Are miracles real?

January 29th, 2015

What is a miracle?

On Friday, January 2, 2015, the plane carrying the Gutzler family from Key West, Florida, to their home in Mount Vernon, Illinois, crashed in the deep woods of Kentucky. Seven-year-old Sailor was the lone survivor. The crash killed her parents, sister and cousin. First responders called Sailor’s survival a miracle.

First, she survived the crash itself. The plane came to rest upside down and was “partly on fire,” according to Sailor. Second, she trekked through rugged terrain to get help. With a broken wrist and wearing a T-shirt, shorts, one sock and no shoes in 38-degree temperatures, she “walked nearly a mile in the dark through ‘fallen trees, creeks, ditches, and blackberry briar.’ ” Her hike included embankments, a hill and a creek bed. She found help at the home of 71-year-old Larry Wilkins, one of only three homes occupied in that area this time of year, which may have been a third miracle.

The term miracle is applied to many things, from the secular to the religious, from sports events to the Creation. One definition of miracle is an event that is considered unusual or extraordinary in that it appears to be contrary to what is currently known of nature. Theologically, the emphasis is on what God has revealed through this event. When we see the unusual, the extraordinary and the supernatural, we are called to look for God’s revelation in the event. We ask, “What does this miracle tell us about God?” and “What does this miracle tell us about ourselves?”

For example, when we read of Jesus healing the sick and lame, we may discuss how and why, but we also look for what is revealed about God’s nature in this healing act. When we read of Jesus exorcising demons and evil spirits, we explore what that tells us about God and about ourselves. The story of Jesus feeding the 5,000 with a boy’s lunch of fish and bread makes known to us aspects of God’s character and nature. We sell God’s self-revelation to humanity short when we stop at how and why and do not search for what miracles demonstrate about who God is.

The gift of miracles

My friend Reese scores high in “miracles” in the Spiritual Gifts Assessment. Because of this, I asked her what she understands the spiritual gift of miracles to be and what it means for her in her life. Reese says, “I know when something is going to happen. I can’t tell if it’s going to be something good or something bad.” It feels like “an adrenaline rush.” She wishes she could distinguish between when something good or bad is coming so she does not feel so anxious about it being something bad.

Her first and “most intense” experience of a miracle happened after a ski trip with seven friends. While on their way home, she and the driver were the only two people wearing seat belts. Reese “got an odd feeling … I started putting everything underneath the seat so if anything would happen nothing would fly around.” She prayed, “Dear God, please keep us safe,” and she heard a voice in her left ear say, “Don’t worry about anything. Everything is okay.” Then, “we went off an overpass, rolled off, into, and then back across, and landed in the median of the interstate.” Everyone in the car escaped without injury. The intensity of the situation was etched on the faces of the people in the car behind them, who could not even stand after witnessing the wreck. They said, “No one moved,” and “It happened in slow motion.” The witnesses saw no movement inside the car. The state troopers cried because “they thought they would be pulling bodies out of the car.”

Reese lives her daily life in continuous prayer. Each morning when she starts her car, she prays, “Dear Lord, surround me, my family and friends with your presence. Keep us safe.” She does not say “Amen” until she returns home. When something delays her in leaving the house, she understands it as God slowing her down to avoid an accident or some other circumstance. She has learned that if she forgets several things and makes several trips back into her home, she simply needs to stop, sit, and have a cup of coffee to wait it out.

She says, “Receiving a miracle is a great responsibility, but it’s a beautiful gift.” As a responsibility, “you can’t treat it lightly. It’s something you have to acknowledge … Don’t dismiss it as a fluke. There is something behind it.” She thinks that ignoring the gift would be an abuse of the gift. When she senses something, she responsibly acts upon it.

As a gift, it “makes life so much easier.” She has confirmation that “yes, there is a God. You never have to question.” She says she has “seen a glimpse of what is going to happen. You know that there is something, that what comes after this is not going to be bad.” Her glimpse tells her that eternal life is going to be wonderful. “It’s not a scary gift,” she says.

When the miracle does not come

Sometimes we pray for miracles, and the miracle does not occur. We may pray for a loved one to be healed of an illness or disease. When healing does not occur, we may think that our prayers are unanswered. We may wonder if we prayed correctly, if we prayed hard enough or if we prayed with enough faith. We may question God’s ability and why God healed that person but not this person. We read in Scripture that people’s faith made them well, such as when Jesus healed ten lepers in Luke 17:11-19. When we pray for a miracle and one does not come, again we ask, “What does that tell us about God and about ourselves?”

In her book “In God’s Presence: Theological Reflections on Prayer,” Marjorie Hewitt Suchocki discusses what it means to pray for healing and offers a way to see God’s hand when the healing we hope for does not come. She points out that a part of being human means that we are mortal. Our lives will come to a definite end. The miracle is that we survive so many illnesses, accidents and crises within that lifetime. Suchocki tells the story of when her mother lay dying in the hospital. Suchocki writes of her frustration when watching a sore on her mother’s stomach, caused by an adhesive bandage, that showed signs of healing, yet cancer continued to eat away her life. She pleaded in her anger, “God, you are healing this stupid sore, but it’s not her sore that’s the problem, it’s her liver; why can’t you do something about that?” Through that experience, Suchocki came to understand that healing takes many forms, sometimes physical and sometimes not. She says, “There is a health that is deeper than death.”

We all stand in need of healing in many different ways. Prayers of healing offered to God may produce results in ways, in places, and in people we did not expect. Sometimes the healing that truly needs to happen is within a hurting family or estranged relationship before our loved one passes. Sometimes the person offering the prayer receives healing by seeing the world or the situation differently. When we pray for healing of a terminal illness, we may be surprised to see healing in other ways. Once again we discover God’s involvement in healing of some type, and we find the miracle after all.


In 2010, a Pew Forum on Religion survey revealed that “nearly 80%” of Americans “believe in miracles.” One wonders, though, if a definition of the term miracle accompanied the survey. If the definition had included the idea of God revealing something through the event, would the percentage have changed? Or do people assume a supreme being is involved in what we name as miracles?

Paul teaches that miracles are from God and are a spiritual gift given to the church by God. We may not always recognize miracles, since they may appear as something we did not hope for but desperately needed. Miracles, or God’s acts of wonder, are a part of our faith, whether we recognize them or whether we can name them.

Be sure to check out FaithLink, a weekly downloadable discussion guide for classes and small groups.

comments powered by Disqus