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Does God Still Do Miracles?

  • By Brad Burke, M.D. Copyright Christianity Today International
  • 2007 1 Jan
Does God Still Do Miracles?

Not long ago, I heard the story of a woman whose teenage daughter was severely disabled with cerebral palsy. For several agonizing years, the mother prayed that God would work a miracle and heal her.

Nothing happened.

Then a friend and two other Christians approached the mother. "God gave me a vision that your daughter will soon be miraculously healed," one said. Another said she had a dream that the daughter walked upright.

The mother's hopes lifted. But the days slipped into weeks … the weeks into months … and still, no miracle. To date, this woman's daughter remains terribly crippled with cerebral palsy. I can't help but wonder whether this woman's faith has remained resilient despite the false hope given by so-called "friends."

Perhaps, like me, you've known people who have prayed for a miracle from God, but the miracle floodgates have failed to release even a single drop. Maybe you've sat motionless by their bedsides, unsure of what to say, as tears streamed down their cheeks over their disappointment with God. They've read book after book heralding the existence of miracles. They've sat in church and heard parishioners share incredible stories of divine healings. All the while, their spirits spiral downward as they wonder why God won't intervene in a similar miraculous fashion on their behalf.

Without having all the facts, it's nearly impossible to determine the nature of a healing.

Many Christian physicians, including myself, believe God still performs miracles of physical healing that defy natural explanation. But are the hosts of "miracles" we hear about so often truly miracles? As the apostle Paul writes, "Test everything" (1 Thess. 5:21).

I did just that after reading the account of a 3-year-old girl who suffered a broken leg along with brain and abdominal trauma in a horrendous car accident. The author wrote that the girl had 37 tubes in her body and that the doctors told the parents on the fourth day that the girl would need to remain in intensive care for at least two months, followed by six to eight months in the hospital learning to walk again. When the child was discharged 11 days later, the author labeled the healing a genuine miracle. He went on to write of other events in the weeks following the accident, including the miraculous healing of the leg's curvature and limp.

I called the author and asked him for additional details. He admitted having gathered his information from both parents and doctors—and I found many inconsistencies. (From a doctor's perspective, it was easy to see which information came from which source.) For example, 37 tubes in a 3-year-old child with blunt trauma, and no abdominal surgery, is an absurd number. After following patients in the surgical intensive care unit as a surgery resident, and on the ward as chief resident of a respected rehabilitation medicine program, I can also tell you that a doctor cannot—and would not—predict on the fourth day exactly how long it would take for a comatose 3-year-old to be discharged from the PICU and begin walking again. (The doctors might have given a worst-case scenario, but the author's wording never implied this.)

Furthermore, orthopedic surgeons are seldom worried about curvatures and leg length discrepancies in young children who have suffered a broken leg. Why? Because children's bones usually grow out to correct such deformities.

Unless one was knowledgeable in medicine, the author's story would appear to be a miracle. But to a trained medical professional with expertise in treating many such patients, this example isn't so miraculous. The author wasn't deliberately sensationalizing the story; he just didn't have the medical knowledge to fully understand the situation.

If you or a loved one is eagerly awaiting a miracle of healing from God, remember that His answers may not come in a way that we can immediately recognize.

The same is true for many others who do not have significant medical training. They cannot begin to grasp how the human body is the most complex piece of molecular machinery known to man. Without having all the facts—lab and pathology reports, X-rays, treatment details, the natural course of the disease, etc.—it's nearly impossible to determine the nature of a healing.

Terminology Turmoil

A significant factor at play in the confusion over miracles is that the words and phrases used by non-medical laypeople in books and in faith-healing services are usually so ambiguous that no competent medical doctor would rely on such information alone.

"Blind," for example, can mean total blindness, legally blind, tunnel vision, or just plain rotten eyesight. "Paralyzed" can mean anything from 50 percent to 100 percent loss of strength in a limb. "Confined to a wheelchair" is a phrase applied to patients who can stand up only to transfer into bed, to patients who can walk 20 feet with a walker, or to patients who can walk unassisted within the home but need a wheelchair in public places.

For a "blind" person to see vague images, a "paralyzed" person to perform deep knee bends, or a person "confined to a wheelchair" to get up and walk is rarely a miracle.

The following situations contribute to confusion over truly supernatural healings as well:

"The doctor said so." Unfortunately, many people, doctors included, tend to throw around the word miracle at will. For example, if a patient narrowly survives a life-threatening sickness when there was only a 5 percent chance or less of living, the doctor will usually agree with the family that it's a miracle. But if you were to sit down with the doctor for a half-hour, he or she could probably supply at least one rational theory of how natural forces contributed to the healing process.

The unexplainable. I hear the phrase "The doctors couldn't explain it!" used quite a bit. The truth is that doctors can't fully explain a lot of things. Why someone catches a cold and recovers in six days while someone else catches the same virus from the same person and recovers in only three days is a bit of a mystery. It doesn't make the case a miracle.

Medical errors. When boxing champ Evander Holyfield was supposedly healed of a noncompliant left ventricle at a Benny Hinn crusade, Hinn labeled it a miracle. Later, it was discovered that the cardiologist had misdiagnosed the problem, because he was not informed of the whopping amounts of morphine and fluid Holyfield had received post-fight, which made it appear as if his heart were malfunctioning. As reported in The Atlanta Journal and Constitution, Holyfield later admitted, "I don't think there was anything wrong with my heart to begin with."

Vanishing diseases. Fortunately for us, most diseases we acquire are cyclical or self-limiting. The symptoms of diseases such as allergies, arthritis, lupus, and multiple sclerosis tend to fluctuate like the stock markets—down one month, up the next. Most episodes of joint pain, nausea, headaches, abdominal cramping, and skin rashes often disappear over a period of days or weeks. God has ingeniously hardwired our bodies to heal themselves.

While rare, the spontaneous remission of cancer is well documented. In 1999, Scientific Review of Alternative Medicine cited a veteran oncologist who, in treating 6,000 cancer patients, observed 12 cases where the cancer suddenly and mysteriously disappeared for good.

Can these spontaneous remissions be attributed to a biological mechanism? Perhaps, states a 1998 In Vivo article, indicating that this phenomenon is reported most often in certain cancers: neuroblastomas, malignant melanomas, renal cell carcinomas, and lymphomas/leukemias.

Hearsay.The Agony of Deceit includes a chapter by retired U.S. Surgeon General C. Everett Koop, M.D., who described a conversation he had with a woman following a church service:

"God can do anything!" [she proclaimed.] "I once knew a woman who went into the hospital to be fitted for a glass eye, and while the surgeon turned his back to get an instrument, he turned back to find a new eye in the empty socket where there had been nothing before, and the woman could see!"I said, "Did you say you knew this woman?""No. I knew someone who knows her," she conceded."Well," I said, "could you tell me who he or she is? I would like to have a conversation with that person.""Well, I don't really know that person either but I know someone who knows her""Even so," I persisted, "I would like to meet that person.""I don't really know that person, but she knows someone who knows someone. …" And so it goes.

If the woman's story actually happened as she insisted, the patient, the patient's family and the doctor would all be on a major network TV station the next day. Why do we never read in reputable newspapers, or see on reputable news networks, eyeballs instantly appearing in previously empty eye sockets?

Proceed with Caution

Please do not misunderstand me. I do believe with all my heart that God is still miraculously healing people today of physical diseases in a way that defies natural explanation.

Probably the best recently documented case I could find of such a miracle was one showcased on Oprah Winfrey's Good Friday show in 2002. A premature infant, Iyanna, was born not breathing and without a heartbeat. Despite the doctor's best attempts, she could not be revived, and the doctors left the dead infant in the mother's arms. For 35 minutes the mother cradled her lifeless baby. Then suddenly, after more than 65 minutes without a heartbeat, little Iyanna began to breathe on her own! On day 15, Iyanna left the hospital being hailed by everyone as the Miracle Baby. Two years later a smiling Iyanna walked out on Oprah's stage a perfectly normal little girl. Dr. Clemons, the physician who had tried to revive the limp infant in the very beginning, said this on national television: "This has to be in the works and acts of God. I really believe there's no other explanation for it."

God is definitely at work healing people today! If there's one thing I've learned in my journey as a physician, it's that God's ways are indeed higher than our own (Isa. 55:9). Still, we must take seriously the apostle Paul's advice to "examine everything carefully," especially as it relates to the "false teachers" among us who are looking to prey on the faith of innocent and unassuming believers.

When you next hear the word "miracle," I encourage you to keep these points in mind. Could the astonishing healing be hearsay? Could the human body have healed itself—temporarily or permanently—from a cyclical or self-limiting disease? Did the doctor truly believe that natural forces could not explain the healing in any way? Is the layperson's information surrounding the "miracle" medically accurate?

The amount of medical confusion and misinformation in church services, the media, and on the Internet is staggering. If you or a loved one is eagerly awaiting a miracle of healing from God, remember that His answers to our prayers for divine intervention may indeed come in the form of a miraculous healing. However, they might also come through natural forces that God has already set in place. And sometimes, they may not come at all—or at least not in a way that we can immediately recognize. In whatever form the answer comes, though, we must continue to trust God and rest in His perfect love for us.

Brad Burke, M.D., is the author of the book series An M.D. Examines, which includes Does God Still Do Miracles? (Victor/Cook Communications, 2006), from which this article was adapted. Dr. Burke and his wife, Erin, live in the Windsor/Detroit area where he practices as a physical medicine and rehabilitation specialist.Discussion StartersHave you ever experienced a supernatural "miracle of God"? Explain.Do you think the rare occurence of miraculous healings today means God no longer performs supernatural healings? Why, or why not?What is your favorite miracle from the Bible? Why?The Greatest Miracle Worker

Christ's miracles of healing had these six distinctive characteristics:

Christ healed completely. He had no half cures. The paralytic didn't hobble away; the leper didn't go back to the priest with only a few skin nodules here and there; and the blind man didn't need glasses or a seeing-eye camel to find his way around.Christ healed immediately. Except for three instances, where the healing took place in a matter of minutes, all miracles happened instantaneously—not days or weeks later.Christ healed in public. His healing ministry was not limited to certain prearranged sites. He didn't need an emotionally supercharged atmosphere or an "anointing" in a crusade or church to heal the sick. He went up and down the countryside and streets healing people in a seemingly random manner. (Of course, He foreknew exactly whom He would heal.)Christ healed mostly visible organic disease. He was not intimidated by withered body parts, the blind, or people in the grave. His miracles were so convincing that not even his critics of the day could refute them.Christ healed even those without faith. Christ healed without partiality, healing even those who apparently had little or no faith. You'll remember that the man Christ healed of blindness didn't really know who Christ was. "He replied, 'Whether [Christ] is a sinner or not, I don't know. One thing I do know. I was blind but now I see!'" (John 9:25, 35-36).Christ healed with a purpose. His purpose was to authenticate His messianic claim (John 5:36), to show the people that He had the authority to forgive sins (Matt. 9:6), to prove that His message came from God (Acts 2:22), and through it all to launch the beginning of His church and bring more glory to God (Eph. 2:19-22; John 11:4). Christ didn't heal everyone (John 5:3-5), nor did He heal on demand (Matt. 12:38-40).Reprinted from Does God Still Do Miracles? (Victor/Cook Communications, 2006). Used by permission.
Copyright © 2007 by the author or Christianity Today International/Today's Christian magazine.
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