The Christian faith necessarily requires a confidence in miracles—nothing could be more miraculous than Creation, Incarnation, and Resurrection, cardinal doctrines of the Faith. Consequently critics have in various ways denied the reality of miracles while believers remain persuaded that they bear witness to the reality of a supernatural world. Addressing this issue, Lee Strobel recorded a set of interviews in The Case for Miracles: A Journalist Investigates Evidence for the Supernatural (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, c. 2018; Kindle Edition). Before becoming a Christian, Strobel was a deeply skeptical atheist, denying the very possibility of anything miraculous. But as a believer he has begun to cautiously give credibility to some seemingly undeniably supernatural events, as carefully defined by Richard L. Purtill: “‘A miracle is an event (1) brought about by the power of God that is (2) a temporary (3) exception (4) to the ordinary course of nature (5) for the purpose of showing that God has acted in history’” (p. 27). As he began to study the subject, Strobel was amazerd to find that “nearly two out of five US adults (38 percent) said they have had such an experience—which means that an eye-popping 94,792,000 Americans are convinced that God has performed at least one miracle for them personally. That is an astonishing number!” (p. 30). Equally astonishing is a study that says: “Three-quarters of the 1,100 doctors surveyed are convinced that miracles can occur today—a percentage that’s actually higher than that of the US population in general. So maybe it’s not surprising that six out of ten physicians said they pray for their patients individually” (p. 31).
Before talking with believers Strobel determined to honestly state “the case against miracles” so he interviewed Dr. Michael Shermer, the editor of the Skeptic magazine, a columnist for Scientific American, an adjunct professor at Chapman University, and the author of more than a dozen books. Once a sincerely devout Christian, he abandoned his faith while studying psychology in graduate school. Though resolutely skeptical of all things supernatural, he is neither bitter about his youthful religious experiences nor contemptuous in the “angry atheist” mode. Rather he simply recites the basic reasons David Hume set forth nearly 300 years ago, insisting: “A wise man proportions his belief to the evidence.” To Shermer, “Better words could not be found for a skeptical motto” (p. 53). Hume’s argument was quite simple: the natural world is all there is, so miracles cannot happen; any reports regarding them must be disbelieved. This is obviously a self-defeating, circular argument—assuming your conclusion in your premise. Furthermore, Hume arbitrarily rejected one of the most basic scientific principles by ignoring all empirical evidence, ancient and contemporary, regarding the miraculous.
Leaving Shermer and his doubts behind, Strobel went to Wilmore, Kentucky, to interview Craig Keener, a professor at Asbury Theological Seminary, who’s published 21 books, including an award-winning four-volume commentary on Acts. Prodded to think about the many miracles reported by St Luke, Keener began an in-depth study of the subject and wrote a 1,172 page treatise—Miracles: The Credibility of the New Testament Accounts, “‘arguably the best book ever on the subject of miracles,” according to noted biblical scholar Craig A. Evans” (p. 76). Another fine scholar, Ben Witherington III, thinks it is “perhaps the best book ever written on miracles in this or any age.” In addition to showing why he finds the New Testament record quite credible, Keener recounted some of the many contemporary miracles he finds compelling. He mentioned “Cambridge University professor John Polkinghorne, one of the world’s foremost scholars on the intersection of science and faith,” who knew a “woman whose left leg was paralyzed in an injury. Doctors gave up trying to treat her, saying she would be an invalid for life. In 1980, she reluctantly agreed to hear a prayer by an Anglican priest. Though she had no expectation of healing, she had a vision in which she was commanded to rise and walk. Said Polkinghorne, who has doctorates in both science and theology, ‘From that moment, she was able to walk, jump, and bend down, completely without pain’” (p. 111). (The witness of Polkinghorne, whom I personally met years ago, cannot be casually rejected!) And so too are the many other incidents Keener cites, concluding: “‘Anti-supernaturalism has reigned as an inflexible Western academic premise for far too long. In light of the millions of people around the globe who say they’ve experienced the miraculous, it’s time to take these claims seriously. Let’s investigate them and follow the evidence wherever it leads. If even a small fraction prove to be genuine, we have to consider whether God is still divinely intervening in his creation’” (p. 117).
Though miraculous healings are wonderful, the most amazing of all miracles is creation—creatio ex nihilo! If God spoke into being the heavens and the earth, smaller-scale miracles would be quite likely. To get an up-to-date report on cosmology, Strobel interviewed Professor Michael George Strauss, a professor of physics at the University of Oklahoma. He has done research at the Fermi National Accelerator Center and is now involved with a corps of distinguished physicists working at the “Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland, smashing protons together to understand, among other things, the properties of the top quark, the fundamental particle with the highest mass” (p. 166). Strauss thinks “the incredible precision of the universe and our planet is not just intriguing, but it’s compelling evidence for a miracle-working Designer” (p. 175). Christians believe this Designer assumed our flesh in the Incarnation and rose from the dead following His crucifixion.
Having celebrated the glories of supernatural miracles, Strobel finishes his treatise with a sobering section entitled “difficulties with miracles.” In a very personal passage, he says his wife, Leslie, a wonderful Christian who studies and prays and loves the needy, lives with constant pain. “She is simply the finest and most devout person I have ever known,” he says. “Have we prayed for relief from her pain? Continually. Have we beseeched God for her healing? Often and fervently. Have we seen any improvement? Quite the opposite” (p. 235). Knowing that Douglas Groothuis, a Denver Theological Seminary professor, was dealing with similar issues with his wife, Becky, Strobel visited him. She suffers primary progressive aphasia—an incurable degenerative disease which begins with the loss of verbal skills. Watching her slide from a super-skilled wordsmith into a stupor-stricken shadow of her former self has, understandably, tried Groothuis’ faith. They have prayed and prayed, requested others to pray for them, and nothing has happened. “‘How has all of this affected your relationship with God?’ I asked. He exhaled deeply. ‘I’ve learned to lament,’” he said. We must remember that “Jesus laments over the unbelief of Jerusalem. On the cross, his lament came as the cry, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” If Jesus can lament and not sin, then I suppose we can. And just as his lament was answered by his resurrection, so ours will be too. Look—God’s good world has been broken by sin, and it’s morally and spiritually right to lament the loss of a true good. I’m grateful for the lament we see in Scripture—it’s God helping us learn how to suffer well’” (p. 246). Revealing the depth of his anquish, Groothuis said: “‘When I’m angry at God, when I’m distressed and anguished and seething at my circumstances, I think of Christ hanging on the cross for me. This brings me back to spiritual sanity. He endured the torture of the crucifixion out of his love for me. He didn’t have to do that. He chose to. So he doesn’t just sympathize with us in our suffering; he empathizes with us. Ultimately, I find comfort in that’” (p. 247).
Acknowledging he no longer hopes for a miracle, Groothuis cited a phrase in Ecclesiastes suggesting there’s a time to give up—an insight amplified by the Swiss psychiatrist Paul Tournier, who said that “wisdom is knowing when to resist and when to surrender.” What consoles him is his “confidence that God exists, that Jesus is his unique Son, that the resurrection actually occurred, and therefore his promises to us—promises of hope and eventual healing—are true” (p. 253). Where someone to ask him “how are you doing?” He says: “‘Well, of course, I’d tell them the truth.” “That I’m hanging by a thread,” he said. “But, fortunately, the thread is knit by God.”
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Craig S. Keener’s Miracles Today: The Supernatural Work of God in the Modern World (Grand Rapids: Baker Publishing Group, c. 2021; Kindle Edition) supplements his much longer work on the subject. “This book,” he says, “contains only a few samples of the hundreds of millions of miracle claims reported around the world today, many of them similar to the kinds of accounts I have offered in this book. I have focused here partly on accounts close to me, and (in a majority of cases) on accounts not already provided in my academic book Miracles: The Credibility of the New Testament Accounts, which contains hundreds of other accounts. Accounts that appear for the first time here are based especially on my interviews with the people in question or on works that provide good evidence for trusting them” (p. 230). He begins this treatise with an account of Barbara, who had suffered from chronic pulmonary disease for 16 years. After his freshman year in college, Keener helped a team conduct a Bible study in Barbara’s nursing home. Suddenly one of the other leaders felt led to pray for her healing. He took her hand and said “In the name of Jesus Christ, I command you to rise up and walk!” Keener was shocked and felt himself utterly without faith. But to everyone’s amazement Barbara stood up and began walking! It was a miracle! Years later, in 2015, Keener interviewed another Barbara—Barbara Cummiskey Snyder—who had been disabled by multiple sclerosis. A surgeon, Dr. Harold Adolph, said she “was one of the most hopelessly ill patients I ever saw” who’d had been repeatedly admitted to hospitals and expected to die. She had difficulty breathing, her intestines and bladder worked poorly, she was basically blind and hadn’t walked for several years. Following a visit from some of her friends on June 7, 1981, “she suddenly heard a booming, authoritative voice over her left shoulder. ‘My child: Get up and walk’” (p. xiii). She instantly jumped out of bed, standing on feet that were no longer seriously deformed. Her hands were suddenly normal and she could see! She removed her tracheostomy tube, and her earlier-atrophied muscles were completely restored. The next day she went to see Dr. Howard Marshall, who recalls: “‘I thought I was seeing an apparition! Here was my patient, who was not expected to live another week, totally cured.’” After running tests and consulting with his colleagues, he said: “‘I’ll be the first to tell you: You’re completely healed. I can also tell you that this is medically impossible.’” She’s lived “roughly four decades with no recurrence of MS. Dr. Marshall deems it his ‘rare privilege to observe the Hand of God performing a true miracle.’” (pp. xiv-xv).
Amazingly, what happened to the two Barbaras is happening all around the world, and Keener diligently documents it. Following Augustine and Aquinas, he defines a miracle as “a divine action that transcends the ordinary course of nature and so generates awe.” By “transcending the ordinary course of nature,” these thinkers don’t mean an unusually awesome sunset. They mean “something you would never expect to happen on its own” (p. 3). Keener briefly acknowledges skeptrics’ questions and quickly turns listening to eyewitnesses, noting that “nearly three-quarters of doctors in the United States believe in miracles. More important, over half of the physicians surveyed noted that they had witnessed what they considered to be miracles” (p. 26). He cites scores of doctors’ reports, such as: “Dr. Alex Abraham, a neurologist, reports cures of severe epilepsy, tumors, heart failure, and other serious conditions. Dr. Mirtha Venero Boza provides an eyewitness report of a severe burn that healed during prayer. Dr. Tonye Briggs attests as an eyewitness to the dramatic closing of a massive wound overnight after prayer” (p. 77). Still more: “Dr. William Wilson, professor emeritus at Duke University, certifies the healing, after three hours of prayer, of a Methodist pastor friend of his, who had previously had ’75% occlusion of his major arteries’” (p. 77).
Keener also finds impressive the “dramatic cures” reported at Lourdes, France. Catholic doctors and theologians devote much care to investigating reported miracles and validate only those demonstrably true. Some 7,000 healings have taken place there, including Francis Pascal, who was “cured of ‘blindness’ and ‘paralysis of the lower limbs’ at the age of three years and ten months, on August 28, 1938.” “One might also consider Marie Bigot, cured of blindness, deafness, and hemiplegia on October 10, 1954. Unable to work and deemed an invalid owing to verified physical causes, the nearly blind Serge Perrin visited Lourdes and, on May 1, 1970, was anointed. Within hours his vision unexpectedly returned fully, and he was able to walk unaided. Doctors verified that no trace of his previous medical problems remained; six years later, in view of his continued health, the cure was recognized by the church as miraculous” (p. 58).
The same kinds of miracles recorded in the New Testament are occurring today. The blind see, the lame walk, and the dead are brought back to life! There are nature miracles akin to Jesus’ calming the storm on the Sea of Galilee. The sheer number of vignettes Keener records and the specific kinds of documentation he presents surely affirm the reality of miracles. To read this book certainly strengthens a believer’s faith in the reality of the Supernatural.
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Working as an apologist, Eric Metaxas has written Miracles: What They Are, Why They Happen, and How They Can Change Your Life (New York: Penguin Publishing Group, c. 2014; Kindle Edition). The acclaimed author of Amazing Grace: William Wilberforce and the Heroic Campaign to End Slavery and Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Metaxis has a skilled writer’s gift for clear writing and persuasive logic. He initially lays the philosophical groundwork necessary for a thoughtful examination of the subject, noting that the “Greek word for miracle is ‘simaios,’ which means ‘sign.’ Miracles are signs, and like all signs, they are never about themselves; they’re about whatever they are pointing toward. Miracles point to something beyond themselves. But to what? To God himself. That’s the point of miracles—to point us beyond our world to another world. They are clues that that other world is not in our imaginations but is actually out there, wherever ‘out there’ actually is” (#291).
In a very real sense all of creation points to something actually “out there.” As rational beings we want to know why things exist, why we are what we are, what is the meaning of life. “So just as what we call miracles point to something outside themselves—which is to say God—the miracle of the very existence of things does precisely the same. Things point beyond themselves.” Consequently, “not just those things we would clearly recognize as miracles but every single thing in creation ultimately points beyond itself to the creator, who is by definition outside temporal and material existence and outside his own creation. Everything has meaning! It’s in the nature of things. De Rerum Natura” (#306). To those who think modern science has made miracles incredible, Metaxas cites Ludwig Wittgenstein’s dictum: “The great delusion of modernity is that the laws of science explain the universe for us. The laws of nature describe the universe . . . but they explain nothing.” Modern scientists describe a mysterious universe brought into being in an instant, usually called the Big Bang. Furthermore, they find themselves amazed by the intricacies—the fine tuning—of this universe. “In fact, the speed at which the cosmos expanded out of that microdot in question was so outrageously perfectly calibrated that physicists say it constitutes the ‘most extreme fine-tuning yet discovered in physics.’ Astrophysicist Hugh Ross says an ‘analogy that does not even come close to describing the precarious nature of this cosmic balance would be a billion pencils all simultaneously positioned upright on their sharpened points on a smooth glass surface with no vertical supports’” (#744). Such data lead us to the question: “What if everything we learn from science points us toward the idea that information came in from outside the system, from a world beyond the realm of science? What if science points us beyond science?” (#454). Mounting evidence simply indicates “that our existence is an outrageous and astonishing miracle, one so startlingly and perhaps so disturbingly miraculous that it makes any miracle like the parting of the Red Sea pale in such insignificance that it almost becomes unworthy of our consideration, as though it were something done easily by a small child, half-asleep. It is something to which the most truly human response is some combination of terror and wonder, of ancient awe and childhood joy” (#857).
Like Craig Keener, Metaxas seeks to share the “miracle stories themselves, since they are perhaps the best evidence we can have for miracles” and “decided to limit the book only to the stories of people I knew personally” (#80). Turning to “miracle stories” Metaxas begins with conversions to Christ, specifically his own. As a young adult in 1988 he had a dream in which Jesus “revealed himself to me in a way that changed everything and from then on I have had no doubt that he is exactly who he says he is and that I want to give him my whole life” (#1833). Believing in Jesus so dramatically changed him that he “knew it really was miraculous. It was as if I could somehow feel God inside me, filling up whatever part of me had sought him in that direction. I suddenly didn’t want what I had previously wanted. I knew that God was the answer to all my desires. I wanted God” (#1847). His conversion was “the miracle that opened the door to so many other miracles in my life” (#2047). “At long last my search was over. It was over. And it was true. There was a God and Jesus was God and he had shown that to me in a way that only I could understand, in a way that utterly blew my mind. God knew me infinitely better than I knew myself, and he had taken the trouble to speak to me in the most intimate language there was: the secret language of my own heart” (#2145).
The miracles of healing Metaxas documents include his “own grandmother telling me how she had prayed for her own leg, which was hurting, and ‘felt a sizzling’ and was instantly healed” (#2371). Caring for him and her brother, she “spoke to God, saying, ‘I can’t take care of these children today unless you heal me,’ and as she was talking to God—which is to say, as she was praying” she was healed. “She was not a woman given to hyperbole. Although there’s nothing dramatic about it, I mention it because I have heard many stories like it over the years” (#2378). One of the stories involves Cisco Anglero, who found God in prison. One of his imprisoned friends, Hector, became sick, “shaking and shivering” in bed, suffering from AIDS. He’d lost a great deal of weight and thought he was dying. Hector said: “‘The Holy Spirit told me that if you pray for me, what I feel now is going to be gone.’” Cisco had been a believer for only six weeks and had no idea what to do. But he “loved his friend and wanted to do what he could” and prayed a simple prayer. “Suddenly, Cisco told me, a very bright light—’as bright as the sun,’ he said—covered the two of them, ‘like a halo. It was a circle.’ They were on the second floor of the facility, so it couldn’t have been actual sunlight. Cisco said that when he finished praying the light went away and he went back to his bunk and sat down. Then, suddenly, he saw Hector stand up, take the blankets off, and take his coat off and the sweater too. And then Hector began jumping up and down and saying over and over, ‘Thank you, Jesus! Thank you, Jesus! Thank you, Jesus!’” (#2401).
Hector wasn’t instantly healed, but a few months later, in a hospital, he asked Cisco to pray for him over the phone. Cisco did. After he hung up, one of Hector’s relatives told him, his “whole body began shaking violently, so much so that all the intravenous needles came out of his body. He then fell off the bed, got up, and started jumping up and down, over and over, thanking God. It was a miracle. She told Cisco that the Kings County doctors had been checking Hector for the last three days and they couldn’t find any evidence of the AIDS virus in his body. They decided to keep him there for a few more weeks, just to make sure that he was okay, but after that, they would release him” (#2458). Restored to health, Hector soon attended a Bible college, preparing for a life of ministry.
I’ve cited, in detail, only a few of the miracles Metaxas absolutely believes happened. Placing them within the context of his Christian faith explains them. Reading his treatise certainly encourages readers who trust him to believe miracles still happen.
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