We have all received Watsapp and email forwards on various modern day “miracles”. Should we believe it?
“For those who believe, no explanation is necessary; for those who do not believe, no explanation will suffice.”
We live in a time and an age of demythologization and demystification. For many, there is no need for the wondrous and the extra, or rather, the out of the ordinary. There are however a few who still search for authentic signs and messages in the events of life and nature. Whatever category of people you may belong to, one thing is for sure… that whenever there is a claim that a “miracle” has occurred, it makes us all think and re-think.
There exists much confusion and disappointment on the subject of miracles. For some, miracles are meant to bolster faith. To them, supernatural intervention is a normal, everyday occurrence. Others wrestle with the reality that God sometimes does not seem to directly intervene in our affairs. Is their faith too small? Others discount or simply ignore most modern miracle stories as being fabricated stories akin to Christian “myth” or “legend”. Yet, there are many who long for miracles, but just don’t ever experience a bona fide supernatural experience for themselves.
The topic we are dealing with in this article is vast and has many books dedicated to it. This article in no way does justice to the gamut of theological and scientific data and explanations that expound and explain such phenomenon. Let us therefore begin with the basics viz. what do we mean when we speak of or use the term “miracle?”
C.S. Lewis, the great Christian writer, in his book God in the Docks states, “Miracles in fact are a retelling in small letters of the very same story which is written across the whole world in letters too large for some of us to see.” A miracle can be defined as an act or event contrary to the normal course of nature that is distinguished by unusual power and which points to or identifies something or someone and causes the observers to be amazed.
Miracles usually give us a spiritual truth, a spiritual understanding, insight, instruction or correction. When God works a miracle, there is often a type present. For example, when Jesus turned water into wine, it was a sign of His Divine power, it was also a wonder that caused people to marvel, and the symbols of water, wine, jars, and wedding feasts, are all symbolic of spiritual truths. Generally, speaking a true miracle from God is purposeful, and not an unexplained matter of chance or coincidence. This is how we can know that images of Christ or Mary on toilet bowls, pieces of toast, or crying statues, for example, are not true miracles but only coincidence or in some cases sadly a fraud.
Sometime ago there was an incident reported where an image of the Divine Mercy at St. Michael’s Church, Mahim, had apparently begun “bleeding” and hordes of people started flocking to venerate the said image. Such instances could lead to a blind superstitious faith and maybe an abuse of the faith of simple common folk. As it was declared later, the image of the Divine Mercy due to exposure to the elements of nature had suffered smudging of the paint.
Who then determines what really constitutes a miracle and what isn’t? Firstly, any such occurrence of a trans-natural kind, whether it concerns inanimate objects like statues, pictures, etc. or the scientifically inexplicable cure of a terminal ailment, needs to be brought to the notice of the priests in the parish who after some preliminary investigation would then report it to the Bishop of the diocese for further investigation. One of the place where numerous miracles are reported to have occurred, is at the shrine of Lourdes in France. However, even here, the report of the miraculous healing is first promptly and thoroughly investigated by the Medical Bureau of Lourdes, which was established in 1883. Since then the Bureau has examined six thousand odd cases of which only sixty-four have been officially designated as miraculous and scientifically inexplicable.
The bible is full of miracle stories, both in the Old Testament and in the New Testament. Jesus himself worked numerous miracles. From the raising of Lazarus to the cure of the woman with the haemorrhage, from the calming of the sea to the miracle in the garden of Gethsemane. All of these served the purpose of strengthening the faith of those who witnessed the miracle as well as the beneficiaries and pointing them to follow Jesus the messiah.
The danger that we face is to make miracles the be all and end all of our faith. We need to remember that when Jesus performed miracles, he followed it by some teaching about how to live life or what His mission in life was. Many followed Jesus because of the miracles he performed, but still many left when they heard Him teach (John chapter 6).
What do we make of the many sensational reports of the miraculous today? There are a number of explanations, but first a few observations are in order. Many reports of so-called “miracles” today are second or third hand stories. Much is “experienced” vicariously through the TV or social media. Some healings are “naturally” occurring phenomena (like healed ulcers, headaches gone away). Some cancer goes into recession, which has been the cause of many premature proclamations of healings. We do not deny God’s hand in the “natural healings” of our body; however, these things happen to non-believers, as well. As theologians say, God’s “common” grace indeed extends to everyone. Some “healings” are psychosomatic. The placebo effect is a well-known phenomenon that the belief that something may bring healing can at times bring healing.
In conclusion, a few guidelines to help us deal objectively and journey on our Christian pilgrimage of life:
- Get close to God — walk by faith, not by sight.
- Believe God can do miracles. He is able. Ask Him to do the impossible.
- Believe and trust Him that He will do what is right
- Don’t be preoccupied with miracles.
- Don’t presume upon God or make claims on Him.
- Take Jesus’ own attitude: “Not my will but thine be done.” (Luke 22:42)
- Praise God for the miracles you do experience or observe.
- Don’t fret when He is silent. Those are great opportunities for growth in faith.
- Don’t blindly believe every miracle story you hear.
- Don’t hesitate to ask penetrating questions of any miracle story.
- Don’t limit God by just looking for the sensational.
By Fr. Vincent D’Cruz