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Do you really want to call that a miracle?

February 11, 2011

The Sunday school lesson this Sunday is Lesson 7: “[He] Took Our Infirmities, and Bare Our Sicknesses,” and is about the miracles of Jesus.

When Vespatian’s spit healed a blind man, when Apollonius of Tyana raised a girl from death, when Dionysus turned water into wine, we understand these as just stories.

But when Jesus is described as healing blind men with his spit, raising Jairus’ daughter from the dead, and turning water into wine, these are actual miracles. Why is that?

It’s worth repeating to young ones:

“When you hear a miracle story, what is more probable, that the miracle actually happened, or that what you are hearing is just a story?”

The lesson stresses that miracles are not intended to build faith, but rather faith precedes the miracle. Jesus purportedly said, “If thou canst believe, all things are possible to him that believeth” (Mark 9:23).

Indeed, once one is free from the need for evidence, anything is possible. In other words, when people allow themselves to believe whatever they want to believe, regardless of whether they have good, solid reasons to support those beliefs, this opens up the door to believing just about anything, no matter how wrong or implausible or unlikely.

I become a little annoyed when I hear people apply the word miracle to both highly improbable events, such as resurrection from death, and to entirely commonplace events, such as a scratch on the skin healing itself. Even the teacher’s manual suggests that both types of events are miracles. Early in the chapter, it defines a miracle as “An extraordinary event caused by divine or spiritual power,” then later it says, “Ask class members to silently ponder the miracles they have experienced,” suggesting that miracles may not be all that extraordinary.

Many people consider the birth of a child a miracle, for example. Sure, the births of my sons were wonderful events, but they weren’t miracles. Three to four human children are born every second. If the birth of a human baby is miraculous, then so is the birth of a maggot hatching from its egg, or the birth of a cockroach.

You would think that the faithful would discourage calling something as commonplace as birth a miracle because it would seem to devalue the word when applied to the stories of Jesus. But no. They’re all lumped together as “miracles,” either because they don’t understand or because they choose to ignore the shading of probability.

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