April 2, 2020

Open Mic at the iMonk Cafe: Miracle Testimonies

radiomicTestimonies about miracles. I’m not much on them.

At least once a year or so, I’ll have someone want to tell our ministry of mostly non-Christian kids a “miracle” testimony of being healed, delivered from drugs, saved from prison, etc.

I obviously don’t say “no,” but I really struggle with this kind of thing on Biblical grounds. Jesus didn’t primarily use miracles to evangelize, but to show the presence of the Kingdom. It was present miracles, not stories. I know it’s common in mission settings. I know Pentecostals love it. But I have to be honest: I’m pretty uneasy- on Biblical grounds- about how we tell those stories and recall those events. The message- overt and overheard- is often sub-Gospel. Our sinful, prideful, self-seeking need for attention gets in there as well. You know what happens. I’ve heard some testimonies that would send a lie detector up in smoke.

I’ll hear it over and over: “He’s the same God now as he was then, and he can do the same miracle for you he did for me. Just have faith.” Lots of scriptures to quote about believing, bold prayer, etc. I’m not much to take those verses and run. I’ve been jaded, but then the Bible gives me reason to be cautious. Miracles have their place, but we shouldn’t have them on the loudspeaker all the time.

One of the guys who gave his healing testimony was dead in a few months. I don’t want to even check on the testimonies of those saying they were delivered from drugs and crime. I know the score. Averages in that game aren’t encouraging.

I had a good friend fault me because I do not tell my students to pray specifically for miracles. And I don’t. I believe Jesus taught us how to pray. Your will be done. Your Kingdom come. Deliver us from evil. It’s not hard.

I don’t deny anything about the possibility of miracles, but I am very reluctant when we start to advertise them.

What do you think of “miracle testimonies” and their place in evangelism and Christian communication?

Comments

  1. Miracles semi-disgust me.

    Nobody gets healed of senility.

    Nobody gets healed of autism or FAS.

    Nobody gets smarter, nobody gets miraculously wise.

    We like to say that it’s because such things are ‘mental’ and don’t involve the soul, but in a Bible full of walking lames, possessed swine and ex-lepers, we’re kidding ourselves if we imagine that miracles are supposed to have a moral substrate – we know that’s not true just like we know that nobody comes out of Down’s Syndrome because of some prayer. We know better than to even ask. It’s beyond the realm of possibility; we wouldn’t waste our hope praying for it.

  2. I’m usually very quick to be skeptical of miracle claims. But when they come from someone who also seems to be very rational as a rule, it does give me pause. For example, Steve Brown, etc. recently had Douglas Gresham on. The podcast is still up on his website and is really worth a lesson for all of his stories of living with C.S. Lewis. But during the broadcast he really surprised me with a story in which he spoke of direct communication with God during his mother’s cancer. You really should listen to it directly from him, but to summarize his story, Joy was by all accounts on her deathbed. Gresham “encountered” God outside a small church and God told him that if he really couldn’t live without his mom she could be healed. He said he couldn’t live without her and she immediately entered her extended remission, during which C.S. Lewis and Joy had their brief time together in marriage. When the cancer came back with a vengeance a few years later, Gresham said he had the same encounter with God, honestly considered whether he could live without her at this point in his life, said “your will be done” and she died the next day.

    My skeptic flag is still up on this story. But coming from someone like Gresham rather than the weepy woman who has a “word from God” every other day, I have to at least ponder the possibility that a real miracle took place there. One interesting thing in his story as he relates it is that God approached him with the offer, not the other way around. That also makes me somewhat more inclined to sit up and take notice.

    • Should be …really worth a “listen”. Typo.

      Also, something to think about as it relates to this particular story is that the remission that Joy went into allowed her and Jack a few years together, and her death led to incredible grief for C.S. Lewis. That led to his journal of thoughts that eventually became “A Grief Observed” which has spoken truth to many, many, people grieving the death of a loved one. Perhaps coincidences. Perhaps.

  3. I think it will be a miracle if I have the self control to stop reading this blog now, and get to work like I am supposed to! ;=)

  4. I was, at one point, part of a SBC wanna-be megachurch. This church became enamored with healing and healing testimonies, a development that dovetailed with a descent into prosperity and word-of-faith thought. Most of the testimonies were about someone else someplace else and could not be verified by the average listener. Even those testimonies that were first hand from people in the congregation were tightly controlled and produced, shown to the congregation via an edited videotape, not live. Both people I knew personally who gave these testimonies later relapsed. Their relapses were never announced to the congregation. The whole thing seemed geared to the needs of keeping the institutional circus going.

    Obviously my interpretation is that there are major abuses going on this scenario, and so, by itself, that story probably contributes very little to this discussion. However, the story goes on … I haven’t attended this church for years, but I’ve never managed to get off the mailing list. The main item in this week’s emailing detailed their “proactive plan” for dealing with the flu season this year. First item was that everyone should pray that the church and its associated school would be a “flu-free zone.” Further down was the advice that everyone should, as much as possible, avoid anyone showing flu symptoms.

    In the midst of the static of cognitive dissonance, what flashed into my mind was a book I read a while back about how a yellow fever epidemic nearly wiped out the city of Memphis, TN in the 1870s. Part of the story was that a convent of nuns and their priest stayed in the city, tending the sick and burying the dead. If I recall correctly, most of them lost their lives in the effort.

    Turning back to my SBC wanna-be megachurch, it seems we have an evangelicalism where slick productions of “how God cured my brain cancer” (and we’ll be completely silent that our hero was dead within the year from a recurrence of the same type of tumor) exist side by side with a policy for dealing with the flu that includes a God who will optimally produce a “flu-free zone” for us, plus advice to basically shun and avoid anyone showing flu symptoms.

    In this type of evangelicalism (which, in its general outlines, I suspect is unfortunately far from rare), I wonder… I wonder if the “healing testimony” phenomenon, far from being a testimony of faith in God, is rather a symptom of a deep problem in the faith community in actually dealing with the hard issues of life, such as chronic or complicated illness, with the accompanying pain, grief, fear, frustration, exhaustion, as well as confusion and loss of control when caught up in the midst of a highly technical and often rushed medical system.

    How much of the “healing testimony” phenomenon exists because it is the only acceptable avenue given to people to express their experience of difficult or chronic illness? How much of it exists to give us a convenient excuse to avoid sacrificial service to others? How much of it exists as a seemingly faithful veneer to cover up a deep anxiety and feeling of powerless to face head-on the age-old problem of how death and suffering still exist, given all that we testify to about our God and the victory of Jesus?

    I’m not saying that God doesn’t work miracles, or that there aren’t faith communities who do deal in a faithful, robust way with the issues raised above. I’m just wondering how much of the specific “healing testimony” phenomenon is actually a symptom of major weakness and problems, not faith, within some (many?) faith communities.

  5. When I first came to Christ I read a variety of sources in an attempt to understand who God is. The rational part of my mind was content to understand Christ casting out demons, unstopping ears, causing the blind to see and the lame to walk as metaphor.

    However, the timing of my coming to Christ soon seemed like a miracle. I do not know how I could have endured the following months without Him. The greatest miracle in my life is knowing Christ in my life.

    As I tried to understand who God is I eventually came to realize that if I understood God, I was understanding a God of my own mind’s construction. Obviously, God must be vastly more than I can comprehend.

    With this understanding I could no longer say that miracles don’t happen. How can I say anything is impossible to a God that my pitiful little brain finds utterly incomprehensible? I don’t know the whys of why God might intervene. But if God is beyond my understanding I cannot say that God is incapable of intervention. I cannot limit God to fit my ability to comprehend. The experience of my own life tells me that God is certainly capable of intervention.

    Other things have happened that seem like miracles, but each time there is also a natural explanation. My habit has become to thank God regardless. After all, even if there is a perfectly logical explanation, I am grateful to be at the place where I know there is more to God than I can possibly comprehend.

    All my prayers became, “Let Your Will Be Done.”

    When I look at a radiant sunset or golden sun shining through green leaves against the backdrop of blue sky, I feel gratitude. The swelling of gratitude is like embracing all of Creation. I do not believe God laid out these magnificent views just for me, but I do believe He has taught me to feel gratitude, which is praise, which is embracing with my entire mind and expressing, “Let Your Will Be Done!” And this gives me joy, which also feels like a miracle.

  6. I really believe that miracles can easily become an idol and Jesus a thaumaturge when we emphasize miracles and healings. Some congregations are more enamored by “blessings” than the one who truly blesses. I’m with you iMonk on this (as on many things). Miracles are signs and wonders of the kingdom present among us. They are not signs and wonders for evangelism. How many people who witnessed the miracles of Jesus followed him? He would have had thousands from feeding the 5k and 4k alone. I think the gospels would have noted such a drastic increase in followers of Jesus if miracles functioned in that way.

  7. I’m generally not interested in miracle stories, for all the reasons people have already expounded on.

    One story I heard does stand out to me though. I met this guy at church who at first blush seemed like some fruity hippie type, who was ready to find miracles any-old-where, and he proceeded to tell me about his conversion. It went something like this: “One day Jesus appeared to me in a vision and said “follow me.” So I did. It was amazing, like a window into heaven. I was totally transfixed. I’ve never been the same. I’ve been following him all over now, telling people about him. Never saw any more visions. Just that one. But man, I know- Jesus is real. Heaven is real.”

    What struck me about his story is 1) there was only one dramatic vision experience. He didn’t need to stack up stories as if his faith was more valid the more visions he got.. 2) he was permanently changed in an inner way, he became Jesus-fixated. 3) his story revolved around Jesus, not himself or his experience.

    In addition to all this, his countenance told me he wasn’t out to prove something, or seeking supernatural events like some kind of drug. I wish I heard more stuff like that one.

  8. So-called miracles are honestly one of the biggest stumbling blocks that I personally experience in the evangelical faith. I just do not find many of these tales credible. The big picture, if this stuff is to be believed, often makes God look capricious and petty, which I know is the opposite of what the miracle-claimer intends, but that is nonetheless the consequence.

  9. Dependance on Christ is the miracle that always works, brings an incredible peace, and actually gets us out of “ourselves” and into Him, and those around us.

    I’m so grateful for what God does for me and mine each week, it’s truly a miracle, and worth talking about to any unbeliever (or believer) that cares to hear it.

  10. I grew up in Charisamatic circles and heard stories all the time and never saw a single provable miracle.

    In general the people that I know in those circles are prone to exageration and rarely willing to give someone’s claims any critical examination.

    Then of course there are clowns like Benny Hinn who have been known to make things up.

    I don’t have any theological hangups that prevent me from believing in genuine miracle and I have a very few credible friends who have seen or performed miracles, but my default is “show me”.

    Jesus did public observable miracles.

  11. Robert D. Spencer III says

    In the never-ending course of searching for study resources to help me truly know, understand and live a life that pleases God I came across this site. Thanks for your work.

    Over the years I have been introduced to bits and pieces (like a quilt) of doctrinal concepts which I have understood to varying degrees and I suspect that I am not alone. From the Fundamentalist to the Atheist anyone with a mind has an opinion and if given enough time can seemingly make the bible say or not say just about anything they want – and believe it, and want you to believe it too. It is the potential for error that challenges me to ask myself if my understanding of the bible is correct or in error. I am not familiar with many of the theological terms that I have recently been introduced to(Monergism, Arminianism, Synergism, etc.) let alone the debates and struggles concerning these terms and the underlying concepts (which sound familiar but had up to this point have been undefined in this way – the quilt) that have taken place over time. It is possible that lifetimes have been devoted to God and the study of God’s word – in error (heresy). I find that amid the cacophony I just want to know ‘the truth’ – what does God say, what does it mean, what do I do? I have been asking these questions for the past 31 years and now through the internet I am able to access resources which I never knew existed online or in print. It is this access to information and the tools with which to process that information for which I am grateful.

    There have been times when I have felt like ‘Neo’ at conversation with the ‘Archictect’ in the matrix movie. Yet I find that in spite of the fact that I don’t know everything or understand everything that has been presented before me I believe that God will continue to work out my sanctification and for that I am humbly grateful. All I can do is believe and wholly depend on him to provide all – whether it be knowledge, wisdom, instruction, understanding and power to perform correctly in demonstration of the same(Proverbs chapter 1).

    With respect to healing or miracles, the recipient cannot inwardly deny it; whether or not they should announce it publicly I don’t know. Why does it happen for some and not for others I don’t know. While I would like to know, I don’t. And so I table that thought and in so doing neither add to nor take from the significance or importance of healing or miracles because,…. I don’t know.

    One need not look to ‘miracles’ to be amazed – The fact of this website and others like it could be considered miraculous if one accepts among the definitions of a miracle the concept of ‘an observed event or phenomena which cannot be readily explained or understood.’ Before this technology was developed the concept would have been considered a miracle.

    Is it any less miraculous in scope just because we can explain or understand it? Understanding comes from God and in no way diminishes the significance or importance of that which is understood.

  12. I am sceptical of scepticism towards miracles, in particular the assumption that God must in some way violate or create an exception to the natural order in order to perform miracles. That assumption rests rather shakily on the tenuous materialist assumptions of the Modern project. The Church is the last place in which Modernism should be strong, so ironically the church is the last place in which Modernism is strong, the secular world have abandoned faith in it some time ago.
    Observation of exaggerated claims by evangelicals suggests not a paucity of miracles but an attenuated theology which cannot situate, or even identify the miraculous except in same terms as the late unlamented materialist world view of last century, as claims about the existence of God, rather than a discernible pattern in the fabric of the universe, which exhibits God’s character.

    • “Observation of exaggerated claims by evangelicals suggests not a paucity of miracles ”

      How can it not? When all the stories of miracles that i’ve heard turn out to be false then how can it not suggest a paucity of miracles?

      “an attenuated theology which cannot situate, or even identify the miraculous”

      are you saying the reason I can’t see miracles because I might be defining miracles wrongly?

      • “I am sceptical of scepticism towards miracles, in particular the assumption that God must in some way violate or create an exception to the natural order in order to perform miracles.”

        I had said before how I needed money and so wrote my mom to send me money and she did and the others said praise God its a miracle! Would you say they were right?

        • It is indeed a question of defining what a miracle is.

          Something that requires “that God must in some way violate or create an exception to the natural order” is the exact definition that the Scriptures use to qualify something as a miracle.

          It is certainly not the only time that the scriptures claim that God is directly involved in the happenings of life, but they are the only things that qualify as miracles when we allow the Bible to define what a miracle is.

          • Robert D. Spencer III says

            I appreciate the clarification; after doing a little digging I concur that it is God’s exceptional supernatural intervention that makes the difference in defining a miracle.

            Thanks!

          • “Something that requires “that God must in some way violate or create an exception to the natural order” is the exact definition that the Scriptures use to qualify something as a miracle.”

            Where?

        • Is it not a miracle that your mother loves you?

      • Tim: “Observation of exaggerated claims by evangelicals suggests not a paucity of miracles ”

        How can it not?

        You Modern materialist pre-suppositions are showing.

        Tim: When all the stories of miracles that i’ve heard turn out to be false then how can it not suggest a paucity of miracles?

        All? You have proven them all false? Every one? Or some are false and you assume the rest are.

        Even if that is so what is the conclusion you can draw? Only that you personally have not encountered a miracle.
        Or all swans white?

  13. It seems there is so much skepticism here. I believe Jesus is the same yesterday as today. I believe the Jesus of the New Testament , specifically the book of Acts, is the same Jesus we serve now. I want to see the church moving in power as it did in the early church.. Why not? Give me a good reason we shouldn’t be walking in the same power???

    • I’m not sure that the early church really moved in power. I rather think that God worked powerfully in and through the church’s weakness.

      Re-read the original post, I don’t understand that iMonk is doubting God’s ability to do miracles, he is doubting that he does as many as some claim, and especially calling into question the role and meaning that are attributed to miracles. The difference may seem subtle, but it is a big diffference.

  14. I’m a bit of a skeptic on miracle stories that become the foundation of an entire ministry. That’s mainly because I feel like people are made to think that because one person was miraculously delivered, they too will be miraculously delivered.

    I believe God performs miracles today. I am close friends with a married couple experiencing a medical miracle right now, and it is the cause of much praise to God. We need to remember that miracles point us toward God, not toward self-exaltation or worshiping the miracle itself. I think that’s what’s gotten lost in a lot of the miracle talk today.

    I think we trust that miracles will bring everyone to faith in Jesus, and that simply isn’t true. The miracles Jesus performs in the Gospels encourage faith in many, but despite seeing them, the Pharisees and scribes refuse to believe. Miracles are not our ace-in-the-hole, and I’m not a fan of publicizing them. I’m sure someone will not appreciate me saying that, but there have been too many miracle stories that just aren’t verifiable and are publicly touted, and those stories wind up pushing people away.

  15. penguinflying says

    Awfully late to the thread, but this is the Scripture that I always think of in this context:

    “An evil and adulterous generation asks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the sea monster, so for three days and three nights the Son of Man will be in the heart of the earth.” (Matthew 12:39, 40)

    “For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, God decided, through the foolishness of our proclamation, to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.” (1 Cor. 1:21-25)