Miracles have become increasingly heard of in our culture. Our team is getting thrashed yet somehow in the final throes of the game they manage to win! The commentators describe their win as ‘a miracle‘. Twelve young soccer players and their young coach end up trapped in a Thai cave system due to the rising waters of monsoonal rains. A team of 90 rescuers were able to rescue them over three days before the cave completely filled with water. Every reporter I heard described the rescue as ‘a miracle‘. While these commentators and reporters may be correct, these are not the ‘miracles’ we are now dealing with. And while the ability of spiders to spin a web is also, according to Dr. Dorian, ‘a miracle’, neither is this what we are dealing with.
“Do you understand how there could be any writing in a spider’s web?”
“Oh, no,” said Dr. Dorian. “I don’t understand it. But for that matter I don’t understand how a spider learned to spin a web in the first place. When the words appeared, everyone said they were a miracle. But nobody pointed out that the web itself is a miracle.”
“What’s miraculous about a spider’s web?” said Mrs. Arable. “I don’t see why you say a web is a miracle-it’s just a web.”
“Ever try to spin one?” asked Dr. Dorian.”
― E.B. White,
¶ But there was a man named Simon, who had previously practiced magic in the city and amazed the people of Samaria, saying that he himself was somebody great. Acts 8:10 They all paid attention to him, from the least to the greatest, saying, “This man is the power of God that is called Great.”
Simon was a conjurer had learned how to manipulate people. People who saw him perform his conjuring referred to him as, “The Great One”, and some even referred to him as “God”. Then one day, two apostles arrived in his Samaritan village and began performing miracles as ‘sign’ and ‘wonders’ for the message they were bringing about a resurrected Saviour. Simon the Sorcerer, as it appears he called himself, was gobsmacked. He couldn’t see how these former fishermen were doing it. They must have paid a lot of money to have learned how to manipulate people like this, he may have thought. Perhaps he wondered whether he had to baptised to be initiated into this secret society of magicians?
¶ Now when the apostles at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent to them Peter and John, who came down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit, for he had not yet fallen on any of them, but they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. Then they laid their hands on them and they received the Holy Spirit. Now when Simon saw that the Spirit was given through the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money, saying, “Give me this power also, so that anyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit.” But Peter said to him, “May your silver perish with you, because you thought you could obtain the gift of God with money! You have neither part nor lot in this matter, for your heart is not right before God. Repent, therefore, of this wickedness of yours, and pray to the Lord that, if possible, the intent of your heart may be forgiven you. For I see that you are in the gall of bitterness and in the bond of iniquity.” And Simon answered, “Pray for me to the Lord, that nothing of what you have said may come upon me.”
The experienced conjurer and manipulator could not replicate the miraculous acts of the apostles. By his own preparedness to attempt to ‘buy’ the power of the Holy Spirit, he was admitting that what these apostles were doing was not the same as what he had done.
It’s worth noting though, that the Samaritans who believed the Gospel he preached and had their faith confirmed by the signs he did (not the other way around).
Philip went down to the city of Samaria and proclaimed to them the Christ. And the crowds with one accord paid attention to what was being said by Philip, when they heard him and saw the signs that he did. For unclean spirits, crying out with a loud voice, came out of many who had them, and many who were paralyzed or lame were healed. So there was much joy in that city.
When Moses and Aaron stood before Pharaoh, they threatened to announce certain plagues upon Egypt if Pharaoh would not free the captive Israelite slaves. Eventually Egypt would suffer ten plagues due to their king’s stubborn heart. What made Pharaoh’s heart initially harden was the ability of Pharaoh’s magicians to seemingly replicate each of the first two plagues declared by Moses and Aaron. (I’ve always wondered why they didn’t use their alleged magic powers to purify the water which had been turned to blood or remove a few million of the frogs which were now plaguing Egypt?) But when it came to conjuring gnats in a similar way that Moses and Aaron had done by the power of God, they were unable to do so.
¶ Then the LORD said to Moses, “Say to Aaron, ‘Stretch out your staff and strike the dust of the earth, so that it may become gnats in all the land of Egypt.’” And they did so. Aaron stretched out his hand with his staff and struck the dust of the earth, and there were gnats on man and beast. All the dust of the earth became gnats in all the land of Egypt. The magicians tried by their secret arts to produce gnats, but they could not. So there were gnats on man and beast.
This led them to declare to their King –
Then the magicians said to Pharaoh, “This is the finger of God.” But Pharaoh’s heart was hardened, and he would not listen to them, as the LORD had said.
Truth be told, these charlatans probably knew that it was the power of God behind the extraordinary deeds of Moses and Aaron from their very first miraculous plague! Even today there are those who have made it their mission to debunk the genuine power of God by using mentalism and trickery to imitate the miraculous gifts of the Spirit. For example, Derren Brown in his 2015 stage show, MIRACLES, now available on Netflix as a TV show, admits from the outset that – “I happily admit cheating, as it’s all part of the game. I hope some of the fun for the viewer comes from not knowing what’s real and what isn’t. I am an entertainer first and foremost.” [Source] With this in mind, most viewers are immediately disarmed by the opening claim: “No stooges or actors are used in this show.” Yeah right!
“A miracle is an event brought about by the power of God that is a temporary exception to the ordinary course of nature, for the purpose of showing that God has acted in history.”
Prof. Emeritus Richard L. Purtill, Western Washington University
Professor Craig Keener is a sceptic by training and upbringing. He states, “I began my own quite young philosophical explorations as an atheist, at which I denied the possibility of miracles” (p. 733). This former self-confessed atheist later found good reasons for believing that the claims of the Christian Gospel were true which led to his conversion to Christ. When writing a commentary on the Book of Acts he was dealing with the objections by liberal theologians that the accounts of miracles in the Book of Acts are legendary and mythological. He reasoned that if he could footnote the evidence for some modern miracles it would validate the possibility that the Biblical accounts of miracles were more likely to true rather than legendary. The result of this quest to find a couple of verifiable footnote miracles was astounding. He was able to document over two thousand miracles which could be verified by before and after medical reports, or personal testimonies, or direct eye-witnesses. These accounts were published in two volumes
He writes, “Miracle claims, especially regarding healings, are by Western standards surprisingly common (though by no means universal) in regions of the world where such events are expected. These claims include, as in the Gospels and Acts, the healing of the blind, those unable to walk, and the raising of the dead, among many others” (Keener, 2011, Vol. 2, p.761). In his tome on the subject of miracles he analyses the argument used by atheists that miracles do not happen. It was the Scottish Philosopher David Hume who defined miracles as a violation of the laws of nature. Hume went on to say that miracles cannot happen because there is no such thing as a miracle. This is called ‘Circular Reasoning’ because it presumes the very thing it is trying to disprove – that miracles do not happen. Keener gives thousands of examples (literally) where the best explanation for what appears to be a miraculous occurrence is that it is a miracle.
The author of the recently released book, THE CASE FOR MIRACLES, Lee Strobel, says about miracles, “Some of what we casually classify as “miracles” really seem closer to fortunate “coincidences,” or God at work through routine processes. How can we tell them apart? For me, when I see something extraordinary that has spiritual overtones and is validated by an independent source or event, that’s when the “miracle” bell goes off in my mind.” [Source] While investigating testimonies for this book, Strobel says that it was the story of Barbara Snyder which “blew his mind”.
“Barbara Snyder was diagnosed at the Mayo Clinic with multiple sclerosis. She deteriorated over a period of many years, several operations, many hospitalizations,” Strobel explained. “It got to the point where she was dying. And, in fact, one doctor described her as being one of the most hopelessly ill patients he’d ever encountered.” Synder ended up in hospice care with a no resuscitation order; she was nearly blind, her hands and body were curled and she had a tube in her throat to help her breath as well as a tube in her stomach to ensure proper nourishment. Meanwhile, her muscles were atrophied. The situation was pretty hopeless — until something quite shocking happened.
“One day, one of her friends called WMBI, which is the radio station in Chicago run by the Moody Bible Institute, and said, ‘Pray for Barbara. She’s on her deathbed,’” Strobel explained. “So, we know that at least 450 Christians began praying for her, because they wrote letters saying, ‘We’re praying for you.’”
Then, on Pentecost Sunday, two of Synder’s friends read her letters from those praying for her. As she listened, she said that she heard a male voice coming from the corner of the room — a voice she now believes was God. “This male voice coming from the corner of the room where nobody was said, ‘Get up my child and walk,’” Strobel recounted. “So she basically pulls the tube out of her throat, says, ‘Go find my parents’ [and] jumps out of bed.”
Bizarrely, her calves were inflated and her once-atrophied muscles worked again — and that’s not all. Her feet and fingers were suddenly straight and normal again. Her blindness, too, had been instantaneously healed. “This was an instantaneous healing of all of her symptoms and all of her illness to the point where … 31 years later she’s completely healthy,” Strobel said. “To this day.”*
Our faith in Christ is not grounded in any minor miracle – such as any that we (or anyone else) may have experienced. Our faith in Christ as our Saviour from eternal condemnation unto adoption as God’s child, is grounded in the greatest miracle: the conception, life, ministry, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ of Nazareth – but particularly, the resurrection of Christ. The evidence for the resurrection is based on reliable eye-witness accounts, the dramatic change in many of these eye-witnesses (who each refused to recant their testimonies of what they had seen even under threat of death), and the failure of those opposing Christ to produce His corpse (because there was none).
Naturally, we might wonder why God doesn’t always grant miracles. So did Lee Strobel as he wrote his book. His own wife battles daily pain from her incurable fibromyalgia. He concluded his book with this question in mind.
To bring my research full circle, I wrote a chapter called, “When Miracles Don’t Happen.” Often, people pray for supernatural healings that never occur the way they want them to. I interviewed Dr. Douglas Groothuis, a Christian philosopher whose wife is suffering from debilitating dementia at a young age. Despite their fervent prayers, God has not chosen to heal her at this point. This may be the most powerful chapter of any book I’ve ever written, as Dr. Groothuis speaks from his heart as well as from his vast reservoir of philosophical experience.
-Lee Strobel, author of THE CASE FOR MIRACLES