Christians pray for healing, and most of us can report times when we have seen God answer those prayers (as well, sadly, times when healing hasn’t been given). These experiences of God’s grace can leave a deep impression on our faith and life.
But can they be useful in showing the truth of Jesus to unbelievers?
In a recent post I suggested “I think we can use the stories as additional evidence for the truth of christianity rather than a knock-down argument.”. How could this work?
Unbelievers and miracle stories
We rightly base our assessment of the truth of a story or claim on both the evidence and our prior assessment of the probability of such an event. For example, a normally reliable person may tell us they went out last night and saw the moon and a flying saucer. The evidence is the same, but we will readily believe they saw the moon because that isn’t unusual, but we may think they are mistaken about the flying saucer because …. well for obvious reasons.
So unbelievers come to miracle stories with a natural scepticism based on their view that God doesn’t exist and miracle stories cannot be true. They say they will believe what the evidence shows, but they are going to judge the evidence much more carefully than christians may do. This may come from an unwillingness to believe, but is nevertheless understandable. How do we address this fact?
What makes good evidence?
There is little point in talking to unbelievers about unsubstantiated miracle stories. Only two types of stories should be used. Best of all is personal experience, a time when you or someone close to you were healed. Otherwise, we need stories with good documented evidence, that is, evidence that meets most of the following criteria:
- The account comes from a reputable source.
- Names, time and place are provided.
- There is medical evidence or a competent doctor has witnessed the healing.
- The healing is sufficiently unusual to be unlikely to have occurred by natural means.
- There is no reason to believe the story is a fraud.
Miraculous healings with good evidence
So far I have found the following miracle stories to be well supported by evidence:
- A man suffered a massive heart attack and was pronounced dead in the emergency room. But after the heart surgeon laid hands on him and prayed for healing, the man was revived.
- A medical researcher and doctor investigated ten apparent healings which occurred after people were prayed for. He found that all ten cases were cures well beyond what could be expected to have occurred naturally.
- Pilgrims flock to Lourdes seeking healing. Thousands of these cases have been documented, and 68 cases have sufficient medical evidence to allow an international Medical Commission to verify the miracle.
- The World Christian Doctors Network has documented many cases of apparent healing miracles, with supporting evidence.
Using these stories
Most unbelievers will not accept the truth of these stories; they will probably argue that they are frauds, or that the evidence is insufficient, or that they are simply spontaneous remissions that coincidentally occurred after prayer. They may also argue that since miracle stories occur in many different religions, christians cannot use them to show that the christian God exists (see False Arguments? – Many healings, many gods) We should expect this and not be too disappointed by the negative response.
But I think we should still use the accounts as part of a cumulative case that God exists and takes an interest in us. We can at least lovingly challenge unbelievers to consider the evidence, and to recognise that (1) there is indeed evidence, and (2) that their response is not based on the evidence but on their preconceived opinions.
Does anyone know any other sources of well-documentd healing miracles?
For more on healing miracles generally, see Miraculous healings and God.