Myrna M Pugh. Miracles: God, Science, and Psychology in the Paranormal. Editor: J Harold Ellens. Volume 2: Medical and Therapeutic Events. Westport, CT: Praeger, 2008.
Miracles defy the odds, the imagination, and the laws of nature. Medical and therapeutic miracles have been documented since the earliest history of humankind. The biblical records are replete with miraculous events in both the Old Testament (OT) and New Testament (NT). Furthermore, they are still happening today, even within the context of modern medicine. Miracles have not disappeared.
Miracles are extraordinary occurrences that surpass all known human powers or natural forces and are ascribed to a divine or supernatural cause. According to John T. Driscoll, as written in his article for The Catholic Encyclopedia,miracles are said to be (1911, para. 12) “supernatural, that is, above or apart from, the order usually observed in nature.” C. S. Lewis, in his book Miracles, described miracles as (1947, 5) “an interference with nature by supernatural power.” Miracles are a language of powerful literal and symbolic communication that one understands but that cause one to feel a sense of wonder. Just as the cosmos speaks its own language, so do miracles. Psalm 19:1-4 speaks to us concerning the voice of the heavens: “The heavens declare the glory of God, the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech, night after night they display knowledge. There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard. Their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world” (NIV). Miracles and nature alike speak to the character and the nature of God. Sometimes they shout in a loud voice; at other times they murmur softly. At all times and in each circumstance, they speak to us, calling us to listen to something that God has to say. Miracles are vivid word pictures of God’s intentions, love, and interaction in our lives. They also speak the doctrine of Christ. Miracles testify to the truth of Christ’s ministry. They are all about life and redemption, as the ministry of Christ was all about life and redemption. For example, the miracles of Christ raising three dead people are graphic representations of Christ’s raising of millions of those dead in sin, of new life in Christ. Miracles are also prophetic; that is, they speak about events of the future.
Miracles are somewhat like a state of genesis. Whenever we experience a medical miracle, we are, to some extent, experiencing genesis, that original state where everything is new and fresh. This is not ex nihilo creation, that is, something created out of nothing, but it is creative in the sense that something is revealed that was previously unknown to us. That something is the phenomenon of miracles. The miracle itself is the noumenon, or the actual event or experience. This may or may not be recognized by observers. The effect of the event or experience is what others may see, hear, feel, or in some other way understand or experience. This is the phenomenon of the miracle. Jesus spoke of this when he was instructing Nicodemus of the spiritual things. He used the analogy of the wind and its effects. He said, “The wind blows wherever it pleases, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going” (Jn 3:8, NIV). In other words, you can tell where the wind is blowing because you can see the trees bending, but you cannot see the wind itself. This is true with miracles as well: we can see the results, but we do not usually see the actual miracle itself.
When miracles do occur, there is fresh creative power at work, bringing us back to our roots of origin, renewing and refreshing our souls. Miracles take us back to a time when we knew more and were closer to that other world of the spirit, which surrounds us, but of which we are only vaguely aware. We do sense that there is something more to our existence than this life only, if we could just break through the curtain, the veil that obscures our view. We dimly understand that there is an otherworld, but it is difficult to access. Access is possible only through the spirit.
We experience the otherworld through a shimmer, an undulation of energy, matter, time, and space. This otherworld is a living, active, and interactive thing, intruding at times into our side of reality. This otherworld tantalizes us with its promises and occasional glimpses of what awaits us on the other side. Miracles are a part of that otherworld. It is as though there is a slight rupture or a parting of the curtain that serves as a boundary into this spiritual realm. They are temporary protrusions of eternity poking through to our side. Miracles are God’s way of telling us, “I see you, I care about you, I am with you.” Miracles are divine attention, usually happening at a time when we are in a desperate situation or extremely ill. It is at those times when we are most vulnerable to the actions of that otherworld that we experience what we call miracles.
While medicine operates at the cellular, chemical, physiological, and neurological levels, miracles appear to bypass these processes with ease. It is as though built-in rules coded into the pattern of creation are held in abeyance, or perhaps nature comes with an override on them. A medical miracle, then, is an event that, on the natural face of it, ought not to have occurred. The biological and natural schematics that govern our behavior, development, operation, and sustaining actions are modified or set aside, either temporarily or permanently, in an action that runs counter to both expectation and training. Medical miracles stop us in our tracks, they bring us up short, and they cause us to reconsider what we know and think.
Medical miracles then, are specific events that take place in the lives of individuals and that fall outside the realm of the normal; that is, they do not conform to regular patterns of behavior, or understanding, of natural law. The teaching of the Catholic Church regarding the purpose of miracles is that they are the “manifestations of God’s glory and the good of men” and that they “confirm the truth of a mission, a doctrine of faith and morals, to attest the sanctity of God’s servants, to confer benefits and vindicate Divine justice” (Driscoll, 1911, para. 19). Miracles are designed and intended specifically to bring glory to God.
Miracles can occur in any area of medicine and have been documented as occurring in numerous medical venues. Medical miracles have been experienced in ophthalmology, dermatology, internal medicine, trauma, and obstetrics, to name just a few, and we see miracles of transplantation and resurrection.
In what context do miracles occur? Miracles do not happen in a vacuum. There seem to be some prerequisites for a miracle to occur. First, there needs to be a situation where helplessness and hopelessness prevail. The recipient faces an obviously overwhelming situation and is incapable of getting through it unaided. In other words, there is a real need for some sort of intervention from outside the normal range. Miracles are sometimes accompanied by the presence of angels; other times, they are not. At this time, the recipient is open to previously undiscovered resources both inside and outside himself or herself. The recipient may become aware of some kind of spiritual activity on his or her behalf. This is an opportunity for God to intervene in the recipient’s life. Miracles are gifts from God and must be received, and not demanded. However, they can be, and often are, solicited by prayer. Often, miracles happen after a clear cry for help directed to God.
There is a certain aura of mystery surrounding miracles. They seem to fall under the larger umbrella of spiritual and intellectual mysteries that reach far back into the ancient past. Now, we all love a good mystery. A mystery is something to solve, to understand, to unravel, to get to the bottom of; it has intrigue. We sometimes approach miracles in much the same way. We desire to know the details, the who, what, how, where, when, and most of all, the why of miracles. We are curious about them, but at the same time, we also tend to want to demystify them, to defrock them, or to explain them away. Some people seem to have a primeval fear of miracles at some deep, unconscious level, perhaps because we do not understand them and because they are outside of our control.
Miracles call us back to another time and place, where we have no collective recollection of such things as the creation of the universe, the Garden of Eden, man’s original sin, or events that happened millennia ago. These feel like only dark shadows to us. These enduring mystical concepts drive our deep attraction for, and our accompanying underlying fear of, miracles.
Miracles are far outside the boundaries of our power and control and thus may feel dangerous and somehow suspect. They remind us of our limitations and boundaries. They push us over the abyss of known reality into the depths of faith and mysticism. These are places where we feel intellectually, spiritually, and emotionally uncomfortable. With the rise of modern medicine and its rapidly advancing technology and emphasis on research, testing, pharmacology, and predetermined results, we have become insensitive to the supernatural and have lost our sense of wonder and awe in the presence of what might be genuine miracles. Miracles have a long history of subjection to examination, dissection, review, reductionism, and even outright denial and ridicule.
The rise of humanism brought about a movement to discredit miracles and the supernatural. Philosophers such as Spinoza, Hume, and Kant have postulated that miracles cannot and do not happen (Geisler 2002). They cite theories of evolution and logic, and they use unsupported evidence from the distant past to shore up their claims. However, their arguments are long on speculation and short on convincing evidence that miracles do not happen. Most of their arguments center on the premise that miracles are nonrepeatable events and therefore cannot be either duplicated or authenticated. The philosophical framework that undergirds their ideas is called uniformitarian-ism, that is, the idea that natural processes in the present were also in operation in the distant past and that nothing has changed in the meantime.
This premise is central to the whole concept that science acknowledges only what is repeatable and verifiable. This is a weak argument at best. Many events in the distant past are not repeatable, nor are they verifiable, such as the creation of the universe or the origin of humans on earth—not to mention the ancient catastrophic events on this planet, which, according to Whitcomb and Morris (1961), would account for phenomenal changes in the appearance of the earth and the manner in which it responds to those changes. This would include changes in the way in which geochronology information, including radioactive disintegration, is recorded and understood.
According to the argument of the naturalist, the universe is the result of a gigantic explosion, which set all things into motion. Science has pretty much demonstrated the grounds for this big bang theory, yet we are still struggling to verify the founding principles of the theory and its consequences. The problem arises from the origin of the gas, dust, and unique particles needed to form the universe. No one can say with certainty where this primordial material came from. This event is unlikely to be repeated, and we certainly have not experienced anything like it since. Nonetheless, many deny the possibility of miracles because, by their very nature, they are elusive and difficult to verify, except to those who have experienced them.
Because of our modern critical methods, we are more skeptical of miracles and less inclined to accept them as real than did earlier generations. While we struggle with the question of whether miracles are real, sturdy work continues to be done on understanding the dynamics at work in the miracles of Jesus. What made it possible for Jesus to perform his miracles? Brock Gill and Andrew Kale, both of whom are magicians and illusionists, tried to duplicate Christ’s walking on water, feeding of the 5,000, and raising of the dead. They did a fair amount of research as to how the miracles could have been done. They visited the sites where all three miracles took place. They went to the village of Nain, located close by the Golan Heights, somewhat south and west of Nazareth, where Jesus raised the dead son of a widow. They also went to the site, not far from the Sea of Galilee, where Jesus fed more than 5,000 people. In addition, they visited the area where, it is believed, Jesus walked on water.
Some scholars, such as Larry Hurtado, thought Jesus might have performed the miracles through the medium of mass hysteria. However, according to Archie Horst, another biblical scholar, only 10 percent of any group of people are susceptible to this phenomenon, and he felt that it would not be possible because there were too many distractions such as children at play and demanding care from parents and friends. The conditions would not have been right for mass hysteria (BBC Worldwide Americas 2006).
They were unable to explain the miracle of Jesus raising the dead man and Christ’s walking on water. Perhaps the man was only in a deathlike coma? There are, in the region, substances (scopalamine and atropine) extracted from the mandrake plant that can put a person into a coma. These agents are used today in surgery to anesthetize patients. There were no antidotes for the poison at that time (Mandrake Officinaris 2005). This excluded any possible explanation for this miracle. Simon Gaither says there are no rational explanations for the miracles of Jesus. He states that they cannot be duplicated. He believes they are not hysterical, nor were they an illusion, a fake, or magic. He says they are ministries of divine purpose (BBC Worldwide Americas 2006).
Medicine, especially conventional Western medicine, is, by its very nature, limited in scope and depth and by the specifically and narrowly focused science that drives it. Medical miracles operate outside the limits, understanding, and capabilities or scope of either the ancient or modern medical models governing conventional medical procedures, controls, and outcomes. Miracles demonstrate their presence in the realm of the seeable, doable, and knowable, coming apparently from another realm—that of experience and faith—that is difficult to describe and document.
Some of the opposition to miracles may stem from the philosophical differences that saturated Old World values of what constituted a life worth living. In the ancient world, the perception of life was somewhat unlike the quality-of-life values we practice today. To illustrate, in his Republic, Plato remarked, regarding setting up the ideal state, that “you will establish in your state physicians and judges such as we have discussed. They will look after the citizens whose bodies and souls are constitutionally sound. The physically unsound they will leave to die: and they will actually put to death those who are incurable or corrupt in mind” (Book IV, lines 1-5).
While this fatalistic view of life was widespread, another, more recent camp has emerged that embraces not only the possibilities of miracles, but that claims to have seen, and continues to see, miracles occur routinely. This is the charismatic movement, which has exploded in both Protestant and Roman Catholic churches within the last 100 years. In fact, this charismatic movement has caused the breakdown of some barriers between the two movements. In the last quarter of the twentieth century, there was more communication between the Catholics and Protestants than ever before. This reflected positive changes in philosophical paradigms within these major religious groups (Prather 1996).
In the Bible, supernatural events are reported throughout. Both OT and NT describe in vivid detail the miraculous events that took place over millennia. Prophets, such as Elijah, performed miracles like the raising of the dead (1 Kings 17:17-24). Miracles were almost everyday occurrences in the lives of some of these holy men. Elijah’s successor, Elisha, performed similar miracles over his lifetime such as the raising of the dead (2 Kings 4:32-35) as well as healing Naaman, the military general of Aram, of leprosy (2 Kings 5:14).
This chain of miracle-working prophets worked down through time, until the appearance of Christ, who was, some believe, the greatest miracle worker of all time. Miracles of healing, such as curing blindness (Mt 21:29), curing leprosy (Mt 8:1), resurrection (Mt 9:18-26), and the casting out of demons (Mt 15:21-28, 17:14-21), were commonplace for Jesus. It is said that multitudes sought him out and were healed of diseases of all kinds (Mk 1:29-34). It is interesting that even those who considered themselves enemies of Jesus did not deny that he worked miracles. In fact, one of the charges brought against him by the Jewish religious leaders to the Roman courts was that he performed miracles every time he was in public. These charges contributed to his death by crucifixion. It was a stunning medical miracle when Jesus resurrected from the dead three days later. His miraculous resurrection resulted in the frustration of the Jewish and Roman authorities alike. Once God had empowered the remaining core of believers at Pentecost, not only did his disciples go on to do many of the same miracles that Jesus did, but those who call themselves believers are authorized to do the same today (Lk 9:2).
If we understand and acknowledge that the same supernatural precepts are still in operation today, we would not only accept miracles as a natural part of our lives, but we would expect them to happen. In the case of miracles, natural laws are set aside, while new supernatural laws are inserted in their place. This does not mean that old laws have been set aside for all, but only on a case-by-case basis. People survive trauma when they ought not. Live tissue grows where there are only dead cells. Nerves regenerate in an environment that is unresponsive or nonexistent. Infections that persist in the presence of antibiotics are unexpectedly reversed. Sometimes body parts are regenerated out of bone and skin (Wilson 2002), and people are still being raised from the dead (Tari 1971). Evangelist Smith Wigglesworth (1999) was well known for the miracles he performed all over the world. He performed the same kinds of miracles one reads about in the scriptures. Healings, deliverances, resurrections, transplantation, and other miraculous events were common in his ministry for many years. He is acknowledged as one of the pioneers of the modern-day Pentecostal movement, and his ministry is well documented. In London, Wigglesworth prayed for a 26-year-old man who had never walked. After the prayer, the man leaped to his feet and ran around the room. He was completely healed (Wilson 2002). Wigglesworth did not believe in partial healings. One was either totally healed, or he was not healed at all.
Wigglesworth viewed sickness as the result of evil spirits torturing people. He was uneducated and virtually illiterate. His wife, Polly, taught him to read in his mid-twenties, and he never read anything but the Bible. He was a man of unusual faith, whose message consisted of only three topics: salvation, faith, and healing.
Many people have performed remarkable healings and miracles over the past 100 years. This list includes not only Wigglesworth, but also Aimee Simple McPherson, Kathryn Kuhlman, and others. The list grows exponentially when one considers the miracles that have taken place at Lourdes, France, Medjugorje in old Czechoslovakia, and other sites such as Guadalupe, Mexico, where miracles have occurred in the past and, some say, are still occurring today.
A huge proponent of miracles and healing was Oral Roberts, who established a notable medical school in Tulsa, Oklahoma—the site, as well, of the alternative healing Cancer Center of America (see Cancer Treatment Centers of America 2007; ED Ref College Search Directory 2007). It uses state-of-the-art medical techniques, combined with natural and complementary medicine, along with the practice of faith and miracles.
Out of almost nothing but miracles, Mark Buntain built a hospital with a nursing program in the poorest part of Calcutta, which is now a large medical facility with advanced technology and modern medical services for the entire city. It is a medical haven for rich and poor alike. Here they also feed and educate the thousands of poor children of Calcutta daily. Miracles take place on a daily basis in this place. The ministry could not survive apart from miracles. Mark was the most humble man I had ever met. He was in constant communication with God, weeping over those in distress and praying for healing and deliverance. I observed a number of medical healings take place in Denver, Colorado, at Calvary Temple, when he came from Calcutta to attend a conference there.
I had the pleasure of meeting one of the recipients of Mark’s ministry a few years ago. I attended a writing seminar in Phoenix and sat beside the speaker and his wife at lunch. We were discussing his childhood, and, as he was telling the story of how his pastor prayed for and received the land for the church, hospital, and schools, I asked, “We are discussing Mark Buntain, are we not?” His jaw dropped, and I explained to him that I had supported the ministry of Mark Buntain for many years. I remarked that it was very uplifting for me personally to meet someone whom he had directly helped.
I have had the unique pleasure of meeting Demos Sharkarian, a man of unusual humility and founder of the Full Gospel Business Men’s Fellowship International. He crossed the country, holding meetings to which many people came for healing. I have seen a number of people healed of various kinds of disabilities and sickness at these meetings.
During the 1970s, a revival swept across Indonesia. It began in Timor, a small island in the chain of islands that make up the country. Mel Tari (1971) recounts how that revival changed his land. The people of Timor were simple, mostly uneducated people. However, they had a unique quality: they believed the Bible quite literally. They went about performing miracle after miracle, turning Communion water into wine. In the Amfoang district, a local team of evangelists attended the funeral of a man who had been dead for two days. Over 1,000 people came to his funeral. The team gathered around him and prayed for his recovery. The dead man sat up and began to tell the people at his funeral all about heaven and hell. The entire village became believers.
One of the most recent and most well documented miracles is that of Duane Miller, who suffered a total loss of his voice due to a virus. Duane was the pastor of First Baptist Church in Brenham, Texas. He was also a soloist, having sung for many years. His doctors recorded his journey from the beginning to the end. There are pictures, chart notes, X rays, and other records. His voice box was completely rigid due to extensive scarring. For three years, he could not speak. Then, at last, he was able to use a microphone to increase his whisper of a voice. One Sunday, he was teaching as a substitute in a Sunday school class. The class was recorded. One moment, he was struggling to make himself heard and understood, and the next, he was speaking in a normal voice. There has never been an explanation for his spontaneous recovery (Anderson 1998).
Science and religion intersect at many points in our quest to understand medical miracles. They are not completely opposing forces or concepts, even though many people seem to choose sides, staking their claims in one or the other of these equally powerful paradigms. Science has its roots embedded deep within religion. Religion is the mother of all the sciences. In the past, most physicians were also clerics or philosophers by nature and training. It has been only within the last 200 years or so that science and religion have diverged. Happily, both sides are showing hopeful signs that they are in the beginning stages of coming back together once again. Science is now beginning to embrace some previously discarded portions of itself such as the integration of faith and prayer into medicine. Those who are ill are going to reap the benefits of this new marriage, and many already have done so.
In ancient times, every culture was shaped largely on the basis of oral tradition, and miracles were part of the warp and woof of those cultures. Children learned about them in infancy. They became an accepted part of a people’s history. Each culture had its miracle workers, and some of them, like the magicians Pharaoh employed, were able to duplicate most of the minor miracles that Moses performed (Ex 7:10-11). Magic and sorcery were important components of life then. It was not until the time of the NT that there developed a clear distinction between sorcery or magic and the miracles of the early church. In fact, some people thought that Jesus performed miracles through magic or sorcery (Mt 9:34). It became a very real step of faith for them to believe and acknowledge that those miracles were from God alone.
Science, as we know it, is dedicated to knowing all about natural laws. Scientific thought seeks to align itself with what it can observe, duplicate, and document. Natural laws, then, become the primary driving force for the practice of medicine in its various forms. Medical advancement is constructed on the foundation of natural laws. This does not mean that medicine is static, for it is not. It is in a continual state of flux. New information is constantly emerging from, and entering into, research and development of science. It is not a closed system. Change is both expected and accepted. What we knew 30 years ago about a procedure, drugs, or how the body operates is old news now. The practice of medicine is rapidly evolving, not only from year to year, but also from hour to hour. My husband went to medical school in the late 1960s and early 1970s. He practiced medicine under harsh conditions and used equipment and techniques that are obsolete and outdated today. In every generation, medical education, scientific advances, technology, and pharmacology outpace the practitioner quickly.
Forty years ago, diabetes was a death sentence. Today, diabetics can live normal lives. Hemodialysis was a primitive and complicated chore, requiring one to follow exact directions to build a single-use artificial kidney, which then required the greater part of an entire day to process blood and remove toxins. Today, dialysis takes place in the home, or even on vacation, using a fraction of the time and space of old, outdated equipment and procedures. Better yet, if one can locate a matching organ, a kidney or liver transplant is almost commonplace today, as are heart-lung, or even multiple-organ, transplants. Almost any body part can be transplanted using technology and techniques that were unheard of a few years ago.
Truly advanced medical marvels are available to treat many diseases and conditions that would have meant certain death even a decade ago. Costs, of course, sometimes prevent the treatment or research to reach the neediest patients. I recall a case where a young man with whom I was acquainted had an astrocytoma brain tumor. In Denver, a pilot program employed an advanced new tool, called a gamma ray gun, to treat these very difficult tumors with some success. His insurance company refused to approve this new procedure, and the young man died. Today, this procedure is done routinely and paid for by insurance companies.
The role of religion in the healing arts has been redefined by the rapid advancement of modern science. This has led to a sense that miracles are obsolete. Who needs a miracle, when we can take a drug or have surgery to correct a defect or problem? There is some logic for that line of reasoning. Could it be that God has allowed modern medicine to replace the need for miracles? Surely it is a gift of God in answer to the prayers of God’s people in all the anguished, endless ages of human suffering, calling out to God for deliverance. It makes a difference what one means by miracle.
The rapid advancements in pharmacology, surgical techniques, genetics, and the understanding of how organisms operate have changed the way we approach the practice of medicine. New fields of medicine are being developed every day. Oakley Ray (2004) of Vanderbilt University is an expert on how the brain influences health and behavior. He claims that knowing how the brain influences people’s health and susceptibility to illness can bring important changes to the health care system. Understanding how the mind, the endocrine system, the nervous system, and the immune system interact is crucial in helping people conquer the stress and illness in their lives.
To this end, and addressed by Gaztambide in volume 2, chapter 7 of this book, neuropsychology has married immunology and has given birth to a child called neuropsychoimmunology (Ray 2004). This field, although fairly young, brings various disciplines together that are geared toward understanding the mind-body connection that results in a strengthened immune system. It employs techniques that were formerly part of the field of psychology and moves them into a new arena of medicine. Techniques such as biofeedback, massage therapy, hypnosis, and self-hypnosis as well as guided imagery have gained new acceptance in mainline medicine.
In addition, other, more hands-on areas, which in the past were treated more like stepchildren, are now embraced by modern medicine. Some of these newly accepted schools of thought are chiropractic, alternative medical treatments such as vitamin therapy, essential oil therapy for relaxation and mood enhancement, the use of oxygen therapy for intractable wound healings, energy such as that championed by the Barbara Brennan School of Healing, and much more.
With the combination of these old and new techniques, one might project that miracles are no longer needed or valid. This is not the case. In the presence of such a flurry of wonderful and helpful marvels, miracles are still very much at home. Just because a modern technique or new medicine might be available and used, we should not forget that regardless of whether the person recovers because he or she was given a drug that helped or a new surgery that corrected a defect or proved to be a life-saving procedure, God is the one who truly heals damaged tissue. Whether the forces for healing are channeled through natural cause-and-effect processes that we understand well, or through what are for us just now paranormal processes, the forces and the healing is God acting in these processes. God acts in what is for us the normal and what is for us the paranormal. We call things paranormal only because we do not yet understand the structure and paradigm for what happens in that arena, but all truth in this universe is God’s truth, and all healing is God’s healing since God created and empowers it all. Doctors cannot and do not actually heal anything. What they can do is provide the right environment in which healing can take place (Siegal 1986). The real miracle is the divine origin of healing, not the result of human manipulation, nor even the techniques utilized.
Growing ranks of medical doctors are discovering that medical miracles and the practice of medicine go hand in hand. Dr. Bernie Siegel has a thriving surgical practice at Yale University. He is a firm believer that people receive medical cures and that they experience miraculous self-healing all the time. He documented many of his experiences in his book Love, Medicine and Miracles, in which he cites the case of a patient who suffered from metastatic pancreatic cancer. Siegel had given this patient only a short time to live, then forgot all about the patient. The patient’s son came to him after 10 years and said his father had just celebrated his 85th birthday. He had experienced a miraculous recovery on his own.
Until recent years, the usual training of medical doctors was lacking in adequate exposure to concepts that are available through sound psychology or responsible theology. Today, these sciences are becoming more and more integrated into the curriculum of medical schools. In fact, when I was doing graduate work at Denver Seminary, I met several physicians who were getting counseling degrees so they could relate better to and understand their patients. To have this kind of concern and caring for people is a credit to their commitment and integrity. This caring translates into the ability to offer hope to all patients. It is important for professionals at all levels to be able to instill hope in others. In my role as a psychotherapist, I have worked with many people who were seriously ill. I can say that those who had a positive attitude, and demonstrated a desire to recover, usually did. The opposite is equally true. I recall a sad case in which an elderly client wanted nothing more than to die. After numerous suicide attempts, he finally succeeded. He was determined to die, while others were determined to live. Because of his deteriorating medical and mental conditions, he was not able to receive or operate within a framework of hope. Even though hope was continually being held out to him by his family, friends, and caregivers, he was unable to internalize it. Siegel states that (1986, 29; italics added) “refusal to hope is nothing less than a decision to die.”
The notion that a person has the ability to recover from cancer, tuberculosis, or other serious illness is not a usual part of the curriculum in medical schools, although there are some who are beginning to understand that the human body has a role to play in its own healing. Medical students are sometimes still encouraged to believe that healing results from their personal skill and training. For many years, Siegel thought his designation as an MD meant “major diety.” He later learned that the mind is the place where healing first takes place, followed by the body.
Today, there is renewed interest in the mind-body connection. Recent studies at Duke University have included the component of faith and prayer in their repertoire. In a 1988 study at San Francisco General Hospital, an identified group of patients received prayer and a control group did not. This random double-blind study showed that those patients who were prayed for were five times more likely to recover and needed fewer antibiotics. They died less frequently than did the group for whom concerted prayer was not offered (Prather 1996). The Templeton Foundation has funded a project in conjunction with the Southern Medical Association for research in the area of mind-body relationship. This project may hold great promise and could reveal the mechanisms through which faith and medicine can work together as a team (Hamdy 2005). The University of Arizona Medical Center in Tucson, where I live, offers an ongoing seminar to all patients on the mind-body role in recovery from cancer and other serious illness.
The inclusion of hope is one of the great determiners of outcome. If a patient has hope, regardless of where that hope originates, that patient will get well quicker than the patient with no hope. Siegel (1986) has stated that there is no such thing as false hope. Hope is hope, and it is healing. Faith, prayer, and hope are essential ingredients in recovery, and they seem to be an integral part of medical miracles. They act synergistically to assist the dying, ill, or injured person in participating in his or her own healing and recovery.
I recall that when I was injured in a serious auto crash last year, I sustained severe damage to my right hand, wrist, and arm. Everything (flesh, veins, arteries, muscle, tendons, nerves, etc.) was stripped from my fingers up to my elbow—degloved, as it were—and I experienced extreme blood loss. It took more than five hours of surgery to repair the damage.
I had a talented and dedicated trauma team, which included my hand surgeon, himself a believer. Everyone thought recovery would take several years and would involve reconstructive surgery, skin grafts, and plastic surgery to allow my limb to function. However, to the amazement of the team, I was dismissed from care in my 10th week. I could do all the things my recovery team said I would not be able to do such as make a fist, straighten my fingers upright, and rotate my hand and arm. I have had no reconstructive surgery, skin grafts, or plastic surgeries, nor do I anticipate any additional surgery. Everyone was fearful that I would have some horrible infection, either in the open wounds or in the bone, that would necessitate the amputation of my arm since I am a serious diabetic. None of their fears came true. At my dismissal, my surgeon said to me, with tears in his eyes, “Do you know that you have had a miraculous healing here?”
I replied that indeed, I was very much aware of this, and then I shared with him an additional part of the story. I explained to him that I had never felt alone or abandoned by God, even during the accident, nor while waiting for the paramedics, which took an abnormally long time. I experienced no fear during that time, although I realized I was seriously injured and was feeling extremely weak because of blood loss. I also shared the best part of my experience. I explained that I had been assisted by an angel, who appeared at the scene of the crash. This angelic being held my hand and arm together in his two hands for a long time, until paramedics arrived. Without the intervention of this angel, I would likely have expired due to the blood loss. In fact, during the surgery, they had to stop the operation because my blood pressure dropped so low that I had to have a significant transfusion.
I actually talked with this personage, and I have no doubt that he was an angel. He was huge, the largest person I have ever seen, and his voice had the most unusual qualities. I had never heard such melodious sounds before. While waiting for the paramedics to arrive, we engaged in conversation. I do not remember everything we discussed, although I do remember that I asked him what his name was. He told me he was called George. George sounded like such a perfect name for this angel. No one else on the scene saw this wonderful personage. I believe God loves to do things like this for us. I received a constant flow of prayers from many sources, and I had faith in God that I would recover. I also had strong feelings of hope during the whole process. I was reminded once again of my own rhetoric, which I have offered to many of my clients. I took my own advice to heart: Life is a process, God is in the process; therefore we can trust the process.
One of the most confusing concepts concerning miracles is the question, Do I just accept miracles unconditionally by blind faith, or does my faith need something to anchor it, and if so, what is that something else? Some believe that simply exercising faith is enough to understand and accept the presence of miracles. This seems shallow and pretentious. It is true that we experience miracles through some sort of faith system; however, nowhere are believers expected to accept without question concepts and ideas that have been presented in the Holy Scriptures. The writers of the NT urged us to accept their teachings based on good evidence for whatever they were teaching. They spent considerable time and effort to educate and help their readers understand just what it was they were to believe, do, perform, or change in their lives, and why.
These writers always presented their ideas, thoughts, actions, and even the miracles they performed within the context of social, political, or spiritual concepts that people understood. They were adamant about readers having a solid basis for believing what they believed. We are encouraged to think deeply and logically about our faith and to be able to give good reasons for why it is real for us (2 Tim 2:15). The apostle Paul was a very educated and logical person, grounded in facts and reality. His theology was rock solid. He urged us to “think on these things” (Phil 4:8). In John’s first epistle to believers everywhere, we are encouraged to put people and their ideas under scrutiny to see if they are real or not (1 Jn 4:1-3). After we have carefully examined the teachings, and the consistency of their teachers, we can come to some conclusion as to their credibility.
The confusing picture that we have concerning miracles seems to come from an all-or-nothing mentality. In psychology, this rigid outlook is called black-and-white thinking. Many people approach their world through the lens of this dysfunctional view. We need to be aware of what our faith rests on before we accept without reservation, or categorically deny, the content of faith. We need to think through and know what we are to believe. In this hectic world, where we hear a cacophony of voices, we owe it to ourselves and others to have a clear reason to believe what it is that we believe.
What do miracles mean for the future of the believing communities? Will they have a role to play in the faith of tomorrow? What might that role be? Will miracles become irrelevant in the age of modern medical technology? These questions have great import to faith communities in general, but even more to persons who experience miracles in their lives.
We have had many generations of the experience of miracles. Throughout history, God has taken an interest in us, helping us in ways we have not understood. Miracles are one of those benchmarks that we recognize when we assess the progress of the human journey. On the basis of the past, we can look to the future and say with confidence that God does not change, and therefore we can trust God to provide for us. Miracles are one of God’s ways of letting us know that he cares about our suffering and that he will make it possible for us to keep on keeping on.