Miracles are the evidence of the Christian god’s hand upon the world. They are the answer to prayer; they are the proof that there is a supernatural world that is active and bubbling with energy all around Christians at all times. The Bible is filled with undeniable miracles that its god has wrought, and today Christians are assured that these miracles still happen all the time. Somewhere. All the time! Christians move through a world filled with all sorts of divine interventions by their god–to the point where they openly scoff that no amount of miracles would ever make a skeptic happy. I’ve even read a Christian minister claim that the real problem with skeptics is that we’ve been deluged with so many miracles we’re just plain bored with the silly things by now.
To be honest, any amount of miracles would be fine with me. Any amount at all is better than what there is currently, which is “none.”
Today we’ll talk about why miracle claims don’t impress me–and why I think Christians are missing the whole point with their quest to see miracles where there aren’t any.
Let me explain. I saw my first “miracle” before I met Biff when I was in the Pentecostal church that first go-round. I was in the rear of the church as it was a standing-room-only revival meeting, and some really old dude got out of his wheelchair/walker thingie and began shuffling around dancing right near me! I was so excited! ZOMG MIRACLE! … and an older church lady near me snorted and assured me that he’d be back in his wheelchair next week. I was in shock. How could she deny the power of God’s miraculous wonder-working spirit? But yeah, he was in the wheelchair next week, and every revival meeting I ever attended at that church, he got “healed” in exactly this manner. Somehow that wasn’t quite how I saw genuine miracles as working. I didn’t see my god doing take-backsies. Miracles were stuff like pillars of fire from the heavens, demonstrably dead people getting up and walking, blind people seeing, amputees getting regenerated (hey, that’s a really high-level spell in most gaming systems!), food falling from the skies to feed thousands upon thousands of whiny, ungrateful Jews (please tell me I’m not the only person who hears “manna” and immediately thinks “ba-MANNA bread!” like that old Keith Green song went), the sun stopping, you know, miracles.
For the purposes of discussion, we’re ignoring that the Exodus never happened, that the sun didn’t really stop for Joshua, and that no independent credible source has ever corroborated a single “miracle” in the OT or NT. If Christians think those things really happened, then they have two things to explain: where their evidence is, and why their god suddenly decided to stop doing such grand miracles and begin relying on coincidences and mild luck. My guess officially is that he ran out of mana after the Crucifixion.
The one thing I can generalize about Biblical miracles is that they’re obvious to all and sundry. I can’t imagine anybody seeing a pillar of fire from the sky and trying to explain it away. I can’t imagine someone waking up to manna on the ground every single day for decades and laughing it off as some coincidence or obviously the work of dedicated teams of manna-bakers who are finding enough ingredients in a desert to feed everybody every single day, baking it without anybody noticing, and tossing it on the ground in the middle of the night every night. I can’t imagine someone who sees a leper get healed denying what had just happened, or someone seeing a crippled man walk, or a dead person get up from the bier. Miracles are just that: they are big. They are what happens when the Christian god decides to show off and prove his existence to everybody–and to demonstrate his love for his people. Often I’ve heard Christians tell me that this or that miracle “proved” their religion was real to them–and they brandish these supposed events as holy swords of righteousness as if nobody could possibly ever contradict what happened and then get downright nonplussed when the event that was so significant to them, so convincing, so real, is dismissed with a laugh by their targets. Makes me think of Peter Venkman in Ghostbusters responding to his colleague’s breathless account of a “mass sponge migration”: “Ray, the sponges migrated about a foot-and-a-half.”
But what are Christians selling their souls for nowadays? First-world medicine blown out of proportion, coincidences, blind luck, and their own or others’ hard work. Great parking spaces. Promotions at work. A successful operation at the hospital in their happy secure first-world country. Their own math error resulting in an extra $20 in the bank account. The legal system of a secular nation working exactly like it’s supposed to work. We’re made to see patterns even where none exist. We evolved to see agency and control even in situations where there isn’t any. To see these miracles, one must already believe that miracles can happen and that one’s god is the one doing whatever just happened. You have to squint and tilt your head like a pug and look at it jussst right. Otherwise you won’t see it at all. What a paltry necklace of beads I once accepted in exchange for my lifelong obedience and love!
Worse, Christians aren’t thinking this thing through at all.
Their God is so great and so wonderful? So why doesn’t he cure the alcoholic of the addiction somehow rather than drain the alcoholic’s car of gas so that one time s/he won’t get in the car and hit teenybopper-stage Amy Grant (as her song goes)? Not like s/he won’t be doing the exact same thing again and hit some other person later, but what are we saying here? That God doesn’t care about all the other people the alcoholic will be endangering later on? Why did God make humans get so dippy when they get drunk, for that matter? Did he not realize that there would come a future wherein 27 people would die every single day in just America alone as a result of drunk driving? But Amy Grant’s song’s heroine was the one he saved this one time. Nice. Are we supposed to applaud him like he’s some kind of cosmic toddler who just made a macaroni picture?
Or this one that’s been going around on Facebook about a baby got born with a horrible, debilitating, life-threatening, and hugely painful disease that is very likely going to kill her well before she even becomes a toddler. God’s miracle is that she lived for a few months before miserably dying in a puddle of her own fluids. Why didn’t God heal her in the womb? Or cure her completely right after birth? What about all those other babies born with that disease who die immediately? Did God just not care about them as much? Why did he even allow such a disease to affect humans? I thought we were fearfully and wonderfully made–but we sure seem prone to a whole butt-ton of serious problems. If God wanted to push my thrill buttons, he’d make it so no babies got born this way, ever. But apparently that option is off the table. Why?
Your family got saved from a tornado? I’m glad to hear it, truly. As I’ve mentioned, I’ve been near tornadoes, and I know they’re serious business. But before you call it a genuine miracle, consider all the other people who lost their lives, were horribly injured, or lost their homes and livelihoods? Why didn’t God stop the tornado or make it veer off-course? Given how Southern and flyover states are more likely to get hit by tornadoes, one might infer that God doesn’t particularly like Christians at all–that he saves just a few of his children from harm doesn’t make me think better of a being that should be keeping all tornadoes mysteriously away from his chosen followers. Why don’t we hear the talking heads on the news say stuff like: “Well, the Christian compound of Zion Apostolic Church just got another big miss by that F5… Haha, guess God’s power worked again. Marcy, why aren’t we all moving there again?” But you never hear that. Don’t tell me about it raining on the just and unjust. That’s reality. I already know it does. But if you have a god who can do anything and who loves you, but is happy to stand idly by and let his own children die horribly in pain and fear, there’s something wrong somewhere with that thinking. When I was a Christian, I feared asking myself these tough questions, examining these scenarios without the thought-stoppers of “Welp, guess it’s just a mystery!” and “How can miserably puny humans understand a god?” I say we can, except he isn’t very understandable.
You know what goes through my mind, as an ex-Christian, every single time a Christian trumpets some ridiculous “miracle” or other? “That’s nice. Your ankle–an ankle belonging to a person in a first world country with access to all the best medicine available–got better faster than expected. When is your god going to cure cancer? Or feed all the starving children in the world? Or stop domestic violence? Why are you so special that God heals your ankle, but lets other Christians get raped? Or murdered? Or die horribly of painful diseases? Why is your god wasting time on these little gumby problems of followers living relatively cushy, genteel lives in first world nations, but ignoring the serious ghastly problems everywhere else? Are those things just too high-level for him?”
Why does a Christian not consider how abusive it is that God lets this stuff happen in the first place? If a father gives his daughter a pretty ribbon for her hair but lets her starve to death, we call that person a bad father. If a husband cuts his own wife’s arm off but drops a $20 bill on the ground for her to find later, we call that abuse. If a father watches a weaker person than him sexually abuse his little boy but afterward calls the cops, we don’t applaud his heroism but rather ask why he didn’t immediately intervene. Heck, we don’t even approve of people who start fights just to enjoy the make-up sex afterward. Little tiny “miracles” don’t detract at all from the big picture of neglect and harm, and only point to that bigger picture and highlight the abuses of this supposedly benevolent, loving, super-powerful figure.
And, too, none of these miracles really have any kind of objective credence. “Well, you might not think it’s a miracle, but I do!” is not compelling in the least. That’s not a miracle. The whole idea of a miracle is that it’s objectively impossible to deny or ignore. If it can be easily explained by some other means, it’s not supernatural–by definition. A Christian’s ignorance doesn’t constitute a miracle. A Christian’s very human need to see patterns and agency everywhere doesn’t mean that there really was some divine hand doing anything right then.
When I was a Christian, I heard all sorts of excuses for why my god wasn’t doing indisputable miracles, but none of them really rang true to me. Even then, I perceived that we were just making up excuses. Mostly I heard “free will” type arguments–that God didn’t want to do big miracles because that would remove all doubt about his existence. Hate to tell people this, but that’s why miracles exist in the Bible in the first place: to remove all doubt. Jesus even told his followers about all the miracles they’d do in his name so people would see them and know they had a real god in their religion. And God didn’t mind erasing people’s free will all the time in the Bible by imposing things on them, from Adam & Eve to the Pharaoh to Job to the Virgin Mary–one might even say that free will wasn’t really any big concern for him. Why did he suddenly care soooooo much about it now? Why was preserving doubt such a big deal now? So no excuses really washed against the stark reality of the Bible’s promises of miracles versus how the concept was playing out in real life.
Worse yet, miracles seem to happen in every single faith. I saw bigger things I thought were miracles after leaving Christianity than I ever saw while in it (and I’ll tell you about them at some point). Christians definitely don’t have a monopoly on the miracle biz. Muslims think Allah does miracles; Jews of course know about miracles; pagans have miracles; so do Buddhists, Shinto practitioners, even Ba’hai followers. Every religion there is seems to have miracles. If they are meant to prove a god’s existence, then we certainly have no way to validate which god in particular is being proven. Muddying the waters even further, that first Pentecostal church I attended taught that even Satan could make something miraculous-looking happen to more easily deceive Christians. The takeaway I got from that teaching at the time was that miracles could not be trusted to be from my particular deity. But I’m hard-pressed to say how a Christian is supposed to know just what source a given “miracle” has.
The fear of life.
My recommendation–which will probably be ignored, but here it is anyway–is that when a Christian first thinks “ZOMG MIRACLE!” that the second thought be “Is there some other and more rational explanation for what just happened?” and the third be “Is this really going to show my god in the best possible light as a being of power and love?”, because I guarantee there’s a good chance that non-Christians are going to be thinking these two things too.
The reason I think my suggestion will be ignored, though, is that Christians need these miracles, as paltry and non-credible as they are. Some folks just need to feel so special and so singled-out that they will cling to the idea that no less than the creator of the entire universe is focusing laser-like attention on Christians to shower gifts on them. Miracles are the ultimate manifestation of the “Ima get mine and screw all y’all” mindset of modern Christianity. I was like that too at first, but slowly I realized how selfish and irresponsible such thinking was–not to mention how laughably improbable it was that my god would actually ever do anything tangible in my life. As I’ve mentioned, about all I did pray about eventually was relatively trivial and minor things. And I tried to get proof of miracles before talking about them to non-believers (which never happened, so I didn’t discuss them). I asked for evidence of medical healings so I could actually use them as witnessing aids, but weirdly, nobody ever had any. Ever. I mean that. Ever. Not a single time. It was always urban legends, friend-of-a-friend stuff, and “gosh, how weird that nobody there had a camera” events.
And, too, I think that at heart we’re all pretty scared of things we can’t control. Storms scare us. Death scares us. Sickness scares us. Losing those we love scares us. Miracles are the get-out-of-human-fears-free card. They’re a last-ditch attempt to control what can’t be controlled. They’re a way to escape the fate that every single human risks just by existing. Just as Rapture is a cheap, quick, dirty escape from the fear of death, miracles are the cheap, quick, dirty escape from the fear of life.
I’ve seen Christians claim that God cleared up their acne (god forbid someone be embarrassed!), that God made their sex lives with their spouses wonderful (can’t have someone not having awesome sex, right?), even that God helped them get an iPhone or some other frivolous gadget (I give up). I wonder what they’d even say if I asked why God did this miracle for them but totally ignored the thousands of people who die of natural disasters, violence, and disease every day. The weekend my mother died of cancer, I heard Christians praising their god for giving them the miracle of not having to wait for a table at the Applebee’s I was visiting one night. Even though I was years out of Christianity, I almost lost it. I don’t think they noticed, and I don’t think it would have mattered to them if they had.
I never knew what to say when I got presented with similar awkward situations, and I don’t think Christians realize how many of these exact situations happen whenever they blithely spout off about something they think their god did. They can’t say why my mother died so gruesomely–but they do know God gave them a great table at the restaurant! Who knows why? Just rejoice he did anything! Ugh. It’s no wonder I’m hearing about so many Christians who seem obsessed with Ayn Rand lately–how is her shameless attitude any different from what we’ve been seeing for years with Prosperity Gospel and the miracle mindset?
There’s a risk in mistaking miracles. I don’t think Christians realize that every non-miracle that gets touted as a miracle cheapens any potential real ones that might really be happening somewhere. I truly wish Christians felt ashamed of claiming these sorts of baby-step “miracles” as evidence of their god’s divine power and love–every single time, a non-Christian hears such tales and immediately thinks of all the bigger things their god isn’t doing and all those people who need help that their god seems to be ignoring. At this point I do not know of a single non-Christian who takes Christians’ constant miracle claims seriously, but I do know that non-Christians tend to be driven even further away from Christianity with every single demonstrably non-miraculous miracle claim.
But despite their lack of credence, despite their blithe ignoring of those who have it way worse who aren’t being helped, despite their refusal to even consider how their god’s supposed miracle really reflects on him or his people, the beat goes on–because if there’s one thing Christians know, it’s that if you repeat a lie often enough, it magically becomes true. Once it was word-of-mouth lies. Now we have sensational YouTube videos of stuff like people being “healed.” The gullible Christians who point to this as proof of miracles are being fooled in the most pernicious and cruel way, and they don’t even care. No, these are not miracles. That guy lengthening legs is a stage magician doing a very well-known trick. The person claiming to cure the deaf and blind is faking faith healing. That relic isn’t really what you think it is. Every famous healer seems to get exposed in the most humiliating and thorough way possible. If miracles were possible, if they really happened, why would Christianity need to adopt the mindset of “if it isn’t true, well then, it should be” and keep pushing these tired old fables and lies? Why aren’t they denouncing debunked miracles more firmly? The description of Miracle Max in The Princess Bride really does fit the predators who use Christians’ need to escape the threats of life against them with such devastating success.
The answer is very simple as to why miracles seem so hard to pin down, but desperate Christians will believe absolutely anything as long as the person telling them the story says s/he is a Christian. Debunks of miracles like healing are all over the place, and when a Christian like I was go looking for those debunks and see them, we’re faced with a tough choice: either we keep the faith and deny reality, or we embrace reality and by doing so maintain our own personal integrity but lose our faith. It doesn’t have to be like that. It doesn’t have to come down to such a heartbreaking choice. By insisting on belief in things that simply don’t exist, by insisting that miracles happen all the time when actually they just don’t, Christians are forcing that choice on their own people.
In their rush to see miracles where there aren’t any, Christians are missing the real one right in front of them.
If Christians stopped claiming every minor stroke of luck or medical success was a miracle, the world would still work in exactly the same way, almost as if there was no god at all doing anything. The real miracle is humanity itself–our intelligence, our capacity for reason and critical thought, and our desire to improve even if growing up hurts a little along the way. We are the miracle–that out of primordial soup came beings like us who spark and flame for just a little while, who manage to thrive on a planet dead-set on killing us, who manage to pull beautiful art and philosophy out of bags of coordinated viruses and meat that suffer a million different pains each more gruesome than the last, who manage to love and create wondrous things that last even though we ourselves are but an eyeblink and a ruffle of wind through the universe’s hair.
Miracle Max can keep his chocolate-covered pills. I don’t need pillars of fire when I have the smile of a loving friend. I don’t want a magical healing if someone else needs it more and isn’t getting one. I won’t ever ask for the tornado to avoid me if it means it’s going to hit the school across the street. My part in the human tapestry means that I am going to get sick, lose friends, and suffer natural disasters, and I’d rather be part of that tapestry in all its glory and its terror than try to escape it at someone else’s expense. If I can’t storm the castle honestly, then I don’t deserve to storm it at all.