In the church I belong to, every first Sunday is a “Fast and Testimony Meeting.” That means, among other things, that members go up to the stand/pulpit and testify of their belief in Jesus Christ, or (typically) that the Church is “true,” or something like that. But occasionally, someone will talk about a miracle–how a friend of theirs survived an accident, or recovered from surgery when they weren’t supposed to, something along those lines.
Such survivals or recoveries are generally ascribed to prayer and/or miracles.
I can’t buy that.
I could say that the reason I can’t buy that is that a kid I knew who was driving with three friends took a turn too fast, slammed into a phone poll, and died after several days in a coma. Wouldn’t a just god have saved him? Not only was he a good kid, active in the church, he had a pregnant girlfriend. But god didn’t save him. So we will talk about the miracle of his son’s coming birth, the strength that his example gave other people in the church, the beauty of the coming together of his friends to support his family, etc.
And you know what? I’m entirely cool with those miracles.
I’m not cool with claims that someone survived a disaster that killed others because of his faith or that of others. Why am I cool with miracles of failure but not of success?
Narratives of “miracles of failure” are about us, about humans and about how we react to disasters or failures. To the extent that they imply that we play favorites in our after-the-fact existence, they are necessarily suspect. Imagine a task force of Christians who only rescued Christians after a disaster. Can you?
On the other hand, narratives of miracles of success (what we conventionally call “miracles”)–of survival, recovery–imply that god plays favorites. That he looks at a disaster and says “you believe in me, you can live–but you do not. I will crush the life out of you and send you to hell.”
There is an airplane crash. Almost everyone is killed. The sole survivor attributes her survival to her faith in god. But what of the others? Do we know that they did not have faith in god? Or that god, seeing that they lacked faith, broke them? Squashed them like bugs and left them to burn/drown/die of their injuries?
There is a cancer surgery with a fractional probability of success. One man comes through that surgery successfully, and the success is attributed to the prayers of the faithful. But everyone else who had that surgery dies, either on the table or gasping for breath, in pain, with a catheter up their urethra and a bedpan under their ass. Did god intercede on the part of the first because he had friends? Were the others really so evil that they needed to be disposed of? Is there a god with a hit squad, who only protects those with staffs of praying friends?
That is a vindictive, small god. That is a god who is arbitrary, a cruel trickster. That is a god who plants traps and tricks and pulls the rug out from under you. A god without mercy.
That is a god in whom I cannot, and will not, believe.
But I haven’t decided yet that there is no god in whom/which I believe
And that is why I don’t, won’t, and cannot, believe in miracles.