Have you ever experienced a miracle?  A true miracle?

There seems to be two components to religious faith:  the philosophical/doctrinal, containing “truths” around which values and thinking are organized to affect attitudes and behaviors; and the miraculous, in which something reaches into our universe from somewhere else and creates a disturbance or aberration contrary to natural law.  The first without the second is simply philosophy, and the second without the first is simply superstition [1].  Within religion, I think the one explains and justifies the other.

Personally, I’m more interested in the miraculous.  My value system certainly matters more in my daily life, and debating the philosophies of men is interesting and enlightening, but also ultimately unfulfilling.  We’re taught in the church that we have a God out there who loves us, knows the thoughts and desires of our hearts, and is actively involved in a plan for our happiness.  That’s a beautiful thought.   But so’s Santa Clause.  I want evidence that He’s really there.  I don’t want to just worship a god of my own construction in my own mind.  I want to know that God’s real.  If I know God’s there and I have some basic evidence to extrapolate from, I’m happy to contemplate and debate His motivations and nuances.  But I want that basic evidence to start from.

A lot of people don’t believe in miracles (or God), because they’re not reproducible.  I get that.  I’m an engineer, and I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been presented with data that simply can’t happen.  When I challenge it, they usually respond with “Well, we took the measurements and we have empirical evidence” and I respond with “You need to check your setup and measure again.” [2]  Always, the impossible data is due to conditions that aren’t what you think they are (somethings not set up right or something’s broken).  Engineers deal with the natural world, which follows natural laws, and we’re rightly skeptical when things don’t appear to be following them.  But according to the narrative, God created the universe, and therefore lives outside it and its natural laws.  Science can’t tell me about anything outside the universe or natural law, because we have no way to observe it.  The only way I can know God exists is if He manifests Himself from outside.  When He does, it’s a miracle.

I’ve completed listening to Eric Metaxas’ book, Miracles, What They Are, Why They Happen, And How They Can Change Your Life, last month for the second time.  He’s an Evangelical Christian and fellow C.S. Lewis fan, and his take on miracles is much the same as mine:  namely that the primary purpose of miracles is for God to show us He’s there and to communicate with us.  Miracles aren’t primarily to relieve suffering or reward followers.  If relieving suffering or granting rewards were the purpose, then God would come off looking pretty capricious, granting miracles to one and letting the other suffer.  Miracles give us evidence of God, which can change our hearts and the progression of our souls through this messy earthly existence.  Sometimes I think they’re given to offer us second chances.

Miracles also stand as a witness that we can look back on as we try to live life by faith.  Moses parting the Red Sea is an example of that for a whole people.  If it actually happened as described in the scriptures, there would have been a whole lot of witnesses and it would have had a huge impact on the people’s collective psyche.  You can see how it’d be passed down through the generations with a “Remember!  Remember!”  God clearly could have freed the Israelites via much subtler methods, but He chose to make a splash. [3]  However, many people report miracles with only themselves as witnesses (e.g., such as an overwhelming spiritual experience as part of a conversion), and these personal miracles are just as foundational to their faith.  That’s why I’m so interested in miracles — I want a solid foundation to my faith.

The question, of course, with any miracle, is whether it actually happened.  A real miracle should hold up to scrutiny.  They’re not jokes that lose their humor if you have to explain them.  They’re not magic tricks that are ruined if you figure out how they’re done.  Yet in my experience, people hold their miracle stories close, only sharing them under certain circumstances.  Is that because they’re afraid they’ll lose their magic upon examination?  I think so, in many cases.  It seems to me that almost every miracle or spiritual experience I’ve heard described could also be explained in some other way.

Here’s a personal example:  My father had just purchased a new (used) car for our family, and I was thrilled because I was a high-schooler who needed wheels.  The day we got it, I got permission to take my sister, brother, and a friend off to the movie theatre.  It was 20-minute drive on two-lane mountain highways through northern New Mexico.  I, of course, wanted to see what the car could do and was going kind of fast when I had, not a voice, but a very distinct thought, come in my mind that I should slow down.  I didn’t brake, but my foot came off the accelerator.  Shortly after that, I came up on an intersection where another car had slowed down and stopped at the stop sign.  I could see through the guy’s window that he was looking right at me, so I didn’t think anything of it and just zipped right along.  Except he pulled out right in front of me.  I managed to dodge onto the shoulder, but I had had to turn so abruptly and immediately correct that I lost control and the car ended up perched on a shallow boulder, one of the tires torn sideways off the rim.  We were extremely lucky no one got hurt.  If I’d been going any faster, there’s no way I could have missed him — we could easily have all been killed.  When the cop asked how fast I’d been going, I thought back to when I’d felt to slow down, and the speedometer had said 60.  Not knowing for sure how much I’d slowed, I told the cop 55, knowing that was over the limit.  He’d measured the skid marks and said there was no way I could have been going more than 45.  I concluded that the Holy Ghost had warned me to slow down and had saved our lives, and it strengthened my faith.  I shared that story in church.

Except, I was a pretty good kid, and my underdeveloped teenage judgment center did kick in periodically.  I knew I was speeding.

crash-1308575_1280
Not actual footage

Couldn’t it just have been my sub-conscience, rather than the Holy Ghost, telling me to slow down?  No way to say.  But later in life it occurred to me that if I had simply continued going 60, wouldn’t I have been past that intersection before that guy could have pulled out in front of me?  I’m not sure.  I can’t remember exactly when everything happened.  Viewing this “miracle” in retrospect, it isn’t exactly convincing [4].

 

The reason I was interested in Metaxas’ book is all the contemporary miracles he catalogues.  He’s trying to make the point that miracles still happen, happen often, and have deep meaning for those receiving them.  He wants to trust his sources, so he only shares the miracle stories of people he personally knows.  Of course, many of these miracles happen in the minds of those experiencing them and are therefore hard to evaluate.  Miraculous changes of heart and conversions to God are great, but I heard a stroke victim talk about how her stroke felt like a tremendously spiritual experience, and her kids talk about how her personality changed afterwards.  Likewise, I’m not sure what to make of people who’ve seen an angel or had a vision, unless there was some piece of verifiable information that came with the experience.

Other miracles that I don’t find particularly convincing are the “against all odds” miracles, such as “the miracle of life”.  Metaxis spends a good deal of time describing how amazing and unlikely our existence, considering how exact the physical constants of the universe had to be when they formed during the Big Bang, and the odds against the complex organization of life.  It’s all interesting stuff, but straight statistical anomalies aren’t sufficient to establish a miracle.  I think Richard Feynman was the one who gave the analogy “I just saw a license plate from Maine with the number 3AKK390.  Do you know what the odds are of me, in California, seeing precisely that license plate just as I happened to be walking out?  It’s got to be 1 in a billion.  It’s a miracle!”  Random, extremely unlikely, things happen all the time.

So what were the miracles in the book that impressed me?  The guy who was cured of AIDS.  The girl whose friends boosted her up over a “Road Closed” barrier, only for her to discover that the bridge on the other side was completely gone, yet before falling to her death, something caught her and deposited her gently on her feet back in full sight of her friends.  The girl who was about to be crushed in a bicycle accident and let go of the handlebars only to have something steer the bike through a narrow gap between cars and save her life.  The woman who lost a large set of important keys and desperately needed them, only to come out an find them on the middle of the windshield of the car she had just driven [5].  There were several of these miracles that had multiple witnesses.

Of course, all of these miracles happened to Christians who were looking for them, so confirmation bias might have come into play when they were recounting the “facts”.  But still, my own confirmation bias makes me want to believe them.  All of these miracles were important not just for the event, but for the impact the event had on those who experienced them.  Which brings me to another reason why people might not share their miraculous experiences:  they’re deeply personal, and they treat them as sacred.

So my interest here is to find out how many of you out there feel you’ve experienced a miracle, and if so, what category?  If you’ve experienced anything you feel willing to share, please include it in the comments, but I’m not encouraging you to cast your pearls before swine.

Type 1 — intense personal spiritual experience such as an overwhelming spiritual manifestion, vision, prophetic dream, hearing a revelatory voice, or some other revelation.  I’m talking about something in excess of your burning in the bosom.

 

Type 2 — some sort of physical intervention, such as a miraculous healing or being physically protected in some otherwise inexplicable way

 

Type 3 — either a type 1 or type 2, but experienced by multiple individuals in much the same way, all of whom can testify to the event.

 

 

 

 

 

[1]  Superstition is belief in the irrational, meaning, for example, it can’t be supported scientifically.  That doesn’t necessarily mean the belief is wrong.

[2]  Engineers are used to these types of discussions — they’re rarely genuinely testy.

[3]  See what I did there?… Red Sea?…Splash?…

[4]  Though the incident was foundational to me for another reason.  The guy who pulled out in front of me worked for the New Mexico Motor Vehicle Division.  He hadn’t been touched.  He could have just driven away.  He stayed to make sure we were okay and wait for the cops.  When they arrived, they took one look at me, immediately got that look of disgust reserved for teenagers, and asked this guy what happened.  He said “I came up to the intersection, I looked, didn’t see him, and pulled right out in front of him.  He did an incredible job controlling the car.”  For a kid who was in a vulnerable spot, having just crashed the car his father bought 6 hours before, and who knew he had been speeding and felt like he had just about killed his siblings and friends, that was a tremendous act of virtue.  The guy could have said anything.  Nobody would have believed me.  What’s more, because I hadn’t hit him, his insurance company claimed he wasn’t involved in the accident and they weren’t going to pay.  He was the one who argued with them until they did.  When I think of examples of honesty and integrity, he’s the first guy I think of.

[5]  There were good reasons given why they couldn’t have just slid down from the roof.