As a pastor I get asked every now and then, “Why are there not more miracles in our day, like there were in the Bible?” I suppose there are two answers we could explore.
One of the answers must surely be that we do not really expect miracles.
Another answer is that when they do happen we often dismiss them by rationalizing them, or chalking them up to coincidence or to some unknown reason that scientists will surely be able to explain some day.
The bottom line is that we are not living in an age of faith. And faith is to miracles as cause is to effect.
Many say, “If I saw miracles I would believe.” But the biblical answer is, unless you believe, you will not see miracles.
Consider and excerpt of the first reading from Monday of this week:
At Lystra there was a crippled man, lame from birth, who had never walked. He listened to Paul speaking, who looked intently at him, saw that he had the faith to be healed, and called out in a loud voice, “Stand up straight on your feet.” He jumped up and began to walk about. Acts 14:7-10
Note that Paul was able to heal the crippled man because he saw he had the faith to be healed. Faith precedes miracles. There are many places in the Scriptures where faith and miracles are linked:
- When Jesus had gone indoors, the blind men came to him, and he asked them, “Do you believe that I am able to do this?” “Yes, Lord,” they replied. Then he touched their eyes and said, “According to your faith will it be done to you”; and their sight was restored. (Matt 9:28-29
- “O unbelieving generation,” Jesus replied, “how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring the boy to me.” So they brought him. When the spirit saw Jesus, it immediately threw the boy into a convulsion. He fell to the ground and rolled around, foaming at the mouth. Jesus asked the boy’s father, “How long has he been like this?” “From childhood,” he answered. “It has often thrown him into fire or water to kill him. But if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.” “‘If you can’?” said Jesus. “Everything is possible for him who believes.” Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” …Jesus rebuked the evil spirit. “You deaf and mute spirit,” he said, “I command you, come out of him and never enter him again.” (Mk 9:19-29)
- Then the disciples came to Jesus in private and asked, “Why couldn’t we drive [the Demon] out?” He replied, “Because you have so little faith. I tell you the truth, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.” (Matt 17:19-20
- Jesus said to him, “Receive your sight; your faith has healed you.” (Lk 18:42)
- Jesus turned and saw her. “Take heart, daughter,” he said, “your faith has healed you.” And the woman was healed from that moment. (Matt 9:22)
- Jesus could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them. He was amazed at their lack of faith. (Mk 6:5-6)
- Then Jesus answered, “Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.” And her daughter was healed from that very hour. (Matt 15:28)
- “Go,” said Jesus, “your faith has healed you.” Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus along the road. (Mark 10:52
- Then he said to him, “Rise and go; your faith has made you well.” (Luke 17:19)
And on and on the quotes could go.
The key point is that faith is the essential ingredient for miracles. There must be faith not only on the part of the one who works it, but even more so on the part of the one who receives the miracle. For it may sometimes happen that the one through whom the miracle is accomplished, has only poor faith, but the one receiving it has the faith to be healed, and thus God grants it.
Of this I have (to my shame) been a witness. But, I will say I have grown. For on some occasions in my priesthood God has worked miraculous cures when I was sent to anoint the sick or to pray over and with people.
- On one occasion, many years ago I was sent to anoint a man near death. He was filled with cancer, in the pancreas, liver and bone. No hope said the doctors. His daughter sent me with the confident expectation that I could heal him. But, truthfully, I went more with the intention of giving “last rites” in order to prepare him for death. But God was not defeated by me, the faith of that man and his daughter prevailed. The next day his vitals changed and the surprised doctors found no trace of cancer in subsequent scans. He lived on another ten years and I always called him Lazarus.
- On other occasion a few years ago, I was summoned early one morning to the hospital. The doctors had announced a certain end for a parishioner and her tearful relatives were gathered in a death watch. The decision had been reached to pull the breathing tube, and the doctors offered no hope and were “sure” the woman would die in moments after the tube was pulled. But this woman had surprised us before. And by now, I had learned my lesson, that God was in charge, no matter what the doctors said. And I told that family just before I anointed her, not to be so sure what would happen or when, that God was in charge, and that people don’t necessarily go right away even when the doctors say so. And when I finished the anointing, I prayed, “Lord, If you want to, you can heal her, I know you can” and the Amens murmured among the family.” Next morning, Mrs. J was up for breakfast, issuing orders to family and stating that hospital food was disagreeable to her.
- And I want also to give God the glory for the many miracles he has worked in terms of spiritual healing, healings in my own life and soul, healing in the lives of many I have known. Deliverance from anxiety and depression, deliverance from anger and addiction; the sudden and miraculous capacity to forgive, or to let go of crippling grief; the gradual healing to go from serious sins to freedom, to go from tepidity to deeper and deeper love of God. Yes, I walked along side of many who exhibit miraculous healing, of this same healing I too am a witness. And the healing defies any rational explanation.
Yes, even a little faith, mustard seed faith. Just the faith that says, “Father Pope, will you pray for me?” Or, “Father I will pray for you.” Faith the size of a mustard seed. If I take one step God takes two. The miracles are many.
The gift to be sought – Perhaps in times like these where we often do not expect miracles or dismiss them too easily when they occur, the gift to be sought is the gift of the fear of the Lord.
At its heart, the fear of the Lord is the awareness of the wonderful things God is always doing in our life from moment to moment. It is the gift of wonder and awe before the displayed majesty of our God, and a desire not to offend him out of love and respect.
And frankly, one way we might offend against his glory is to walk right past the glories he is doing from moment to moment, being ungrateful, unaware, and seeing as routine, the magnificence of what he does. The color purple, the magnificent stars, the quirky yet wonderful people in our life, indeed, our very own existence, all these and countless other wonders are on daily display. And seeing them for the miraculous gift they are begins to open our minds to the possibility of miracles too.
The gift of the fear of the Lord helps to increase our awareness of God and our faith in Him. And faith is the door to even greater miracles.
Are you ready for a miracle? The Lord has a related question for us: Do you believe that I can do this? (Matt 9:28)
It is true, God sometimes says no, and we have discussed that HERE before. But perhaps we ought also to check our attitude, and ask why we might be quick to presume he will say no or has said no. Scripture says, “Ye have not because ye ask not” (James 4:2). Why not ask with confidence and leave the answer up to God.
Why are there fewer miracles today? You tell me.
Here’s a song about wonder and awe.