Prayer, Healing, and Miracles: Why Do We Insist On Proof?
A friend of mine used to say that God is a 92-year old black woman. She may have been right. I’m a born skeptic. When I hear of ‘miracles’ happening, my first thoughts are usually along the lines of “who’s trying to scam the gullible this time?” I’m sure you’ve seen reports of the questionable ones: the Virgin Mary’s face in a grilled cheese sandwich, weeping icons, et cetera.
My analytical mindset is often captured by well explained research into the history, society, mythology and religions of peoples, especially of ancient times. I’ve seen some fascinating explanations of the Ten Plagues of Exodus in the Bible. There are some very rational scientific arguments for all of the events described as ‘miracles’ from God to get Pharoah to release the Israelites from Egypt. Of course, the big thing to keep in mind is that we know and understand far more of our world and its natural workings now than the ancients possibly could have.
Back in the summer of 2001, I was filling my time by working as a volunteer for Meals On Wheels of Durham, NC.
One of the people that I took lunch to daily was a 92 year old, African-American widow known by all as “Mama Lu”.
Mama Lu was a tall, slender lady with eyes that glistened with care and love and honesty. On her own, she collected clothing, groceries and household items for newly-arrived immigrant families in her area. She was there to help them get their footing until they could establish and support themselves. She would often take my through her large house, showing mementos and photos of her late husband and their children and grandchildren. Though I was on a tight schedule for my meal deliveries, I always took a little extra time to spend with her.
One afternoon when I stopped by to deliver her lunch, I informed her that my dwarf son Aaron was in the Shriner’s Hospital for Children in Greenville, SC. He was there to schedule surgery to have both of his knees replaced. For more than ten years he’d suffered from knee pain. The doctors felt the only recourse was to install the artificial knees. But, because of his youth, they wanted to delay it as many years as possible, as he was still growing. By age 19 the pain had become intolerable, he went in to schedule the inevitable surgery.
Every day that I went into Mama Lu’s house, she had her television turned on to evangelist Benny Hinn’s program. With Benny Hinn chatting away on the television behind her, she said to me, “Let’s pray for him”. She placed her hands on my shoulders, bowed her head, nearly touching my own, and said a prayer. She asked God to take care of Aaron and guide the doctors in wisdom and skill. After she said “Amen,” I looked up. She still had her head bowed, eyes closed.
She opened her eyes and smiled at me. Then she gave me a bear hug that was astounding in its strength. She said softly in my ear, “He ain’t gonna need them knees.”
At that time in my life, I had been away from churches for nearly 25 years. I had grown weary of going to church only to be told who I should vote for “as a true Christian.” Annoyed by the influx of politics and waning of spirituality, I had simply quit attending any church at all.
I smiled and said, “Thanks.” I knew she was was only fooling herself. But there’s no harm in humoring an old lady, is there?
The next evening, I received a call from my son Aaron. He told me of the many hours he had spent at Shriner’s and all of the now routine checks for mobility, x-rays, and questions about his knee pain. He said that he looked across the hallway from his exam room to the x-ray viewing room. There was the doctor who had just examined him, another orthopedic doctor, and the doctor who was in charge of all orthopedic surgery at the hospital. They were pointing at the x-rays, marking them with grease pencils, and having a very animated, serious discussion.
Aaron told me they all came to his exam room and told him the news. “You won’t believe this, Dad,” he said. “They said they can fix my knees with arthroscopic surgery. It’s outpatient. I’ll be in and out in less than eight hours!” I was thrilled for him. He had already endured one major, complicated surgery on both legs to correct his bowed legs. Compared to that, this one was going to be a piece of cake.
After I hung up the phone, I related the call to my wife.
“He said arthroscopic surgery would fix it? That’s wonderful!” she said.
“Isn’t it?” I said, beaming. “He was giddy! He said, ‘How about that, Dad? I ain’t gonna need them knees!'”
My wife’s expression turned from joy to one akin to shock. “Uh, what was it that Mama Lu said to you yesterday…?” I felt the color drain from my face.
Ten days later, this lapsed Wesleyan and his agnostic Jewish wife were in a church that a friend of ours attended. We’ve been going back every Sunday we can ever since.
How can one explain that away? Were the doctors – the very best children’s orthopedic physicians in the nation – wrong, twice a year, every year for ten years? Did something happen to Aaron’s long bone growth plates that virtually ‘self-corrected’ his deformed knees? I guess it’s all possible. One could even say it was probable. But, to me it was nothing but a miracle. A miracle with a clear message for me that God still listens.
You see, I think the doubters (myself included) sometimes blind ourselves to other possibilities in the quest to find a rational explanation for everything. Sure, we can scientifically explain the Ten Plagues of Egypt. We can even offer an explanation for my son Aaron’s deformed knees. But there is something we miss when we do that.
It really doesn’t matter if you or I can explain away something remarkable in a rational, logical, scientific way. That’s not what miracles are all about. These are not challenges to our intellect. They are reminders. Reminders that a miracle is only a miracle if it is perceived as such by the one who beholds it. Too often in our search for ‘proof’ of the existence and workings of God, we mislead ourselves by looking for ‘magic.’ It is not magic that makes something a miracle. The miracle is in the ‘mystery’ that is God at work, and our ability to perceive it as such.
And, yes. I do believe in miracles.