Saturday, February 15, 2014

Miracles and medicine

I think many atheists, especially scientists, are conditioned to secularism because, in their observation, the natural world operates like a machine. 

And up to a point, that's consistent with Christian theology. Christian theology has a doctrine of ordinary providence. As a rule, natural events are governed by secondary causes. A chain of physical cause and effect. 

As a rule, a botanist wouldn't attribute a sickly plant getting better to divine intervention. As a rule, a veterinarian wouldn't attribute a sick horse getting better to divine intervention. 

However, let's consider miraculous answers to prayer. These are usually prayers for humans. If God intervenes more often in medical practice than botany, that's a reflection of the fact that more prayers are directed at sick humans.

But let's take a comparison. John Wesley once prayed for his horse:

Wesley was familiar with all the discomforts of the road. His horses fell lame or were maimed by incompetent smiths. Sometimes there were more serious accidents. In July 1743, he and John Downes rode from Newcastle to Darlington. They had young horses, which were quite vigorous the day before, but now both seemed unwell. The ostler went in haste for a farrier, but both animals died before they could discover what was the matter with them. In June, 1752, a young strong mare which Wesley borrowed at Manchester fell lame before he reached Grimsby. Another was procured, but he was “dismounted” again between Newcastle and Berwick. When he returned to Manchester, he found that his own mare had lamed herself whilst at grass. He intended to ride her four or five miles, but some one took her out of the ground. Another which he had lately bought ought to have been forthcoming, but she had been taken to Chester. In one journey his horse became so exceeding lame that it could scarcely set its foot to the ground. Wesley could not discover what was amiss. He rode thus seven miles till he was thoroughly tired, and his head ached more than it had done for months. He says, “What I here aver is the naked fact. Let every man account for it as he sees good. I then thought, ‘Cannot God heal either man or beast by any means, or without any’ Immediately my weariness and headache ceased, and my horse’s lameness in the same instant. Nor did he halt any more that day or the next. A very odd accident this also!”
Although it could be coincidental, this seems to be a case of answered prayer. For the sake of argument, let's say that's the case. 
Back in the days when many Christians relied on horses for farming and transportation, more prayers would be directed at ailing horses. To the extent that God answered their prayers, God intervened more often on behalf of horses. In that event, veterinary science ought to make greater allowance for miracles. But there is less occasion for that today.
Likewise, if a Christian farmer prays for infested crops, and God answers his prayer, then God intervened on behalf of corn or wheat. In that event, a botanist ought to make allowance for a miracle. 
To some degree, what scientists observe concerning the presence or absence of miracles in their field may mirror what Christians generally pray for. Nature is more automatic when we have less occasion to pray about natural events. We pray for what we need. 


  1. maybe we'll see our pets in heaven afterall ~ :)

  2. Not exactly the same point, but for what it's worth, my old used car once broke down in a dilapidated and dangerous neighborhood. I didn't have my cell phone that day. I prayed for help, and help arrived right as I was finishing my (already brief) prayer. My car was back up and running in a few minutes.

  3. rockingwithhawking's comments reminds me of the following story.

    Almost 20 years ago my high school youth group went on a distant field trip. When it was time to go back one of the cars wouldn't start. So, the head youth group leader (a Korean American seminary student at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School) called everyone to gather around the car and pray that it would start. I was standing next to the leader as we all prayed and I distinctly remember the concern (panic?) in his voice (even if not in the words of his prayer). I suspect the distress in his heart was partly due to a fear of how an unanswered prayer might negatively affect the kids' faith since the church was charismatic and some of the kids were praying fervent expectant prayers while he was praying an "If it be Your will" type prayer. He too was strongly charismatic but I could almost hear the gears working in his head as to how he was supposed to synthesize and apply his Calvinistic theology as well as his charismatic theology to the situation. By God's grace, after the prayer they tried starting it and it did; and we all got back to the church.

    In situations like that I think it's eminently reasonable to pray for a miraculous answer to prayer even if God chooses not to answer in that way.

    Many of us are fearful to pray prayers where either 1. we might "give God a black eye" in the perception of others by making Him look bad if he doesn't answer miraculously; 2. fearful to pray prayers where we could potentially be greatly disappointed; 3. fearful to pray for situations that seem too insignificant for God to bother with since He's so busy with some much more important things.

    Regarding #1, God can protect His own reputation.

    Regarding #2, God has a right to disappoint us in this world. We're depriving God of His right to disappoint us (temporarily on earth) if we only pray safe prayers. That is, prayers where in our mind it's likely God grant it anyway or if its for things that may naturally happen anyway on account of God's ordinary providence. It's a sign of faith and trust (and it pleases God) for us to ask greatly and to continue to believe greatly even if God's answer is "no" or "I have something else in store." It also "deprives" God an opportunity to do something great in our lives and so magnify Himself and bless us. We're depriving ourselves of potential great blessings too. Our knowledge that God is ultimately sovereign over the degree to which our faith expects affirmative answers is no excuse to not stretch our faith in order to make it grow.

    Regarding #3, God is intimately and lovingly concerned about the smallest details of the lives of Christians. God has numbered (not merely counted) every one of our hairs. We all tend to doubt the promise that "all things work together for God to those who love God, who are the called according to His purpose" (Rom. 8:28; cf. Ps. 57:2; 138:8; Job 23:10). We need to shake off the cobwebs of doubt and distrust in our mighty, good, and wise God on a daily basis.

  4. G.C. Bevington was an itinerant Methodist preacher of the late 19th and early 20th century who believed in divine healing. He relates this healing of a horse in his autobiography.

    I was back of Chillicothe, Ohio, one spring, holding a meeting; and the brother with whom I was stopping came in, and said, "Wife, I don't know just what to do as Bolly (the mare) was too lame to get to the barn, much less to take a load of truck to Chillicothe." "Well," she said, "go down to your brother's and get his." He went down, but came back without the horse. She said, "Go up to my brother's." He went up there, but came back without a horse. As they were talking in regard to what could be done, as the people were depending on his load in town that day, I said, "What is the matter with your horse?" "Come down to the barn." I laid my Bible down and went out to the barn. The horse's limb was swollen twice its normal size, and she could not raise it. She had eaten nothing all night and that morning. The brother and I went up to the house, and I said, "Brethren, don't you believe Jesus heals?" The sister said, "Oh, of course I know that He heals human beings. When you were here last fall, He healed our girl through your prayer. But Brother Bevington, did you ever hear of His healing animals?" I said, "That isn't answering my question. You will admit that He healed the girl last fall." "Oh, yes, most assuredly, and we all three have testified to that here in our church; and most everybody believes that Jesus did heal her, but -- ." "Now," I said, "we don't want any of those 'buts' here in this case. Jesus didn't use them." "Well, what shall I say?" I said, "If nothing but these 'buts' has a voice, you just keep still." Well she just laughed heartily, and said, "You seem to believe that He will heal Bolly." "Why shouldn't He?" "Oh, Brother Bevington, I would be so glad if He would; not simply that Bolly might be healed so we could use her; but it would stir this whole neighborhood, and be a great help in this meeting." "Well," I said, "what are we going to do about it?" "What are we going to do?" she said. "It is up to you," I answered.

    [Continued in next post]

    1. The husband had been a silent listener. This was entirely new to him. I s aid, "Can't Jesus heal Bolly?" Silence reigned for about twenty minutes. The girl had come in, and also was a listener to what had been said. Finally, she said, "Well Jesus healed me, and Bolly is worth more than I, so why wouldn't He heal her?" Well, I just let them reason and think for about an hour. Finally I said, "You folks are not getting anywhere. Can Jesus or can He not heal this morning?" Another spell of silence gripped them for about ten minutes, which was broken by the wife's saying, "Brother Bevington, if you will believe, I will." I said, "Do you mean that?" "Yes, I do." I said, "Come on." Then I said, "Now, brother, if you can't believe, you stay here at the house." He began to cry and we all stood there. Soon he said, "I will not stay here. I will believe." We all went down to the barn, and I said, "Now, lead her out here." "Oh, Brother Bevington, we can't. She can't lift her foot over that sill." So I went in. I said, "I will lay my hand on her limb. Each of you do the same, putting your hand s below mine." So they did. "Now as we pray, we will move our hands down as the Lord leads." I began to get warmed up on the subject, and was impressed that we move our hands down some, perhaps an inch. Well, we kept that up for about forty or fifty minutes; and as our hands went down, the swelling went out, so that by the time our hands reached the hoof, the swelling was all gone. Well, the man just wept like a child. He had never seen anything like that. He took the mare out, hitched her up and took the load to town; and there was not a limp, either on the way there or back. I forgot to say that as soon as we reached the hoof the mare whinnied. Then we opened our eyes, the swelling was gone. The man said, "She is now hungry." He gave her thirteen ears of corn, which she soon had demolished. He stood speechless and crying, while the wife and I were rejoicing.

      So, as the woman had said, that was a great boon to our meeting, as the mare had been limping all winter, and many knew of her swollen limb. Many came to the meeting who never were there before, and quite a number got salvation. END QUOTE [from the last chapter]

    2. In his book Spiritual Treasure, Roger Sapp relates this story about a flat tire.

      QUOTE: In the first few months as a Christian, I experienced an amazing miraculous event that was coupled with an inner knowing of what to do. I was a young soldier stationed in Wurzburg, Germany. I was saved by Jesus in a Christian coffeehouse that we attended regularly. In February, there was a Christian friend - that also attended this coffeehouse - that was leaving the Army and returning home. He needed a ride to the Frankfurt Rhein-Main Airport. I volunteered to drive him there.
      It was not a long trip. It took about an hour and a half to get to the airport from where we lived. He didn't need to be there until after 8pm so we left about 6pm. My wife Ann and our two young children - one was a baby - came along with us. We arrived at the airport about 7:30pm. We said our goodbyes and he went into the terminal.
      We left the terminal and got back on the Autobahn in a few minutes. In about a half hour, we had a noisy blowout of the front right tire. With some difficulties slowing down and steering the car, I got the car off the autobahn to the shoulder. I got out of the car to examine the tire. I knelt down beside it to examine it carefully. The tire was very flat with the rim near the ground. Normally, this would not have been a problem but I realized that I had taken the spare tire in for repairs a few days before because it was flat also. (At that time, I was a low-ranking soldier and we had worn-out car with worn-out tires.) Absentmindedly, I had forgotten to pick the repaired spare tire up before leaving on this trip.
      I got back into the car and explained the situation to my wife Ann. Whether or not this was accurate, we had been told that if your car broke down on the Autobahn, that you could get a huge fine by the German police. We discussed not being able to afford a fine. It was also very cold and dark outside with only the light of a full moon to see. I was keeping the car engine running to keep my family warm. I didn't know how long I could do this and still have enough gasoline to drive us home. With all these unknowns in our minds, Ann and I started praying for Divine help.
      We had prayed for 15 minutes or so and I began to feel strongly that I should drive on the flat tire. I knew that this would completely ruin the tire and might seriously damage the rim. However, the more that I prayed, the stronger I felt that I should drive on the flat tire. I told Ann that I felt that I should drive on the tire. She - seeing no other solution - reluctantly agreed.

      [Continued in next post]

    3. I started driving slowly on the shoulder. There was a grinding noise that made me think that the metal rim was touching the ground at times. There was also a repeating "flabunk" sound happening. "Flabunk, flabunk, flabunk..." I was praying for this old car to hold up under the new strain that I was putting on it.
      Fairly soon, there was no noise at all. I got going somewhat faster but was puzzled why I wasn't hearing any noise. Without any effort, I got back on the Autobahn and eventually was traveling at speeds in excess of 60 miles an hour with no evidence that anything was wrong with the tire. I drove 45 minutes on that tire and pulled into a parking space in front of the apartment building where we lived on the German economy. I got out of the car and walked over to the right side to look at the tire. It was no longer flat. I could not accept this. Thinking that I was tired, I walked completely around the car checking each of the tires to see if one of them was flat. All the tires were fine. I was dumbfounded and awed as I returned to the right front tire. We were hearing about the Second Coming of Christ in the coffeehouse during that season. I remembered hearing this verse: "The sun shall be turned into darkness, And the moon into blood, Before the great and glorious day of the Lord shall come. And it shall be, that everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved." (Acts 2:20-21) I looked up at the full moon and it did seem to be light red. I felt sure that the Lord was returning that night. I didn't sleep that night and made very sure that we were saved. We both prayed the sinner's prayer again. When the next morning arrived without Christ returning, I was both relieved and disappointed at the same time.
      I got ready to go to work. When I went out to my car, I discovered that the front right tire was flat again and sitting on its rim. I was late to work that day but it was a great day. I experienced an awe of God's nearness all day. By the way, the rim was not damaged and the tire was not destroyed by me driving on it. We had it repaired. END QUOTE