Of Miracles and Creation

Article containing my reflections and various testimonies on the subject of miracles written in September 2018

Gullibility, credulity or faith?

Part of me doubts the miracles I hear about – maybe there was always a simple, natural explanation for what’s been told me was a miracle.  Maybe what I heard or read about was exaggeration, or wishful thinking on the part of devout, but gullible religious people.  Maybe money was involved like on God channels – if someone got paid for performing a miracle, I definitely don’t believe it.

Another part of me definitely does believe in the miracles of the Bible, the miracles I have witnessed, and the ones which have happened to me.  In these, God was so clearly in what happened.  The signs given by God to me are etched in my soul – to deny them would be to deny myself.

I must employ wisdom, I don’t want to be stupid – there are quite a lot of stupid people already, and credulity is not holiness.  But my trust in God says I know God can perform miracles; I know God wants us to be whole, and that He constantly watches over us; I know God can do anything He wishes because He is God.

The purposes of God

We live in a world that runs by natural processes that take their course according to general laws of nature.  Is the world governed by laws of nature, or is it governed by God?

Some say that the way God acts is actually through laws of nature and this alone; others believe that although natural law is the normal way of things, God remains above the created order, and His ‘hands are not tied’ so to speak – as in Michelangelo’s painting in the Sistine Chapel, the finger of God still has power.

All things are ultimately subject to God, in fact, all things exist only because God exists.  God is the eternal Being whose existence depends on no other thing.  The Being of God holds in being all things belonging to the created universe.  They exist in God, and yet they exist freely.

God is Creator, and the ultimate originator of all things.  God brought into being a world governed by the laws of nature.  Laws are written summaries describing how matter functions and how it interacts with other matter.  But God himself is spirit, and spirit can override matter. 

We believe in a God of purpose.  If God were incapable of acting, this would not be so.  You cannot believe in a God of purpose who can’t do anything.

God has given humans the ability to decide on their actions and to desire outcomes.  The human will interacts with God’s will, and this is important in the sphere of miracles.  On occasions, through prayer illness can be reversed and health restored, and death can be forestalled.  Healing and the prolonging of life depend on the purposes of God, but also on human requests through prayer and supplication.

There are some people with healing ministries in the church, though no one actually ‘performs miracles’, except God alone.  It is clear that healing is not automatic, and that God cannot be commanded like a force to do what we desire.

The purposes of God are unknown to us most of the time.  But healing often comes with conversion to Christ and a change of heart, especially in the case of psychological healing.  Healing may accompany witness to Jesus who is the Healer.  Psychological healing is often preceded by forgiveness on the part of the victim of the perpetrator of the problem.

Miracle is about purpose and meaning in a particular, specific instance.  Belief in miracles can coexist with modern science.  Science deals with the general, habitual way of natural things; on the other hand, miracles are specific acts. 

Laws of physics are not suspended by miracles, but something happens in addition to these laws.  The sign stands out pointing to God who can act within the world in a specific way, while all the laws of nature continue to hold in all other aspects round about.

In a sense it is the very recognition of regularity that causes the miracle to be recognized as such, and to show that it points to something greater than itself.

Personal testimony

I went to the Christians in Science (CiS) Southern Conference in October 2016 that was on the subject of miracles.  When I got home I wrote this personal testimony with the intention of sending it in, but then didn’t send it.

Psychological healing

Many years ago I received a psychological healing after a traumatic experience which constantly troubled me.  I was at Taizé in France and it was Easter time.  At the Good Friday liturgy of the cross I saw that some young people were approaching the cross on their knees.  I decided that I had to do this to obtain healing, even though I felt silly walking on my knees in front of so many people – in fact, 10 000 people (thousands were sat outside the church as well as inside it).  I approached the cross in the queue very slowly and finally it was my turn to kiss the cross.  I approached my face to the foot of the cross, and at that moment I felt energy leap from the cross into my forehead.  I was caught in a timeless moment, a touch of eternity which transformed me.  I returned to the spot on the ground where I had been sitting completely healed – freed from the fears that had been holding me. 

This is the power of the cross.  It consists of a real, tangible power, but it is spiritually given.  It is given in accordance with the will of God.  My part in it was to do what I did not wish to do – approach humbly on my knees.  This type of healing is called a healing of memories – it stops you constantly reliving a bad experience.

Sign to encourage

Through my life I have witnessed the signs of God’s presence on several notable occasions.  The first miraculous sign I remember hearing about was told by a preacher at a Christian conference run by the evangelist Harry Greenwood from South Chard.  The conference was at Bognor Regis Butlins camp and I had been taken there aged 17 by my parents.  The preacher said he was worried about what he would say at the conference, and so he was praying in his car as he drove along, on his way there.  At that moment a lorry overtook him with the words ‘Take Courage’ written on it, and he knew it was divine encouragement.  I realized that a God who can use a beer delivery lorry as a messenger must be the Living God.  This was one of the incidents instrumental in my search for God and later commitment.

In the general way of things, the signs of God are unobtrusive.  What I mean by this is that a sign given by God may be recognized by, for example, a person or people seeking a way out of a situation.  At the same time, other people not involved in the problem, even if they also see the sign, will usually not recognize it as such since it has no significance for them.  Thus, a sign relates to a seeking on the part of a person – it is a specific answer to what is being asked for or addressed as with the preacher and the beer delivery lorry.

Provision and guidance

There is an instance of a sign that I will always remember.  I was in Chile living on the edge of the desert where there is a scarcity not only of water, but also of books.  The internet had not been invented at this point.  In my writing project studies I decided that I needed to find out about the climate of the early Earth.  I generally bought books in Cambridge and took them back with me, but it was going to be a long time until my next visit.  There were two sources of information nearby, consisting of scientific journals written in English kept at the American Observatory campus in La Serena and at the University of  Coquimbo library.  The university library was near to where I lived.

The university library had lots of shelves full of journals, but there was no indexing to know which issue might contain which scientific subject.  One of the journals might have an article on the climate of early Earth, but how would I ever find the right journal and the right issue without spending a week in the library?

I decided to pray and believe, and then to walk up to the library, into the library and to a shelf.  I did this and went into an isle lined with journals.  At once I saw that one journal was sticking out from the shelf, inviting me to pick it up.  This journal, the only one I picked up, was a special edition on the climate of early Earth!  I knew that, although this journal may not have been put back properly by someone, it had also been picked to stand out from all the hundreds of other journals.  I don’t vouch for the veracity of what was actually written in the journal, but I said to myself, ‘God is with me – He has answered my prayer.’

Miracles are quiet.  Especially in that they are often signs, they speak volumes to the person or people involved, but mean nothing to other people round about who are not part of the specific situation.

Protection from danger

Another big category of miracles is the miraculous provision of food or money when none was available to a person in need with no means of support.  Also, akin to this is the provision of protection in a dangerous situation – on this note I once met a woman in a charismatic prayer group in Chile who had to walk through a shanty town after dark to get home.  She was afraid and prayed for protection.  At that moment a large dog, quite docile, came up to her and started walking along beside her.  When she reached the other side of the shanty town, the dog left her.  No one had accosted her or tried to mug her due to the presence of the large dog acting like a body guard, and having completed its mission, it left.

Provision of money to buy food

Some years later, I had moved from Coquimbo to Castro.  I had made quite a lot of progress on my writing project; so much so that I had decided that I was a writer, although a secret one.

Before putting my PIN in a cash machine, I always said a prayer.  On one particular day in Castro I tried to get cash out of my account in England, however, the account was empty and the machine spat my card back out.  There was no money.  So I was walking along an empty side street, since there was no point in walking along the main street that had shops in it.  I was wondering what to do.  I had intended to go and buy food for myself and my children.  Now there was no food.  I couldn’t come up with any viable plan, so I asked God to provide for me.  At that moment, I looked up and saw something floating in the breeze, slightly ahead of me – it was a 10 000 peso note (equivalent more or less to a £10 note).  So I picked it up, thanked God and went to the supermarket to choose carefully what to buy.  With this I knew that just as the widow’s jar never ran out, God would not abandon me, and I felt so happy. (See the story of Elijah and the widow in 1 Kings 17:7-16).

The things of God are woven into my personal life; the Father who provides for His children is always there – the thing is to reach out and receive. 

Physical healing

As I was saying, I went to the CiS conference in October 2016 in Oxford.  Peter May gave a talk at this conference entitled Miracles in Medicine.  He published an article by the same name based on the talk in the October 2017 issue of Science & Christian Belief.  I’ve just got round to reading it.  I’m going to make a reply to Peter May’s article in its reflections on physical healing.

Can and does physical healing occur in a miraculous way on occasions through prayer? 

Peter May suggests the exercise of caution when people make claims about miraculous healings from diseases.  I understand completely what he is saying, and agree with most of it.  He spoke of having a serious disease himself that may have been a misdiagnosis.  I also had a disease as a child from which I could have died.

I had osteomyelitis, a bone disease, of the left femur aged two.  On the night that I was operated on, my life hanging in the balance, it not being known whether I would live or die my parents asked the nuns in a convent to pray for me.  In the night they prayed.  I survived the operation and lived.  My mother said it was the prayers of the nuns that night that saved my life.  I remained ill for six years as a child, until my mother took me down to the Anglican parish church in the village for the laying on of hands and unction with holy oil.  She told me I’d no longer be ill, and it was so.  The recurrent abscesses on my leg healed up and stopped recurring.

I do not claim to have had a miracle of healing, but I did thank God for the gift of life.  And, although I was last at every sports event at school, this bothered me little and I had a happy childhood while having a prolonged illness.

Peter May spoke of Vatican verifications of healing from diseases in people who addressed prayers to a particular holy person.  If the claimed miracle meets the criteria of being a miracle – it must be sudden, complete and not relapse – then it can be used as a sign in the canonization of the holy person as a saint.  Peter May draws attention to doubtful initial diagnoses of some diseases, and diseases that go into spontaneous remission.

As a practicing Roman Catholic I have heard often of stories of miracles connected both to holy people and holy objects; much of Catholic faith functions in this way.  Belief in the communion of saints in this case very literally means that the intercession of saintly people can obtain favours from God.  The intercession of saints is asked for after they have died, to obtain things on earth, but also to show proof that the saint now resides in heaven, and didn’t go to the other place.

Peter May was mainly cautioning against naivety in what we believe – belief in something that proves not to be true could actually jeopardize our faith.  An over-firm belief in something that later proves to be false, can cause the foundations of faith to crumble.  I agree with him – it is wise to weigh things up.  It can be better to stand back from a situation and reserve judgment. 

But then again should total rationality be allowed to quench the fervour of faith when this faith is legitimate?  The blanking out of all things not covered or explained by a general law of nature can become an impoverishment of spirit.

New Testament miracles

Christianity is based on an extraordinary list of claims relating to the life and death of Jesus Christ.  We believe that He was incarnated of the Holy Spirit and had no earthly father; after being put to death, He rose to new life and angels rolled the stone away that sealed His tomb; He appeared to His disciples and many other people after the Resurrection and even ate fish; then He ascended into heaven with His disciples watching.

The Incarnation, Resurrection and Ascension of Jesus Christ are recited in the Nicene Creed at mass and in communion services every Sunday.

We believe that Jesus Christ was fully human, but He did some very unusual things such as walking on water; being transfigured in light on a mountaintop; and telling the wind and waves to calm down which brought a storm to an end (Matt 8:23-27).  Who was this person who even the elements obeyed?

Water and blood flowed from the pierced side of His dead body (John 19:34-37) – something that does not happen normally.  The gospels tell that at the moment of His death darkness fell over the land for three hours, there was an earth quake and the curtain of the temple was split from top to bottom.

In the book of Acts we learn that after rising from the dead, Jesus told his disciples to wait in Jerusalem to receive the power of the Holy Spirit.  At Pentecost this came down on them unexpectedly, some said they’d had too much wine, but the disciples were proclaiming the things of God in languages they hitherto did not speak.  There were many foreign people in Jerusalem, converts to Judaism, there for the Pentecost festival.  Peter stood up and addressed the crowd that had gathered saying, “Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him ….” (Acts 2:22)  After his discourse 3000 Jews converted to following Jesus on that day.

The miracles of Jesus continued after His death, resurrection and ascension among the members of the early church.  It is recounted in Acts that Peter and John proclaimed the message of Jesus Christ fearlessly, and healed people in the name of Jesus.  In Jerusalem people brought the sick out on mats so that Peter’s shadow might fall on some of them as he passed by (Acts 5:15).  The disciples healed the sick in the name of Jesus in the same way that Jesus had healed people.

The gospels tell of an extraordinary person, unique in history.  The miracles were signs that show who Jesus was and is – that Jesus of Nazareth was the Christ, the long-awaited Messiah, the Son of God.  Other things happened in Jesus’ life, which while not being deemed miraculous, were none-the-less accomplishments of prophecies written down by prophets in the Old Testament thus indicating His identity.

Some time ago there was an attempt by some trendy, but misguided theologians to edit out all the miracles from the New Testament, and present an entirely credible creed for the modern scientifically literate Christian.  The result was no gospel and no true message that could be distinguished from the message of any other quite good person.

In Acts 3:15 Peter didn’t mince his words, but told the “men of Israel” that they had “killed the author of life, but God raised him from the dead.” 

Jesus did not only restore health to diseased bodies and give spiritual life to His followers; He is believed to be the author of life.  This is now deep theology, but we say in the Creed that “we believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all that is seen and unseen.” And in one Lord, Jesus Christ, ……  “Through him all things were made.”  This brings us to the subject of creation, and beliefs whether miraculous or not regarding creation.

Word of knowledge

It was in 1992 that I had a burning question, and I would not rest until this question had been answered.  What was the part played by creation and what was the part played by evolution in the coming into being of life?

And so I prepared my mind, emptied my thoughts and humbly approached the Lord with attitude of supplication saying: “Although I am the last of your servants, the least indicated and the most problematic of your servants, I want to ask you to tell me how you created life?”  “No other person was there, so there is no one else for me to ask; only you know what happened.”

Then I waited while getting on with my life.  I did not know when God would reply or if He would reply.  I kept on waiting.  Soon after, I was sitting on a bus, turning the question over in my mind, still desiring an answer above anything else, when an inner voice, one that I knew, spoke to me.  The reply was a single word, “Genetics.”  This was the key to understanding.

I then went through all my ‘A level’ and 1st year in university biology in my mind and found some indications stored in there.  Shortly after, I set off to find journals with articles on genetics.  At that time there were lots of articles on genetics in popular science magazines since the Human Genome Project had been launched two years previously in 1990.

This word of knowledge from God, the Person who was there at creation and the only Person who really knew how He did it, was a gift and one that took deep root within me.  It set me on a path that I still follow today.  I have been writing every day except Sundays for 26 years now.  Over the years it became apparent that I had found the well that never runs dry – inspiration welling up day by day; as a writer I have been truly blessed.

This small seed of knowledge has grown into a tree ready to bear fruit.  One small idea, a single word has developed into The Theory of Nanocreation and Entropic Evolution.  I am now bringing this theory to the public for discussion and debate.

The theory is supported by the facts about genomes discovered by the Human Genome Project which reported on conclusions in 2003, and still continues today.  The revelations of how the genetic system actually works – the facts of modern science – point to a God who is the Creator of life.

Creation of life

As far as Christian beliefs concerning the creation of life are concerned, there are currently three possibilities:

  • Belief in Fine-Tuning – the idea that God set up the laws of physics such that the universe would bring forth life.  Once life had appeared, it evolved into many types through God’s guidance of the processes of evolution or through natural constraint and convergence.  Either way, the end point of evolution was human beings.  Advantageous mutations and the working of Natural Selection are deemed to build up complexity in the successive forms of life.
  • Belief that life was created in six days or six periods of time spanning 6000 years.  Creation in this instance includes the Garden of Eden and the first humans Adam and Eve created as adults.  These ideas are based on a literal reading of the book of Genesis.  Six Day Creationism only accepts evolution at the level of subspecies and varieties, many of which have been produced by the human cultivation of plants and the selective breeding of domesticated animals.
  • Nanocreation is the belief that the genetic code made of DNA is the fundamental unit of creation.  It was created directly at nanoscale bringing life into existence with the addition of genes increasing its complexity.  Original complexity in basic forms of life has allowed for the many paths taken by evolution to produce a great diversity of species.  This has occurred through mutations and Natural Selection bringing about adaptation.  Despite the usefulness of these adaptations, evolution is essentially based on genetic switching off by mutation, loss of expression of certain genes, and thus a running down referred to as Entropic Evolution.

Six day creation involves the miraculous creation of adult animals and plants in enough numbers to fill the whole earth.  Nanocreation involves the miraculous creation of microscopic DNA in the egg cell of a limited number of organisms which then multiply to colonize the earth.

The Fine-Tuning option replaces creation by God with evolution by natural processes.  Some claim a God-given direction to evolution.  By and large this is the non-miracle option.

With Nanocreation an act of creation, if it occurred, would be a quiet, hidden miracle in the initial cell of a new being.  The new genes would be carried by a limited number of individuals only in one defined part of the globe.  This would give rise to a primitive new type with a higher level of complexity than the previous type, but still retaining the previous primitive features.  Evolution could subsequently take this basic type or kind in a number of different directions.

In creating life would God override the laws of nature, suspend the laws of nature, or just ignore them for a short while?  None of these – I think the specific act could occur within the framework of general natural laws continuing to hold.  The new creature created becomes immediately subject to natural laws of biology and of evolution.  The specific miraculous act can initiate what later becomes part of a general, natural web of life.

I think it is right to hold both the general laws of science and the unique actions of God in a balance in the mind.  It is possible to approach truth from both angles without one overruling and denying the other.

Energy?

Acts of creation and acts of healing would occur through the same power and in a similar way.  Both involve the reordering of cells and their DNA codes.  Does this involve some sort of energy? Could it be the energy I felt spring from the cross at Taizé on Good Friday many years ago?

I think there may be a type of tangible energy at God’s disposition that we don’t know much about.  Miracles depend on the will of God; they do not occur through a force, but this does not rule out an actual means of operation. We sometimes feel the Holy Spirit in us as a source of energy.

The Christian view of the creation of life – seen in all its complexity, intricacy and variety – is that it is God’s gift to us and expression of Himself. 

Miracles and temptation

Miracles impress crowds, but there are very good reasons for miracles not to be performed. 

Jesus healed people because He cared about their needs.  It was an act of mercy when He healed a leper (Mark 1:40-45), but He wanted it to be kept quiet.  When the leper made it known that Jesus had healed him, the association between Jesus and outcast lepers meant that Jesus could no longer preach within towns.  From then on, Jesus had to remain outside settlements and the people went out to Him.  This, however, was a complication to His mission.

At the beginning of Jesus’ mission, He spent 40 days in the desert without food.  This made Him very hungry and the devil came to tempt Him at this point of physical weakness.  Jesus could turn stones into bread, but He did not do it.  He did not use His power to provide for His own needs.

We are told that the devil also took Jesus to the top of the temple and suggested that He throw Himself off since angels would catch Him (Matt 4 and Luke 4).  The temple was a crowded place.  If Jesus had jumped off the roof to be caught by angels, many people would have seen it and been in awe of Him; stunts like this in front of crowds of people would prove that He was the Messiah.  He would gain popularity and star-status.  Jesus did not do it, and He did not allow people to call Him Messiah.

Jesus could have opted for political power and gained all the kingdoms of the earth if He had set His mind to it.  It would have been possible for Jesus to gain all this and then return to heaven miraculously without dying.  He could simply have ascended, by-passing the cross.  That would have been nice, and quite glorious.  Instead He submitted to a non-miraculous, painful and inglorious death on the cross.  Through humbling Himself He opened the way to heaven for us. 

A demand for a miracle or for a sign is a Christian temptation.  It can lay us open to the public display of miracle-working by charlatans.  We witness people wheeled onto stages in wheelchairs who then leap up and walk off stage – but they are then found to have done it more than once.  Fake healings and false signs destroy faith, and lead to cynicism.

It is a pitfall for Christians to ask for signs.  The Lord only gives help in genuine cases of need.  These become signs, but they were not asked for as signs.  What is important is dependence on God Himself, and not on the reception of His gifts. 

God side-steps proofs

The miracles performed by Jesus were done in public, witnessed by His twelve disciples, and by crowds of other people.

The miraculous events I’ve experienced were witnessed only by me, and the ones I know about from the lives of other Christians, I take on the basis of their account of what happened.  A private miracle is different from a public miracle in that there is no real corroboration with a private miracle, and other people are free not to take it on board.  The only type of corroboration possible is the spiritual fruit produced as a consequence of the event described.

Miracles performed by saints, like the miracles performed by the disciples, were witnessed by a wider public.  In the case of St Francis of Assisi stories of miraculous happenings in his life were told and recorded by his followers.  St Francis had the desire to imitate Christ.

The examples I gave in my testimony section were signs:

Many lorries overtake traffic all the time, although you wish they’d stay in their lane and not do this.  But the man asking God for help with his public address was overtaken by a lorry carrying beer branded ‘Courage’.  He could have been overtaken by a lorry carrying ‘Ay up’, a beer sold in the Midlands by Dancing Duck, but the message ‘Ay up, me duck’ would not have had the same effect on faith.

A journal standing out from a shelf in a library is carelessness in putting back journals for everyone except the person who wants to read up on a particular subject in a particular issue of a journal – and who finds that this issue, standing out so that it will be seen, is the actual issue required – and this at the moment of walking into the library with a fixed intention.

A dog walking through a shanty town is not unusual – all the dogs there are left loose to roam where they want.  When the dog is large, you just give it a wide berth and avoid looking at it.  There is only one difference – this particular dog gave protection to the woman and acted as a body guard.

When I asked the Lord to provide for me, and saw the £10 note float down from on high, blowing in the wind – ok, someone could have dropped it, but there were no other people in the street, there was no one to give it back to.  But more recently I found £10 on someone’s doorstep, so I knocked on the door and asked the person who opened the door if they had lost some money.  They searched their pockets, said yes; it must have dropped out when they got their keys out to open the door.  I handed the money back to them to their joy.

Signs from God are real, but they are only seen by the person who addressed God in prayer about a particular problem they needed to resolve.  All other onlookers see no sign at all.

I have felt the presence of the Lord in my life, and I have witnessed the presence of God among many people in Christian conferences over the years.  But God appears to side-step investigation, not cooperate with demands for a sign and not make any proofs easy.  God appears to give signs that mean something to a designated person alone, and to no one else. 

In the case of healing, few healings are miraculous.  Usually you know that before you were ill, and now you are better.  The recovery took place slowly and quietly, in a hidden way.

Today miracles of provision are experienced more by the poor than by the rich; and more by those in danger, than by those who live in security.  The poor and vulnerable often have literally no one to turn to except God, and He provides for them.

A big category of miracles is in the timing of events.  Again these miracles are very subtle, based on circumstance and expectation.

An Evangelical friend of mine in Chile lost her husband suddenly in a mining accident and was left with five children to care for alone, and the cupboard was bare.  There was a knock at the door.  It was someone begging of food.  My friend gave away the last crust of bread, and then they had nothing to eat.  She prayed.  There was another knock at the door.  It was a woman from their church with a hamper of food that she had felt inspired that she had to pack up and take round straight away.  It was the timing of these events that was miraculous.  One woman’s generosity was the answer to the other’s prayer.  After this my friend managed to fix up her widow’s pension and she found work to support her family working extremely hard.

Conclusion

Miracles are rare – they are neither habitual nor reproducible.  They are specific happenings in a world that functions through general natural laws.  Miracles depend on the will of God, and they are linked to invocation of the name of Jesus.

There were no greater signs and wonders than in the life of Jesus Christ.  These signs testified to His identity as the Son of God and the significance of His mission as the Saviour.

Sometimes miracles provide for needs, but their greater service is as signs of God’s presence.  The sign is powerful for the recipient of the sign, but often totally meaningless to everyone else round about.

Life we see all around us in all its complexity, diversity and intricacy – is a great wonder; is it a sign?  One view is that the natural world proclaims the acts of God the Creator; another view removes God from this equation to a more distant metaphysical place.

Spiritual life is another aspect of life.  We believe that this continues after death.  Eternal life will be the greatest miracle of all. Jesus’ resurrection from the dead is the reason why we say He lives and the demonstration that His promises hold true.

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