The Bible is full of miraculous stories of seas parting, the sick being healed and the dead being raised. But, if we believe that the Bible is true, than why don’t we regularly see supernatural miracles happening today?
We recently spoke with author Eric Metaxas (Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy; Amazing Grace: William Wilberforce and the Heroic Campaign to End Slavery) about his new book Miracles: What They Are, Why They Happen, and How They Can Change Your Life and what inspired him to explore the idea of supernatural phenomenon in an increasingly cynical world.
In the times of the biblical narrative Jesus is healing lepers, raising people from the dead, controlling nature. And people say, “Well, those miracles were to prove a point. Those were a specific instance in time. And if those kinds of things happened now I would have a much easier time buying in to God. But those kinds of miracles don’t happen now.” That’s part of the idea behind Miracles?
The first half of the book I talk about, in a sense, the tension between the scientific worldview and a faith worldview. I talk about how there is no incompatibility between the two.
They’re utterly compatible, but we’ve bought into this because on the one hand, you have people who are really cynical and dismiss the idea of the miraculous completely. Then you have other people who are not critical and thoughtful enough. They’re gullible. I think most people are in the middle, but we don’t have a lot of writing that speaks to the people in the middle, people who are somewhat skeptical and yet ultimately open, if something really happened. And so to me, I wrote this book for that middle person, who I would say is 80% of the people out there.
Everyone has a different vernacular to their expression of faith. Some people are hands-up people and some people are speaking in tongues and some not. Does seeing miracles in our world fall into that kind of expression? Like some people are just more wired to see that stuff and some aren’t? Is that more of a fundamental practice and discipline that we need to cultivate? Or are some people just more apt to see those things?
Definitely both. I had never experienced anything miraculous until my twenty-fifth birthday when I had this conversion experience. And since then, I’ve had a host of absolutely indubitably miraculous experiences. I’ve had maybe ten or twenty experiences over the last 26 years that I could describe to people.
Yet I know people that have had none—people who have great faith who have not experienced anything like this. Then I know other people who see angels all the time or who have experiences with God constantly.
There are a couple people in the book who had a plethora of stories from which to choose. Of course it raises the question, what do they have that and I don’t? We don’t know, and it’s okay not to know. We can’t know everything and these are things that at least there’s some mystery to it.
On the other hand, part of the reason I wrote the book is to encourage people’s faith for the miraculous. To say, “Look, just because it doesn’t happen when you want it to happen doesn’t mean it never happens, and you ought to be open to it.”
In many cases, people ought to be praying for miracles, for healings, for whatever it is. Whether God answers it in the way we want or doesn’t is His business. But it is our business to pray and to pray with faith, knowing that if God can do all these things that He has done in the pages of this book. Truly He can do things for any of us.
I think just because people abuse this sort of thing doesn’t mean we should shy away from it. I think it’s important for us to have a, I would say a measured view of these things. And that’s really the hope that I have in writing this book, is to help people see both sides and to find themselves someplace in the middle, to be inspired, but not to be uncritical.
Can you give us an example of an ordinary miracle?
A friend of mine, John Allen Turner, he’s a pastor. And I don’t know if it was maybe 15 years ago or something like that, he was pastoring a church, maybe 120 people. They met in kind of a schoolroom that they had to set up every week. I described the details in the book. This is not a guy who moves in the miraculous.
One week one of the guys comes up—they had volunteer worship leaders—and the guy whose week it was to lead worship was actually a psychiatrist, kind of a young guy. He comes up 1- minutes before the service with his arm in a sling, and he’s obviously in pain, and he talks to my friend, John Allen Turner. He says to him, “You know, I’ve just had this tremendous, horrible pain in my arm. I can barely move it.”
His eyes were moist, because he was under stress and under physical pain, and this hadn’t gone away for like four days. So John Allen Turner, my friend, the pastor says, “Okay, all right, fine. I’ll find somebody else.”
He runs off and gets somebody else to lead worship, and they scramble, and they start worship. About 10 minutes in, they’re worshiping, and my friend, the pastor, says “Well, I think maybe I was a little hasty.” He sees this guy sitting there clearly in pain in the service.
He says to everybody, “You know what? We don’t usually do this in this church, but I think our friend here, he’s in some pain … Why don’t we stop right now and just pray for him?” So he calls him up and he puts his hand on the guy’s shoulder prays in faith.
This is not a church where they typically do that, but it’s kind of a basic thing. The guy’s in pain, and why not do that?
They continue worshiping and about 10 minutes later in the middle of a worship song, this psychiatrist is leaping up and down. He was a mild-mannered, non-leaping-up-and-down kind of guy. He’s leaping up and down, waving his arm. John Allen Turner, the pastor, notices him and the guy then runs up, grabs the microphone and basically starts raving at the congregation saying, “It just happened! It happened! My arm! It’s totally fine! I felt this hot, this feeling,” and he’s waving his arm around.
It’s nothing but a straight up miracle. And they were all blown away because they don’t live in a world where this kind of stuff is typical.
That sounds like a lot of our lives. We’re open to it, but we kind of don’t see it very much. This is just a case where they were just blown away.
I feel like there’s something in us that longs for it. Because we all have done that thing where it’s like, I’ll shoot the basketball ten times, and if I make it all 10 times then God is real?
We do look for signs. And I say this in the beginning of the book: We are all built by God to long for meaning. And meaning means something that points to Him, something that points to something bigger than ourselves. We are wired that way.
Just because some people are wired more that way than others, just because some people don’t want to be wired that way, it doesn’t change anything. We’re created for that.
We’re created for metaphor, that one thing points to another. Things aren’t just what they are, so to speak. They’re pointing to God. I think we long for a connection.
Part of the reason I wrote the book was so in the culture, we could have a conversation about this, a substantive, civil, sober conversation on the meaning of life and the nature of reality. Is there something beyond this world? If there’s not, let’s talk about it. If there might be, let’s talk about it. Let’s talk about it respecting each other.
I think there’s been a real disconnect between the scientific materialist naturalists who sneer at any kind of acknowledgement of even the possibility of something beyond this world, and I think that’s irrational and childish for them to do that. On the other hand, people who are sort of into the religious world, they’re not even thinking, “Does it bear on reality?” or “Do I have to think about it critically?”
We need to bridge that gap. I think 80% of the people I know are in between those poles, and want to have a deeper conversation, a wider conversation.
Eddie Kaufholz is a writer, speaker and podcaster and serves as a director of church mobilization for International Justice Mission. He also hosts and produces "The New Activist" podcast. You can find on Twitter @EdwardorEddie.