“Oh give thanks to the Lord, call upon His name; Make known His deeds among the peoples. Sing to Him, sing praises to Him; Speak of all His wonders” (Psalm 105:1-2).
Zeno, a fifth-century B.C. Greek philosopher, produced a number of sophisticated arguments designed to prove that motion is logically impossible. You read that right. Clearly ancient Greeks had too much time on their hands. Another philosopher, Diogenes, was unimpressed by Zeno’s arguments. On hearing them he simply stood up, walked around, then sat back down again. Refutation by demonstration. Simple, but effective.
Having grown up in conservative Churches of Christ, I was raised as a strict cessationist. We believed that God doesn’t move anymore—not in the same striking way He did in biblical times. We conceded that He was at work in the world in more subtle ways, answering prayers and getting things done behind the scenes through “providence.” But He always, we insisted, operated within the confines of natural law. Miracles—occasions when God intervenes in a dramatic way, violating natural law—were a thing of the past. They weren’t just rare today; they were nonexistent. Now that we had the completed written revelation of God, miracles were no longer necessary or desirable, we thought. God just doesn’t move in that way anymore.
Like Zeno, we had devised some rather ingenious arguments which, we thought, demanded this conclusion. So we were supremely confident that all claims of modern-day miracles were either intentional deception or misguided mania.
Not that we heard many first-hand claims. After all, in our fellowship we pretty much kept to ourselves, and we had all been trained not only not to expect miracles, but to reject the very possibility of them. So if miracles were in fact still possible, it’s not likely that we would have experienced them. After all, God usually deals with us according to our faith (e.g., Matthew 8:13; 9:29; James 1:5-8).
I wasn’t praying for a miracle. My theology didn’t allow for miracles. But God showed up and gave me one anyway. Go figure.
I’ve never spoken about this publicly, but here’s the story.
At some point early in life I started having difficulty swallowing food. The medical term for my condition is “esophageal dysphagia,” and I know I had it at least by age fourteen. Mealtimes were challenging, sometimes embarrassing. The muscles in the lower part of my esophagus would constrict, preventing food from passing through to the stomach. I’d have to stop eating. Normally I would try to wash the food down with a drink, but that was always risky because if it didn’t work the liquid wouldn’t go down either and it only made the pain worse. I don’t know how many times I had to excuse myself from the table, find a bathroom, and either wait for the food to finally go down, or else force it to come back up.
The condition can sometimes be remedied with esophageal dilation—using an endoscope with a special balloon to stretch the esophagus, making it easier for food to pass through. But I never saw a doctor about it or pursued treatment. As inconvenient as it was, I learned to live with the problem.
Fast forward to 1998. I was twenty-eight years old. I’d had dysphagia at least half my life. On September 3 I married the woman of my dreams. I never had trouble swallowing again. The condition was gone. Instantly. Completely. Permanently.
I guess the Lord got tired of my telling everyone He doesn’t move in miraculous ways anymore. So one summer day He stood up, walked over and touched my throat, then went back and sat down. No more dysphagia. Refutation by demonstration. Simple, but effective.
Even though at the time I continued to believe that miraculous gifts in the church (like the ones Paul names in 1 Corinthians 12) had ceased, I could no longer deny miracles were possible. Maybe God doesn’t work miracles through Christians anymore, I thought, but if He wants to perform one directly Himself He certainly can. And He did.
That was nearly two decades ago. It would be thirteen more years before I experienced another healing miracle. But way back there God gave me a glimpse of what’s possible, a hint of extraordinary things to come. Since 2011, which was a crucial turning point in my walk with God, I’ve experienced several more healing miracles like that first one. Enough, in fact, that they no longer shock me. But it’s still a thrill to watch God work.1
Are miracles the apex of the Christian faith? No. Can they be faith-building, life-changing testimonies to the goodness and power of God? Absolutely. Does all this have anything at all to do with the theme of this blog? You bet. I’ll get to that—in Part 2.
1 When I recently told a preacher friend who denies modern-day miracles about my healing in 1998, he tried to explain it by suggesting my condition was merely a psychosomatic illness caused by stress (the stress of not being married, I guess?), which stress was relieved as soon as I married so that the problem immediately subsided. Not only does that not fit with my experience; it also fails to account for the other subsequent healings. It’s easier to believe God is still doing the kinds of things He did in scripture than to conclude that I’ve somehow become an unwitting master at multiplying psychosomatic disorders and their instantaneous, self-induced cure.