Liberal Christians do not take the subject of miracles seriously. Bultmann and many others told us to look beyond those things. People living before the scientific era saw miracles and magic at work. Even, Martin Luther, the Great Reformer himself was prone to believe in supernatural events including St. Anne miraculously intervening to save him during a storm. Isn’t the world a much more rational and realistic place when miracles have no place in it?
A Discussion of Miracles
The canonical gospels contain miracle stories. We get angelic visitations. virginal conceptions, healing stories, raising people from the dead stories, exorcisms, walking on water, and others. Miracles surround Jesus. Exorcisms get a mention in the Sermon on the Mount. We talked about these issues in New Testament Studies class.
The instructor was one a doctoral student who often made snide remarks about our abilities. The fact that he was Australian did not help his popularity with us. He said, “I don’t believe any of us would be comfortable living in a world with miracles.”
One of the more conservative students replied, “I am very comfortable with it.”
I interjected. “I’m not.”
The instructor told me, “Say more.” He was intrigued by one of the older southern white males (we were often referred to as ‘the Bubbas’) speaking up in favor of what he said.
Not really needing prompting I added, “I have a hard enough time doing ministry in the world as we think about it today. Miracles are supposed to take place according to God’s will and purposes. But I cannot answer why a patient’s cancer treatment didn’t work when another person survived using the same treatment. Now when we throw in miracles, we can’t blame chance for the failure. And we’re told to assume God has reasons.”
“No,” I continued. “I am not saying miracles are impossible. I am just saying they don’t make life any more or less understandable.”
Miracles and Ministry
The instructor said the problem was “very eloquently stated.” My colleague said, “I don’t have your experience in ministry and never considered it.” I did not feel any better about the issue.
I am like that Psychiatrist, Dr. Chumley, in Harvey. I am looking at fly specks while miracles may be leaning on lamp posts. Consider the question, “do miracles happen at all?” I could answer “no.” Or I could answer “yes.” And neither answer would have any bearing on the experience of physical or emotional healing a non-theologically minded person claims.
Charlatans work hard convincing people miracles happen and are provided for a small donation. People respond to them because they want to believe there is something more than the mundane in the world. I notice too that such charlatans never promote a progressive theology.
Are Miracles Partisan?
Progressive Christians like to look to the natural world or the deep silent areas within the personal psyche for connection to something like the miraculous. Others see “visions of the kingdom” in good actions. I see these things too.
Prayer requests for healing, when “curing” is meant, reflect the desperation that some people experience. It tempts me to look at a more conservative approach to theology. But I have been there. No one has an answer as to why the prayer did not work. The tendency to blame someone for lack of faith is just as fraudulent. “I don’t have the answer because YOU messed up,” just won’t work. And it is wrong.
When I show how someone exposed the fraud, I am accused of “not believing in miracles.” It is puzzling and revealing. It is because of how much a person invested in the belief. Money does not have to change hands. Emotional investments are impossible to recoup.
Are You Saying You Believe?
I have witnessed situations that were resolved by mundane actions but seemed miraculous. Here are a few of them.
“Pastor, we have two whole turkeys ready to be carved. I worried with so many people to serve we would run out?” Maybe the story of the loaves and the fish applies?
“Our grandchild had a complete turn around after you gave her a blessing. They told us to prepare for the worst. We will never forget it.” A lot of people gave care for the child. One blessing by itself did not make the healing happen. Does this give us insight to any of the healing stories? Perhaps, even why they are so different than such experiences.
I can not explain what the “mundane actions” were in each case. In each case a spiritual response and spiritual fulfillment were experienced. You can’t get more real than that.