To be Christian is to be surrounded all the time by miracles. I’ve actually beheld the spectacle of a pastor explaining that Christians leave churches because miracles get so commonplace and boring that they just don’t appreciate these wonders anymore! But what do these miracles actually look like, and do the Christians claiming these miracles realize what non-Christians are going to think really happened? Here indeed are some of the most common Christian miracles and what those miracle claims really mean.
Even defining what a miracle is can be problematic, even for the Christians claiming that miracles happen to them all the time. Generally speaking, Christians take the word to mean something that happens outside of the natural order, like a magical healing, or something that only happens because their god wants it to happen, like the existence of love. It’s an event that has a supernatural source and that happens outside of the natural order of things–usually. (Hey, they can’t define what their god actually is or what his properties are, so don’t expect them to agree on any kind of common definition for miracles.)
In those heady days when the Bible’s myths were being committed to paper, papyrus, parchment, or whatever, miracles were a lot more obvious and undeniable, which is why Christians today must work out why these events are way less obvious and undeniable today. The main explanations I’ve seen are that the previous surplus of miracles happened because the Christian god had to establish his new religion as a valid one and that’s done now so there isn’t so much of a need for miracles; that people today are so evil-hearted and rebellious that no miracle would satisfy them as a sign that the Christian religion was the correct one out of all the many thousands of religions out there; and that the Christian god is such a wonderful gentleman that he doesn’t want to force people to believe because of miracles and just wants people to believe on pure blind faith.*
Obviously, every one of these explanations are contradicted directly by the Bible itself, but this wealth of flailing rationalizations tells us that Christians are aware that the Bible’s description of the way the world works and the way the actual real world works are very seriously at odds, and that they must square that circle somehow to maintain their hold on their faith.
Christians are so awash in so-called miracles that they spend a lot of time thinking about them and categorizing them. They’ve been trying to do this ever since Thomas Aquinas’ time, maybe even earlier. But what high-flown scholars like Aquinas consider miracles in their lofty, theology-driven, ivory-tower version of the religion (which is what I call “High Christianity”) is not exactly what general standard-issue Christians (in what I contrastingly call “Low Christianity,” that more folk-magic version of the religion) consider miracles. Generally speaking, these kinds of Christians end up putting miracles into these basic categories:
- Miracles of Power: resurrections, significant weather changes, stopping the sun, letting people do stuff that is not normally something people can do.
- Miracles of Supply: people getting miraculous provisions of money, food, or other supplies.
- Miracles of Healing: injuries or illnesses that are cured magically.
- Miracles Only by Ad Hoc Declaration: miracles that aren’t actually miracles, like birth or love, or else nebulous concepts like “salvation” or personal revelations that cannot be seen or measured objectively.
When one surveys the wide range of Low Christianity’s folk-magic miracles, one can easily see why the Christians holding that worldview are simply astonished that non-Christians don’t agree with them that these miracles happen or that they’re really the work of a supernatural agent. In fact, I can easily see why these Christians think that our denial is willful in nature–that we don’t see these miracles because we simply do not want to see them, usually for nefarious reasons. Why, look at all these miracles! (goes the thinking) The only way someone could go through life not knowing them for what they are is not wanting to obey the Christian god’s various rules!
I wish that they could see their miracle claims the way that I do, so they might know a little better why non-Christians are way more reserved about these claims and way less likely to see these events as supernatural in nature.
The following miracles are ones I either personally experienced or personally saw claimed, or have heard claimed from reliable sources. These are real live miracles that are regularly claimed by real live Christians.
The Miracle Bank Balance.
Just when I was totally broke and only had $3 in my bank account until next Friday, I discovered an extra $50 in my bank account that wasn’t there yesterday!
This miracle is usually presented as a bank glitch of some kind that usually never happens, but did this time–to the Christian’s benefit. Most people have had the bitter experience of seeing a mystery bank charge on their account somewhere. The less capable the person is of handling money, the more mysterious their bank’s doings will seem to them. It’s all going to look and feel like magic at some level, sorta like how most folks saw the internet before, oh, 1996 or so. So these kinds of miracle claims go untested, unverified, and unchallenged. Of course their god can nudge a few digital switches this way or that to give a Christian a little unwarranted money that otherwise they wouldn’t get.
Translation 1: Someone can’t math.
Translation 2: This person doesn’t know anything about handling money.
Translation 3: There’s no way in the world that the bank won’t notice the error and correct it. Nope.
Unexpected Darker Meaning: Why did this Christian’s god allow him or her to get down that low on money in the first place? And why only just barely enough to squeeze by? If he can magically summon $50 (or $100, or $20, or whatever sum was just barely enough for the immediate need), then why can’t he summon many thousands or millions of dollars to handle all the other pressing needs his people have every day? If no magical money appears in the bank account, does that mean he doesn’t lurrrrve that follower as much as this one who got it?
Under no circumstances should you ever allow this person to handle your finances or go into business with you.
The Miracle Benefactor.
I needed $500 for rent, and my Dear Aunt Sally just decided to give me $500 out of the clear blue sky.
I knew I’d never be able to send my daughter to college, but then she was offered a full scholarship by our church! She hadn’t even asked for it!
I just can’t imagine how we made that little bit of food stretch so far….
This miracle is a variation of the miracle bank error, but it is presented as a show of benevolence that the Christian wasn’t expecting. In this variation, the Christian is under serious stress about food or money or something and someone just drops by to give that person exactly what was needed, in the amount needed, and usually with nothing left over.
Translation: Christians are definitely not better-off than other people if they must rely on miracles to feed themselves and pay their bills.
Unexpected Darker Meaning: My objections to this show of beneficence as a miracle run along much the same lines as the above “miracle” in that it seems weird that this god let his follower get into that kind of a jam in the first place, and even weirder still that his miracle appears to depend totally on someone else doing something they wouldn’t normally do. He can help someone make rent but can’t get a Republican fundagelical panderer get elected reliably? He can make stew stretch to feed ten people but can’t help his followers who are starving in faraway places? Further, if he can make Dear Aunt Sally give someone a check for $500, then clearly the “this god is a gentleman” hand-waving isn’t true because he regularly makes people do all kinds of things they wouldn’t ordinarily do.
The Miracle 20-Spot on the Sidewalk.
I was walking down the street and found a $20 on the sidewalk–right when I was hungry and had left my wallet at home!
This is a picayune miracle to say the least, hardly enough to be worth selling one’s soul over, and usually speaks more to the Christian’s dire and desperate financial circumstances more than they really should be advertising.
Translation: This person is totally fine with taking advantage of other people’s losses.
Unexpected Darker Meaning: Christians always imagine that they are the ones receiving their god’s miracle-working power, not the person who lost a 20-spot they probably needed because a god needed to steal from them to give it to someone he liked better. It’s the most amazing thing to me that the people who make this particular claim don’t wonder who lost that money or why their need was obviously so much greater than the need of the person who their god stole from.
The Miracle Parking Spot.
I was totally tired out today, so “God” gave me a parking spot right up at the front of the building so I could get in and out quickly!
This one happens so often it’s got to be in the Top Three Miracle Claims by now. It’s so easy to claim! Almost everyone drives, and almost everyone’s been in a situation where they had to get a parking spot in a crowded lot. Those situations are so frustrating and so near-universal that obviously any way to get a leg up on all the other harried drivers is going to be a popular surefire hit with Christians.
Translation 1: This person thinks that helping people avoid physical effort is a top priority for the Christian god.
Translation 2: This person is suffering from a massive hit of confirmation bias and has forgotten all the other times that they were tired and didn’t get a magic parking spot.
Unexpected Darker Meaning: It’s amazing that this god could put together all the minute calculations needed to ensure that this one particular Christian could get this one particular parking spot at this one particular place, and yet can’t figure out how to protect humans from all the tragedies that happen to them when they just happen to be at the wrong place at the wrong time. In some of these cases, all he had to do was make an extra bit of snarling in traffic, and yet somehow he routinely looks the other way even when the people getting hurt or killed are his own ministers and church volunteers. One also wonders if the drivers shut out of the Christian’s spot maybe deserved it better or would have appreciated it more.
Oh, but hey, enjoy the parking spot!
The Miracle Healing.
I broke my ankle last week and today I’m totally fine! The doctor says it’s a medical miracle!
My child had this terrible disease, but now she’s been declared in remission! It’s a miracle!
My acne cleared up right before the wedding day! Must be a miracle!
Sickness and injury are scary to most folks. We don’t really understand the processes of how they occur or how they are remedied. Modern medicine is damned near magical in its own right–I mean for crying out loud, we can actually cure diseases now that we barely even understood when Jack Chick was a kid! So it’s not hard to see why magical healing stories were baked into Christianity’s earliest origin myths.
But healings are where Christianity’s claims fall down the hardest. I don’t need to mention that being religious doesn’t have a single thing to do with how well someone survives a terrible medical ordeal or accident. It doesn’t impact survival rates; it doesn’t change complications; it doesn’t even affect how well one responds to medications. So every single Christian alive (except for the very youngest) has had the heart-wrenching experience of losing someone they love to disease or injury.
Translation 1: My particular need was so much greater than the needs of all the other people who didn’t get magical healing.
Translation 2: I don’t have a problem with asking for magical healing even though I know there are many other people out there who could probably use it more than I could.
Unexpected Darker Meaning: Christians shouldn’t be this intent on reminding people of how useless their religion is when it comes to important stuff, but here we are.
The Miracle Near-Miss.
If I’d gotten going on the freeway five minutes later, I’d have been in that accident! I’m glad now that I decided to spend an extra few minutes praying!
The tornado was coming, but I prayed super-hard lots and it skipped my house completely!
The muggers said they didn’t attack the missionary’s wife because they saw the giant dudes walking alongside her–even though she was really walking alone that night.
This miracle involves the Christian narrowly avoiding a terrible fate that instead befalls someone else–some other town, some other motorist, some other shopper, some other woman walking alone. The Christian making the claim will usually make very sure to note just how close they came to their doom–how very narrowly the rescue averted a catastrophe for them.
But the catastrophe still happens, in the majority of these miracle claims–it just happens to someone else. Why didn’t this god make the event just not happen at all? Or happen somewhere where it wouldn’t damage anybody’s lives or stuff? What kind of weak god is this, that this is the very best he can manage?
(The Only) Translation: I got mine!
(The Only) Unexpected Darker Meaning: To hell with everyone else.
The Miracle Sign.
Just when I was at my lowest and considering hurting myself, a missionary walked up to me and began sharing Jesus with me. His witnessing saved my life!
I didn’t know if I should invest in this one opportunity or not, but then as I was opening my Bible it fell open to this one verse and I knew I should do it. And now I’m rich!
At a Christian revival service, the evangelist pointed right at me and told me he had a word from the Lord for me: I was meant to go into music ministry. I’d been praying for a sign about this exact question!
Foretelling the future, telling Christians stuff about themselves they didn’t know, providing signs and wonders of all kinds… these are all very easy miracle claims to make, since there’s absolutely no objective way to know for sure if the “miracle” is significant in any way. For the most part, the signs Christians see aren’t very unusual; they just mean something to the Christians themselves, so they interpret them as coming from their god.
One often sees these miraculous signs popping up in testimonies or in Christian sales pitches, where they are incredibly effective.
Translation 1: This person’s pattern-recognition system is out of whack.
Translation 2: This person is selling something.
Translation 3: Prognostication is bad unless it’s done by a Christian using super-Jesus-y wording.
Unexpected Darker Meaning: Obviously, this god isn’t telling anybody else what to do–just a few select favorites. Whenever it’s mentioned that other folks begged and pleaded for some tiny little hint of a message from this same god, the Christians involved have to kind of squinch up their eyebrows and waggle their hands a bit heavenward as if to say “Well garsh, Shaggy, I just don’t know why I got chosen for this message!” But we do know the real answer: Because the people who aren’t getting messages aren’t special enough or as favored as the ones who do. It’s not hard to figure out. Further, this god often tells people stuff that is categorically incorrect or that doesn’t work out at all–like who to marry or what job to take. You won’t hear them walk those errors back very often or very gracefully.
An Embarrassing Glut of Glurge.
Buried within those italicized claims are miracles I personally thought I experienced. See, I was just this bad when I was a Christian myself.
I saw miracles everywhere. I was a little embarrassed when I finally began unpacking my experiences in Christianity and saw these so-called miracles for what they were: my own wishful thinking and yearning for this religion’s claims to be true, my own overactive pattern-recognition system, my own denial of reality, my own desire to persuade others to buy in to my belief system.
Now I can see that I was trained to see these false miracles everywhere by a culture that needed to believe that they really happened.
Worse, through this cultural conditioning I was trained to keep my demands very minimal.
More than anything else, Christians’ miracle stories show how very little imagination they have, and how very limited their expectations are. I never expected miracles like PEACE IN THE MIDDLE EAST. I never really expected to see a wholesale resurrection of children from cancer wards. I never even thought that it was possible to expect a miracle like the stopping of the sun, or for all the specific promises about snake-handling or poison-drinking to be truly miracles I could expect. I never thought I’d see mountains moved either.
No, instead I restricted my miracle expectations to money on the sidewalk, bank errors in my favor, parking spots opened up and car keys located.
Leaving Christianity didn’t change a whole lot in terms of miracles, since the ones I thought I saw were really about the most minor little coincidences one can possibly imagine. I stopped forcing myself to shoehorn every single unusual event into the Miracle Box, that’s all, and it was a relief to stop doing that. Losing my belief in supernatural miracles was one of the best parts of walking away from that benighted religion and its completely broken system.
* I still like my explanation: that the Christian god obviously blew all his mana on his big incarnation gig and has been resting to recover it ever since.