Archive for the ‘miracles’ Category

Healing Power

January 21, 2016

I’m very grateful that I can still run. However, with age comes injury. It’s one ticky-tacky problem after another. I get over plantar fascitis, and a week later I have a mild calf strain. Then it’s my ankle, then it’s my knee.

I’m talking minor problems–nothing life threatening. Nevertheless, these injuries are extremely annoying.

This morning I went out on a cautious run, fearing that a calf strain would shut me down, as it has for most of the last week. To my surprise, everything worked fine! I had a good run, and when I was almost home I remembered that I had asked God to heal my leg. Apparently he did! So I thanked him for answering.

He’s been doing this, not just since I turned 65, but my whole life. How many hundreds, maybe thousands of flus, colds, strains, sprains and fevers have I recovered from? How miserable would my life be if I had not?

I think this is what Psalm 103:3 means when it exclaims: “Praise the Lord, my soul, and forget not all his benefits, who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases.” The psalmist is not saying that nobody need ever die of disease. He’s noting the ordinary nature of life in God’s world. Sin is ordinary–it happens every day and perhaps every minute. God forgives it in his children. Disease is ordinary too–and God ordinarily heals it. He made the world such that we get well. I don’t want to take away anything from the spectacular, miraculous healing. Who doesn’t wish to see that? But we should not overlook the equally supernatural reality of the ordinary.

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Interview with Eric Metaxas

November 5, 2014

My interview with Eric Metaxas is now online. He’s talking about his new book Miracles. He has an interesting take… for one, he doesn’t particularly focus on healings or other material happenings; he’s just as interested in appearances of angels or in voices directing someone out of the Twin Towers on 9/11. He understands miracles as irruptions of the heavenly realm into the earthly; and as such he pays almost no attention to “proof,” like X-rays before and after, and much more to the question of reliable human testimony. He’s basically saying: trustworthy people have experiences that suggest a wider reality than the purely physical. The nature of reality is more than what meets the eye.

Special on Miracles

May 13, 2014

My publisher announces that they have a special sale on e-book copies of my book Miracles.

On May 18 you can download it free. For two weeks after that–through the end of the month–you get it for $5.99.

Here’s the link to their special page:
http://bakerpublishinggroup.com/bethanyhouse/ebook-specials-from-bethany-house

They say the same deal is at most of the big book websites.

A Miracle or a Mystery?

October 19, 2012

In my book Miracles I mentioned that doctors are typically skeptical of miracle stories. One reason is that they see weird stuff happen–people getting better who shouldn’t, people dying who shouldn’t. I just got this from Dr. David Graham, a physician who works in Ecuador. Better than anything I’ve seen, it describes the weird and wonderful that a doctor can occasionally see.

Opinion among doctors around the world is divided on the issue of healing miracles.  Our ideas of what constitutes natural versus supernatural healing are heavily influenced by our world views.  I don’t know of any atheist doctors who believe in miracles, yet even among God-believing physicians there is no general agreement as to what constitutes a miracle, let alone whether they occur.  If we take, for example, the issue of spontaneous regression of cancer (a well documented phenomenon, which I wrote about in June of 2002, “Medicine’s Mysteries”), we can say that it has been proven to occur.  It is a fact.  Is it a “miracle”?  It depends on whom you ask, for some would say yes and others, no.  Cases of spontaneous regression of cancer occur among people of differing religious and philosophical beliefs, with and without prayer.

(I have seen one such case myself: a woman from the Ecuadorian jungle whose melanoma was destroying her left leg, swollen to twice the size of her right leg from this aggressive skin cancer which had entered the lymph nodes in her inguinal region.  I had performed a surgical biopsy to remove a few of those lymph nodes, so there was no doubt about the diagnosis, for the pathologist confirmed it by looking at the surgical specimens.  Nor was there doubt that much disease remained in her body following the biopsy.  The woman went back to the jungle and never came back for follow-up.  Two years later, however, she accompanied another patient to the clinic.  I happened to recognize her and asked how she was doing.  She said she was fine.  She showed me her left leg: it was no longer swollen.  In fact, was now the same size as her right leg.  The scars from the surgical incisions were easily visible, but what had disappeared were the massive tumors of melanoma in her left inguinal region – they had “gone with the wind.”  I was pleasantly surprised and dutifully impressed.)

So on the topic of miracles, we recently had a case here in Shell that has left me stupefied.  An 84 year old woman suffered a fall in her house in June of this year.  She came to our hospital complaining of left shoulder pain and was found to have fractured the head of her left humerus.  Our orthopedic doctor took her to the operating room and there inserted three long nails in her left shoulder to stabilize the fracture.  (They were Kirschner pins, one about three inches long and the other two about 4 inches/10 centimeters in length.)  The surgery went fine and she went home the next day.  A week later she was in the clinic for a post-operative check-up, where an x-ray confirmed that the nails were in good position.  She began to have sessions of physical therapy to help with left arm movement.

Here is where the story gets weird.  Four days later, the patient came back to the clinic for a scheduled appointment to have her left shoulder pins taken out.  Mysteriously, the orthopedic doc could only find one of the three he had placed.  He took it out, wondering where the other two were.

A month later, she had a little more movement in her left arm.  There seemed to be a small knot under her left clavicle that was thought to be a partially torn left pectoralis muscle tendon.  A week and a half later she came to the outpatient clinic for another check-up, this time complaining of a knot on the right lower neck.  It was a little more than an inch (3 cm) in diameter and thought to represent a swollen lymph node.  She was placed on antibiotics and told to come back in four days.  When she did, nothing had changed.  So the surgeon injected some local anesthetic and then opened the skin on her right lower neck.  There was only some clear fluid, like the kind seen from lymph drainage.

One week later, with the orthopedic surgeon out of town, the patient and her family showed up at our emergency room at night…with one of the nails sticking out – in a Frankenstein manner – from the base of her right neck.  X-rays in two positions showed that one of her two lost nails was over the sternum (breast bone) and the other was crossing the neck from the left to the right side.  A CT scan taken some time later showed the neck nail to be crossing in between the esophagus and trachea (!!) and just behind her right carotid artery and jugular vein!

Pulling the nail – which had a slight hook on one end – would require surgery in order to not do any damage to the vital structures in her neck.  As she was stable, the surgery was scheduled for the next day.  The next morning, shortly before this 84 year old was to go to the operating room for general anesthesia and a tricky surgery, she turned her neck, moved her body, and – “plop” – out came the nail on its own.  It had migrated out of the bone from her left arm, entered her neck, crossed behind the left carotid artery and jugular vein, crossed between the trachea and the esophagus, crossed just behind the right carotid artery and jugular vein, and exited the right side of her neck…with no human guidance.

The other nail had also exited the left humerus, had crossed underneath the left breast, stayed outside of the chest cavity, and was lodged over the sternum.  With local anesthesia and a small skin incision, the nail was extracted at the patient’s bedside.  She went home smiling.

So, am I dumbfounded by what happened?  Yes.  Do I have any kind of natural explanation for it, something from the worlds of anatomy, physiology, physics, or engineering that could reasonably account for what happened here?  No.  I have none.  I can guess that her decreased bone density and increased left arm movement with physical therapy had something to do with the nails leaving the bone, but for the rest I am completely mystified.  Sure, there are many reports in the medical literature of foreign objects that migrate in the body…but not like this.  I know of no medical reports where two long pins in the left arm – anchored in bone – could over a period of merely two months migrate out of the bone, cross the body, and end up over the sternum and out the right side of the neck, all the while avoiding injury to the vital structures nearby.  It’s as though the nails had eyes…

What are we to call what happened?  Was it a miracle?  Well, miracles are usually accomplished through the medium of a religious person: someone who implores divine help in order to achieve a desired supernatural effect in the natural world.

In this case, however, there was no one praying for this to happen.  Moreover, what happened went against the wishes of all involved: the optimal outcome would have been to have the three nails remain embedded in the left humerus until it was time to easily remove them in the clinic, as opposed to disappearing, migrating across the body, causing physical discomfort to the patient, instigating two minor surgical procedures, and worrying the patient, her family, and the medical staff.  There was potential for great harm (including death), high medical bills, and a lawsuit.  More than anything, when the problem was solved, all parties felt relieved.

I can say that this was bizarre.  I can say that this was phenomenal.  I can say that this was a mystery.  I can say I have no natural explanation for this.

But was it a miracle?  A miracle is usually performed by a holy man in order to relieve human suffering and give glory to God.  This bizarre incident caused human suffering…and left people shaking their heads.

Acts 14:3 uses the phrase “signs and wonders” to describe the work of miracle workers Paul and Barnabas in the city of Iconium, Galatia (in Asia Minor, modern day Turkey).  I have to admit, if what happened to this lady was a sign, then I have no idea how to interpret it.

But it surely was a wonder.

Super-Natural

October 12, 2012

Last week I traveled to Maine to talk to a group of pastors. It’s a group that meets approximately once a month, inviting in a speaker to stimulate dialogue. Usually they have an academic come, so I was a change of pace. I’m not saying they were slumming….

I wanted to talk about world views as they relate to the topic of my last book, Miracles, and my next book, The Search for Adam. I’ve become convinced that we get tangled up in the classic Enlightenment paradigm separating Nature from Super-Nature.

Regarding miracles, both believers and unbelievers look for something unnatural, something that breaks the laws of nature. Skeptics don’t see it and conclude the Super-natural doesn’t exist except in the imagination of naive believers. Believers claim to see impossible things and conclude that they have proof that God is real. Either way, the basic belief is that Super-Natural is in an entirely separate realm from Nature, the only realm in which you can see God at work.

Regarding evolution, it’s much the same. The New Atheists (such as Richard Dawkins) say that nature explains everything, and there’s simply no need to summon up Super-Natural explanations, which are superfluous or dangerously false. Critics of evolution, such as those promoting Intelligent Design, contend the opposite: nature doesn’t even explain itself. There’s no way that nature produces complex organisms without Super-Natural intervention! For either side, the basic belief is that Nature is one thing, Super-Nature another, and they agree that if you can explain everything by purely natural causes, then the Super-Natural is superfluous or nonexistent and we live in a directionless and pointless universe without God.

This division of Nature and Super-Nature is so natural to us that we fall into it without realizing it. But it’s not a biblical view. In the Bible, God is (to use theological words) both immanent and transcendent. We aren’t deists who believe God set the universe in motion and went off to live in his Super-Natural realm; we are theists who insist that God holds everything together–that without him, the world cannot for a moment exist. His presence and power are in everything he has made. He is both in nature and above nature at the same time. Or as I put it in Miracles, everything is natural and supernatural at the same time.

So, it’s an interesting scientific question whether evolution can explain complex life forms, but it says nothing about God’s presence and power. God could create through evolution or he could work through other means. Either way, faith is what enables us to know of his presence and power in creation. (See Hebrews 11:3)

Similarly with miracles: there exist no violations of the laws of nature, because it is God’s creation and whatever he does is, by definition, natural. As Augustine put it: nature is what God does. Do surprising and mysterious things happen? That’s a question of evidence. You can’t come up with a general answer, you have to ask the question one event at a time. God can do anything. Does he? Whether he does or doesn’t do a miracle, he is (we know by faith) present and powerful all the time.

Recognizing God’s immanence is hard work, because it’s so out of step with the presumptions of our time. If we could learn to think biblically about nature and Super-Nature–about the creation and God–we would avoid a lot of fruitless arguments.

A New Age of Miracles

October 2, 2012

I’ve been remiss: for some time my article “A New Age of Miracles” has been in Christianity Today Magazine. It draws on my book Miracles so if you absolutely refuse to buy the book you can read this short piece for free and get something from it. It’s online here.

When Jesus Doesn’t Heal

July 13, 2012

This morning I did a skype interview with Patheos.com, which is using my book Miracles for a book club. The last question in the interview was a familiar one: What do you say to someone whose prayers for a miracle are not answered?

I blathered on for a while about the kingdom of God and miracles as signs pointing to it. I believe all that wholeheartedly, but it’s not a very emotionally satisfying answer.

This afternoon I attended a Scripture meditation, in which my friend Linda Albert led us in meditating on the story of Lazarus. I think I found a better answer.

For Lazarus’ experience is a parable of unanswered prayer. His sisters ask for Jesus to come, but Jesus doesn’t arrive (as they know he could) and Lazarus dies. What do you say to those sisters? Simply the truth: “Jesus is coming.”

He comes, on his own time, to heal Lazarus from death. As he will come to each of us, to offer resurrection forever.

For those whose prayers for a miracle are not answered, we can only say: “Jesus is coming.”

Publishers Weekly Believes in Miracles

June 18, 2012

Well, not exactly. But they have a very nice review of my just-about-out book, Miracles. In the world of publishing, this is a big deal!

Shameless promotion: I assume you know how to find my book on AmazonBarnes & Noble, or Christianbook.com. It’s due to ship in 12 days.

Heidi and Rolland Baker

May 30, 2012

My cover story on Heidi and Rolland Baker is available online, here. They come from Southern California and they work in Mozambique, where I visited them. They are known for miracles.

They are, I think, the hottest thing in the Pentecostal world, and they definitely subscribe to radical approaches, not all of which I am comfortable with, to say the least. That said, I think they are genuine, and I have never before run into Western Pentecostals who combine full-on Pentecostal enthusiasm with a deep, primary commitment to serve the poor. It’s radically different from the Prosperity Gospel and indeed from the whole consumerist, therapeutic focus of much that passes for strong faith these days.

It is true, as some critics have pointed out, that the Bakers keep company with some pretty nutty people and occasionally subscribe to some marginal ideas themselves. (For example, dream tours of heaven.) But Pentecostals tend to be a pretty loosely organized convocation of cats, who don’t mind walking alongside people whom they don’t agree with. They don’t feel obliged, as a Reformed person would, to point out all the ways in which they are not sure the other guy is right. Their mutual enthusiasm keeps them together, not their doctrinal uniformity. To see these folks as members of a conspiracy, as some do, is based on a misunderstanding of Pentecostalism as a movement. So I think.

Praying for Miracles

March 1, 2012

My son Silas, who is trying to make the Olympic rowing team, sustained a rib injury last week. For rowers this is an exceptionally bad problem, because rib injuries are very slow to heal. He’s dedicated four years of his life to this quest, and it’s awful to think of his losing it all because of an ill-timed injury.

My inclination is to pray for miraculous healing. I believe God can fix this problem in a second, if he wants to. And I want him to, very much! However, that prayer raises questions for me. What would make God want to heal this and not that? Why would he heal Silas’ rib cage and not my friend Karen’s knee? Or my friend Chris’s cancer?

A sports injury intensifies these questions. If Silas is healed and able to row in the Olympics, he will push aside some equally hard-working athlete. And why, really, should God care who goes to the Olympics? It’s only a game.

My only answer is that I care about it. I want Silas to heal and to be able to compete. Is that good enough?

In writing my book Miracles (coming in July) I was struck by the thought that we pray for miracles whenever we pray the Lord’s Prayer. Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. In heaven there is no sickness, no pain. Our bodies will work perfectly there. So even Presbyterians like me pray regularly for miracles, because we pray that what is true in heaven would be made true on earth.

God ultimately wants Silas’s body—all our bodies—to work perfectly, as they were designed to work. Praying for his ribs to heal is aligning ourselves with what we know God wants.

But is it that simple? Is praying for a miracle always simply asking that God’s kingdom come? The answer is, “No!” At least one Old Testament miracle—asked for and received–is clearly labeled,  “Not God’s Will,” and “Do Not Repeat—Ever!”

That is the incident of Massah, when the thirsty Israelites demanded that God provide them with water. (Exodus 17:1-7) God acceded to their demands. Moses struck the rock and water came out. However, this place of miracle became a byword for quarreling with God. Psalm 95 strongly warns against similar behavior, as does Deuteronomy 6:16, which Jesus quoted when he was tempted by Satan. “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.” (Luke 4:12)

God surely wanted to provide water for his people at Massah. He had not brought them there to let them die. But he had his own time, and his own ways. We will never know what those were, because the Israelites were so keen to have him meet their needs in the way they expected him to, no matter what.

Thus I pray for a miracle—that Silas would be instantly healed. But I try to tune my mind to be more interested in seeing God’s kingdom come, than in seeing it come the way I envision it.

So far, Silas has not been instantly healed. A physical therapist and a chiropractor have helped him, and there’s hope he’ll get well fast enough to be able to compete. His coach’s response has been most encouraging. Contrary to all expectations, he was willing to give Silas time off to heal. That seemed to have some miraculous qualities, at least to Silas!

Observing Silas deal with this, I’ve seen signs of an awakening spirit. That encourages me, as an answer to my deepest prayers. One way or another, may God’s kingdom come!