A New Age of Miracles
The last time I saw Larry, I had recently interviewed one of the most compelling examples of the miraculous I have ever known. Jeff, a young man in my church, had fully expected to spend his life in a wheelchair.
Years of multiple surgeries had done nothing for him, and one of the top specialists in the country had told him to stop hoping for a cure and accept the excruciating pain as it was. Then, at the invitation of a friend, he rolled his wheelchair into a Pentecostal church one Sunday morning. He walked out pain-free. That was four years ago. He has never felt pain in his feet since. At a word of prayer, he was completely, instantly healed.
Curious to hear what a doctor thought, I related Jeff's story to Larry.
Even as I spoke, I felt from Larry's body language that he wasn't convinced.
Larry is a dedicated Christian who takes the Bible at face value when it describes miracles. But as a doctor—and typical of many doctors—Larry is skeptical of stories of miracle healing. He sees many sick people, and he knows that things happen to them that are hard to predict and explain. Some people get worse unexpectedly. Other people get better. You can't always say why.
Larry wasn't denying the possibility that Jeff had experienced a miracle. He was just saying that people sometimes heal in the most surprising ways, that the link between mind and body is amazingly strong, and that he wouldn't put too much weight on the claim that God miraculously healed Jeff.
He also doubted whether the issue was that important.
"Isn't the resurrection of Jesus Christ a great enough miracle?" Larry asked me. "If God raised Jesus from the dead after three days in the grave, and demonstrated it in public, why do we need anything else?"
Larry believes our faith should focus on Jesus and his resurrection. That is enough for him. He isn't looking for miracles to reinforce his faith, and he's not praying for miracles to heal his patients. He's content to apply his skill as a doctor and leave the results in God's good hands.
Give Me a Sign
Larry represents a tradition in Protestantism that can be traced back to the Reformation. He believes in God's power to do miracles but doesn't see it much in the present. And he doesn't see miracles—whether they happen or not—as terribly important.
Yet we live in a Pentecostal age. Around the world, wherever churches are growing, reports of miracles are rampant. Many Christians regard miracles as extremely important.
In recent years I've spent considerable time reading, interviewing, and thinking about miracles—not to mention praying for them. Nothing has proven more helpful to me than simply considering the biblical terminology.
The Bible has no word exactly like miracle. Rather, the most typical word is sign. There's a whole worldview packed into that word. Modern Americans tend to think of miracles as "proof"—proof that God is real and powerful, that he can break into the natural world with supernatural power. But sign points in another direction.
I can think of two occasions when signs mean a lot to me. One is when I come home from a long trip. Just on the north side of the Golden Gate Bridge is a sign for my hometown. Santa Rosa, it reads, 57 miles. I always get a warm feeling when I see that sign. I am on my way home.
Signs matter more urgently when I get lost. I may wander helplessly up one street and down another, confused and frustrated. I may even grow frightened if it's late or raining or if I'm in a tough neighborhood. Then I happen on a sign that points me toward my destination. Immediately I am flooded with relief. I know where I am and how to get where I am going.