By Rev. Ryan Dunn
Back in 2006, 6-year -old Jake Finkbonner received a cut lip during a basketball game. The next morning, he was in the hospital fighting for his life. A flesh-eating bacteria infected the wound, ravaged his face, and would soon move to his brain. Doctors attempted to get ahead of the progressing bacteria, but weren't sure how. Friends far and wide went to prayer. Then something amazing happened: the bacteria stopped.
Everyone around Jake was stunned.
Jake's mom knew what happened: "There's no question in my mind that it was in fact a miracle," she said.
Jake's doctors weren't so assertive, yet couldn't offer other explanations. They couldn't definitively say something miraculous happened. They couldn't say nothing miraculous happened, either.
WHAT IS A MIRACLE?
"It's a miracle!" is not an uncommon phrase for most of us. We throw it around so often that the meaning of "miracle" gets a little jumbled. Is it really a miracle when an underdog hockey team wins? Or when we make a connecting flight after a long delay? Or when we get a job we want?
Generally, miracles are considered extraordinary events that have come about through Divine agency. Miracles are the visible results of Divine intervention. What constitutes a miracle is dependent on a personal view of God: if God is not active in the world, then there are no miracles, just unexplained happenings. If God is active and a part of everything, then everything is miraculous. The fact that we are drawing breath at this moment is miraculous!
There is an undeniable relationship between faith and miracles. Faith gives us eyes to recognize miracles. In a way, faith provides us a reason for miracles to happen: the extraordinary and unexplainable happens because of God. So faith becomes a lense through which we begin to view the events around us with a sense of awe or wonder. Things happen in the world not solely due to chance or flukes or lucky breaks, but because love intervened.
WHEN WE EXPECT MIRACLES
This makes miracles frustrating. Because God intervenes to make extraordinary things happen, why don't extraordinarily miraculous things always happen? Why was Jake healed when, in some likelihood, a child a few miles away--who was also prayed for--died in the womb?
These questions are unsettling. They suggest we can never really expect a particular miracle. It is a little consolation to expect that those who would have mourned their dead child received something miraculous in a sense of grace and peace amidst their time of grief. Practical experience tells us that we cannot expect the miracles we always wish to see. Sometimes, the miracle is that whatever heartbreaking situation I'm living through hasn't completely undone me.
We know that sickness, death, and accidents are part of our reality. The Bible envisions a reality where that will not always be the case. We view this reality in the promises of God, in the presence of Jesus, and in glimpses of things yet to come. The book of Revelation offers a glimpse of this new reality:
"See, the home of God is among mortals.
He will dwell with them;
they will be his peoples,
and God himself will be with them;
4 he will wipe every tear from their eyes.
Death will be no more;
mourning and crying and pain will be no more,
for the first things have passed away." [Revelation 21:3-4, NRSV]
But this is not yet our reality. We live alongside death and sickness. Some miracles are a witness of this new reality breaking in to our current reality: it is something that is in process of happening, but it is not here yet.
CAN WE MAKE MIRACLES HAPPEN?
Back in the day, Facebook displayed a ton of personal information. Users listed out their political affiliations and religious views. For one of my friend's religious views, he listed, "There is a god. I am not it." In one sense, we cannot make a miracle because we are not God. We do not possess the omnipotence of the Divine. Nor can we dictate the will of the Divine.
In another sense, we can certainly be someone else's miracle. The doctors who looked after Jake Finkbonner were definitely a factor in his miracle. When we represent goodness, life, grace and love to those around us, we are participating in a miracle.
Prayer is one way of representing life and goodness. The knowledge that Jake was so well supported and cared for through the prayers of hundreds of people may have very well affected his recovery. Taking our own active steps to help another towards wholeness is participating in a miracle, too. Your participation in helping a wounded veteran, supplying a meal for the destitute, and sending a note to someone who seems down all are representative of Divine movement. They are little glimpses of the in-breaking of that future reality.
You may have started reading this article in hopes of encountering your own miracle. I can't promise your specific miracle will happen--but you should ask for it anyway. The faith which inspired you to look for your miracle opens doors and viewpoints. And I do believe that the more willing you are to look for miracles, the more likely you are to see them.
Our friend Jacob Armstrong recently did a video on miracles in today's world. His thoughts offer perspective on how we witness miracles now:
Ryan Dunn lives in Nashville, TN. He has witnessed the miracles of his son being born, his family finding healing in the midst of addiction and mental distress, and the Chicago Cubs winning the World Series--which he hopes to witness again. Ryan is the Minister of Online Engagement for United Methodist Communications.
[April 4, 2019]