Gold Coast Bereans

Out of Ghana, West Africa; Christian hearts and critical minds seeking, speaking and writing the truth with love. This is a conversation of a group of friends, now living in the USA and the UK, who have known each other for more than 20 years.

Monday, January 28, 2008

MIRACLES, SIGNS, etc. Part V

Authenticating a miracle. by Calorius

In an earlier post, Robbo asked the question What constitutes a miracle? I think it is necessary to consider an important and related question i.e. when is a certain occurrence miraculous? This is something that Roman Catholic Church often grapples with, and our friend Robbo being a former member of that institution can identify with what I am about to say. There are fundamental questions to be answered without which we cannot determine if miracles are indeed rare nowadays.

The way I understand it and I may be wrong, in the Catholic Church only the Pope can declare someone a saint. Before the Church can do that, however, the person must have lived at a certain level of purity, died in a certain way, and thirdly, have some miracles attributed to them.

It is like a points system so, for example, someone who is beatified by having lived a very "saintly" life and then dies as a martyr because of the faith, needs only one miracle in order to be declared a saint. Another person, who died as a righteous person but who was not martyred “because of” the faith may need two or three miracles, etc. I might add here that if we follow this system, Robbo has little chance of becoming a “saint” because he starts off with too many negative points and it is a good thing he claims he is no longer a Catholic.

When they go to make the final determination of a miracle in the case for the sainthood of someone, they have witnesses who argue that some event was a miracle and on the other side is an appointed person, the devil's advocate, advocatus diaboli in Latin, who argues that the event was not. I am informed that these sessions are very interesting.

When I lived in Baltimore, I came across the story of one Nun, who was actually one of the founders of the "Daughters of Charity" which owned my hospital. It would seem that she was generally thought of as a good person; she had provided for the poor, washed the feet of the saints, served the community greatly and all that kind of thing. She didn't quite die a martyr's death, but died in a quiet righteous way. The big issue was whether she had performed any miracles.

Years later in the early sixties a little kid developed acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL), at that time a fatal, untreatable disease. The kid's family went to the grotto and asked the (now dead for many decades) Nun to, you know, say a word to Jesus on their behalf. Well, this story has a happy ending. The kid gets well, grows up to be an adult, and has a family of her own, who are still around. Is this a miracle? Those in favor argued that the disease ALL was incurable and the fact that the little kid was cured was not in doubt, because she was alive.

One of hematology-oncology giants from Johns Hopkins who had personally made the diagnosis, was summoned to Rome, and gave testimony about the veracity of the diagnosis and the recovery of the patient. Then the advocatus diaboli stood up to speak and outlined his counter arguments. It turns out the kid had been given some folic acid by one of the doctors. Could it be that she really didn't have ALL but instead megaloblastic anemia? The two conditions have a similar histologic appearance. In addition, folic acid has some structural similarities with methotrexate, the chemotherapy agent. Could it have been that what they thought was folic acid was really a dose of methotrexate?

I think the case was settled in favor of it being a miracle. Sorry about the long story, but I just wanted to point out one approach to the problem regarding those miracles for which there is some element of subjectivity in interpretation. Because it's so important in Catholicism whether someone is a saint or not (their personal items can become "relics", their hometown and family can profit from pilgrimages; people can sell their image, etc) the Catholic Church has designed a formal test for miracles in this context. This helped to weed out the multiple fraudulent cases in the dark ages. As someone had said, "We have too many saints and not enough sanctity in the church"

If Benny Hinn or any other person wants me to recognize him as a miracle worker, I need to see some doctors' testimonies, before-and-after photographs, etc., and I want him to answer some "devil's advocate" type questions. I will be happy to give expert medical testimony in oncology cases. Otherwise the healings remain similar to the ones we hear about at the Tigari shrine in Larteh; curious events of doubtful veracity and questionable impact.

Yet, I myself believe in those miracles that I have encountered; although again that is based largely on my faith. In this, I am inconsistent and subjective, not scientific. Very long rambling, but all I’m trying to say is that it is not just the performance of a miracle that is based on faith; it is also the receipt of a miracle. The interpretation and attribution of a miracle is based on faith. Even if God were to part the Red Sea again today, there would be different ways of receiving it, and it would only benefit certain people, mostly people who already have faith in God. - Calorius

Related posts
Miracles and faith
The Perception of a Miracle
What is a miracle?
Where have all the miracles gone?

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4 Comments:

Anonymous Annang said...

I do concur very much with what has been said so far regarding the issues of Miracles. Robbo has raised the issue of defining what a miracle is, Calorius has pointed out the role of the observer in making the interpretation and the A. Warrior has also drawn attention to an apparent intermittent nature of biblical miracles.

Indeed, a careful analysis shows a concentration of miracles in the Exodus & migration period, the Elijah/Elisha cycle and the first century AD. God’s power appears to manifest in spectacular ways at certain periods of history.

I believe another role that miracles played was to fill part of the gap that scientific medicine now plays. I am sure we all agree that today, when people have malaria, they should now take their medicines and pray rather than wait for a miracle. There are certainly still reports of miracles happening today.

January 28, 2008 at 5:12 PM  
Anonymous Robbo said...

I still posit that "signs" are primarily for the unbeliever and accompany the preaching of the Gospel, especially in communities where it is reaching for the first time.

I believe Elijah, Elisha through to Peter, John and Paul were "prophets" primarily as the communicators of the Word of God to the people, not miracle workers and demonstrators of signs

January 29, 2008 at 10:13 AM  
Anonymous Calorius said...

Some of the arguments being made are inconsistent to me. I do not accept the one about there being less need for miracles today because of advances in medicine and technology. The need is still there. People still suffer and die as a result of disease and poverty in this sick, sad unequal world of ours.

I also don't think miracles were solely or even largely for the sake of evangelism. Many were performed within the church, among Christians, and Jesus did not seem to use His miracles as a way to draw crowds or even to convince observers. It seems to me most of His miracles were acts of compassion, not demonstrations of power. In many of them, there were also subtle messages, embedded ideas about His Personality, Position and Power. Very few were evangelistic in that sense

With regard to praying for miraculous healing, the passage in James about asking other Christians to pray for the ill one says it for me. I have had at least two or three times in my life when I was convinced that type of prayer saved me from certain death. One of them was a particularly bad case of malaria I had in Ghana.

However, again, whether that was divine healing or a quinine effect or my own mental effort, is a very subjective call and I can not pretend that it's easy to convince a skeptic, much in the same way as I am skeptical about astrology, acupuncture, mesmerism, aromatherapy, chiropractics, palm reading, tarot cards and the performance enhancing properties of garlic, gingko biloba, black cohash, Alafia Bitters or rhinoceros horn. I brought back some atadwe tiger nuts from Ghana last year. They did nothing for me, and the way I am is the way I am.

January 29, 2008 at 12:43 PM  
Anonymous Alien Warrior said...

Calorius,
God is sovereign and you cannot tie Him down with any set pattern or rules when it comes to the miraculous use of His power. Indeed, some miracles happened because Jesus was just being compassionate and he did not need anyone’s faith to do anything. Some miracles also occurred in response to the preaching of the word and others in response to the faith of the recipient.

I think this is why practically no miracle repeats itself in the Bible- there may be an odd exception, but nothing comes readily to mind. In the same way He almost always speaks in different ways to different people and witness the billions of distinct personalities He has created in human kind. The discordance you refer to is His divine power at work in ways we cannot understand, which is why a miracle is miracle.

I think what is being attempted here is to identify some characteristics about miracles that can explain the occurrence of miracles or the lack thereof. We can’t answer every question but we may help to explain why there is a relative paucity (we think) of miracles in our world today.

In 1 Samuel, we learn that the Word of the Lord was scarce when the priest Eli's kids were misbehaving around the Temple, but enter Samuel and there is a glut of messages from God; sometimes the absence of the power of God can be due to sin. But before you make that a cornerstone of your faith, remember that when Israel was slipping into sin and anarchy, prophet after prophet was sent to them. Indeed some of the Major Prophets arrived on the scene at Israel's darkest hours.

All the factors we have discussed must be weighed carefully as we prayerfully come to a conclusion or just keep on with what God has revealed to us through his Word in the Bible until He chooses to reveal more.

January 29, 2008 at 3:23 PM  

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