theological persuasions, but the God in the Bible is high and exalted. His thoughts are higher than our thoughts. His ways are higher than our ways. He’s able to do immeasurably more than we could ask or imagine.”
Instead, Metaxas says, what Christians should do is apply our critical faculties to reported miracles, everything from healings to gold teeth, to test everything and hold on to what is true, as 1 Thessalonians 5 puts it. What we should do, he says, is “care about what’s true, and if this is true, we need to deal with it.”
When Miracles Happen
Will Hart of Hart Ministries is one of the 80 percent who believes miracles aren’t just relegated to the pages of the Bible—that they still happen today.
He has seen miracles change not only the course of his life, but also the lives of countless others. He has seen entire villages come to Christ when he was a missionary in Mozambique after deaf villagers were healed, he says.
And, Hart says, “Salvation is the greatest miracle. We’re going after souls. Miracles are amazing, but they all point to Jesus. Jesus did miracles to point to His deity.”
Look for Jesus, Batterson says, and you’ll see miracles.
Come to Him with a “humble boldness” or a “bold humility,” he says. Risk looking foolish. After all, God won’t answer 100 percent of the prayers you don’t pray.
And if you want to see the sick healed, you have to pray for them, Hart adds.
Fear can hold Christians back from praying those bold prayers, he says, but 2 Timothy says God doesn’t give a spirit of fear. He gives a spirit of power and of love and of a sound mind.
“If your faith is small, start small and let that thing grow,” he says.
When the Miracle Doesn’t Come
It was a weird replay for Marlow.
In 2007, she was diagnosed with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. She had climbed a mountain one day that year, and by the time evening came, she no longer could stand. Afterward, her mobility was affected. She couldn’t walk more than 200 meters, and she started using a wheelchair and cutting the hours she worked in Christian ministry, lecturing in biblical theology, to part-time.
Her health deteriorated again after giving birth to her son in 2010, she says. She became almost entirely bedbound for a time; unable to talk for more than a half-hour or pick up her baby—“the most basic things,” she says.
Doctors again said there was nothing they could do. They didn’t really know what was wrong with her, and they didn’t really know how to treat it.
And so they suggested she should pray.
“It was the same situation again, but this time, the miracle wasn’t coming,” Marlow says.
It still hasn’t.
She didn’t expect healing “as a right,” she says. But the longer the illness goes on, the more stories she hears of others who have been healed of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, the more people encourage her to pray, the more she’s asked herself, “Why haven’t I been healed?”
And, she says, “It has been interesting to me to see the reactions of Christians to chronic illness.”
There’s a ritual, there are questions that come with offered prayers, she says: Do you have faith? Do you have sin in your life?
If we can’t blame God when the sick person doesn’t become well, if we aren’t careful, she says, even the most well-meaning Christian can blame that person.
“I would just like to see a little more not only the stories of the paralyzed man walking and leaping and praising God, but the stories of people like me—people like Jacob, who wrestle with God and walk with a limp.” —Tanya Marlow
When the miracle doesn’t come, she says, it can be difficult to fit into our theology: “Ask yourselves what testimonies do we have at the front of church? What stories do we tell? Because it seems to me we tell the stories not only of conversions, but of healings where the ending is happily ever after.”
“I would just like to see a little more not only the stories of the paralyzed man walking and leaping and praising God, but the stories of people like me—people like Jacob, who wrestle with God and walk with a limp.”
The mystery of the miraculous
Hart is walking through this now. His wife was diagnosed with lymphoma in late 2013.
He has seen his fervent prayers for healings go unanswered. And he has been frustrated, he says.
But it doesn’t change anything, he says. God doesn’t change. He’s not a mathematical formula or a magic spell. He doesn’t answer prayers because we get the right combination of letters in the right order.
“He is love. He is heart. He’s not God because He gives me things; He’s God because He’s God,” he says.
His thoughts still are higher than our thoughts. His ways still are higher than our ways. And His will is His glory, Batterson says. Sometimes He reveals His glory in a miracle, he says, and sometimes He has revealed his glory in suffering. Sometimes the “no” is a “not yet.”
There’s “an element of mystery there,” Marlow says, one we’re too quick to try to explain, to try to fill in the gap.
“I think that God can heal, and I think that sometimes He does heal, but I think that it doesn’t happen very often. I mean, there’s a reason we call it a miracle and not normal.”
It was the same way in the time of Moses or the time of Jesus, Metaxas says. Miracles didn’t happen all the time; that’s why when they did, they blew people’s minds.
And it’s the same lesson we can learn about God today, whether we see the miracle or not.
“As a child, I grew up knowing that God could heal and He could work miracles. He could do anything, and He was a big God,” Marlow says. “And I think the experience of wanting to be healed and longing to be healed and not being healed has taught me as an adult that He is a big God.
“I don’t know what God is doing. I don’t know why He heals me and then doesn’t heal me. I don’t know why He heals some and not others. I don’t know what governs His actions. That is what makes Him God.
“So I guess I’d say, yeah, my God is big. It’s a Sunday school lesson, and I’m still learning it.”
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