The Function of Miracles—Part 6
About midway through his book The Supernatural Power of a Transformed Mind, Bill Johnson tells the story of a young man who fell and broke his arm at church. “The healing of broken bones, even the ones from decades ago that healed incorrectly, had become commonplace,” Johnson writes. “I ran back and found him laid out on the ground, his arm clearly broken. I got down on the ground with him, put my hand on his arm, looked at the break—and suddenly fear stole into my mind. I forgot every miracle I had ever seen, and I said, ‘Let’s call the doctor.’” 
Johnson says he wouldn’t fault anyone for doing the same. “For most it would be the proper thing to do.” But he clearly regrets that he thought of it himself—let alone acted on it.
I can’t think of a better context to raise the issue of realism. I’m not impugning Johnson—I don’t know him and haven’t heard any negative reports. I’m raising an issue that dogs all reports of miracles.
In his classic critique of miracles, David Hume points out what everybody knows: people exaggerate. They love to gossip and pass on juicy stories. Their reports expand reality, and as the stories get passed along, they expand even more. (That’s why hearsay evidence is not admissible in court.)
So it is entirely sane—not faithless, but realistic—to doubt reports of miracles. One can believe in God doing miracles but still think that most reports of miracles are bogus. I am a lot more likely to take reports of miracles seriously when they come from people who acknowledge that skepticism is justified, and often accurate.
Bill Johnson doesn’t acknowledge that, at least in this book. Healing broken bones is commonplace in his world, and that’s all he has to say.
Count me as skeptical. Not skeptical that miracles are possible or that, indeed, some astonishing healings have happened at Bill Johnson’s church. But skeptical that they happen so often that calling the doctor would be superfluous.
There’s a basic stance here. Bill Johnson wants to see only the kingdom of God. He acknowledges that his prayers aren’t always answered as he thinks they should be, but his response is not to try to make space for realism. Rather, he wants to keep leaning into the possibilities of “on earth as it is in heaven.”
Personally, I opt for realism. I am going to call the doctor. I’ll pray, but I honestly don’t expect that broken bone to knit together before the ambulance comes. Miracles are rare. I pray to see one, but my first responsibility is to care for that boy with the broken arm.
Johnson wants my mind transformed, though, so that my first impulse is to seek that miracle power. There’s tremendous vitality in this Pentecostal mindset. But I also see problems.
I see churches that are in denial. They believe in miracles, and they continually talk about those that occur. They don’t acknowledge the many situations where they don’t. There’s more hype than reality, which in the end makes people try to live as though they don’t notice what actually goes on.
That’s why people talk about “crazymatics.”
All the same, I see where Johnson is coming from. Who wants to be an expert in why God doesn’t answer prayer? What’s the value of telling people that they shouldn’t expect too much when they pray?
Here’s my question: how do you lean into the coming kingdom, and still keep your balance? Is there a way to live realistically in a world where miracles are rare, and yet still have a mind transformed by faith in God’s power? How does one do this balancing act?
I don’t think Johnson believes in balance. And he expects that miracles aren’t supposed to be rare. In fact, they’re meant to be normal, routine.