Saturday, 15 March 2014

Keeping Miracles Miraculous

There was a story this week on the BBC website about evangelical Christians who go around performing (or at least attempting) miraculous healing.  They claim to have cured heart disease and cancer, and even raised the dead.

They perform these miracles in front of large crowds, and “they are not interested in little effects that are on the border of statistical significance - they want big flashy miracles.”  As far as I can tell, the true purpose of these displays is not to heal the sick, but to demonstrate the power of God, and to make converts.

I believe in miracles, I truly do, but this makes me deeply uncomfortable.  It seems to me far too much like demanding proof, treating God almost as a mail order service, and worse, of putting God to the test.  They are apparently not disheartened when there miracles fail to materialise which happens frequently, but they are still making demands of God, and of trying to make miracles something every-day and ordinary, that can be performed on demand and that turn God into little more than a mobile surgical unit.

When (if!) this happens, they surely cease to become miracles.  They are no longer 'miraculous' merely inexplicable, which to me is not the same thing at all.  There is also the sneaking suspicion that it is not God at work here, but some mystic power of the faith healer.  After all, if all you have to do is pray for a miracle, then anyone could do it.  It could be argued that most people do not believe sufficiently strongly, but then surely if these miracles are there to make converts, why wouldn’t God zap them better and provide instant proof-on-tap.

Worse still, according to the article, some of these people have claimed to have gold teeth ”miraculously appear in their mouths”, and ”had enormous and unaccountable gems materialise during prayer sessions”.

Well firstly, I clearly go to the wrong church, and secondly, uh… really?  God is handing out shinies and dental blingery by way of miracles now?  I not only struggle to believe this (not that I’m trying), but I struggle to believe that anyone else believes it.  Surely a God that heals on demand, and worse, that doles out wealth on demand, is a God who’s on some seriously thin theological ice?  If He’s willing to lean into the world and pluck out a cancer on command, why on earth would he need asking, assuming he’s a benevolent God.  If He has no problem with dropping gems under people’s chairs, why is there poverty?

It also has deep implications for the concept of faith.  After all, these people are often referred to as ’faith healers’, but surely a directly observable incident of physical intervention negates the very idea of faith.  I wouldn’t believe in a god who was flashy and obvious and in-your-face.  I’d wonder what his angle was.  Thomas was told that he would have been far better off if he’d believed without seeing proof, so are these ’healers’ doing their flocks a severe disservice?  Would these people believe at all without these miracles and if so, of what value is this thin and fragile ’faith’ that demands constant proofs and reassurances?

I believe in miracles, and I believe in the power of prayer.  I do not believe in this.  Some of it may be sincere wishful thinking and a willingness to see statistical off-chances as the direct intervention of God.  Some may well be fraudulent and deliberate deceit, for the aggrandisement of the ’healer’.  Mostly though, I think they simply serve to obfuscate those true miracles that do, very, very rarely, and never on demand, actually occur, when God is willing to break his own rules for the sake of the game, and I think that this does immeasurably more harm than it does good, even for those poor people who will believe anything and try anything to get the miracle they think they need.

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