Where there is a religion, there is someone who worked miracles long ago. We dive into the reasons and answer some questions: Were these miracles real? Are there still miracles nowadays? And: Is this important at all?
Last week, here in Germany, a couple of parents made the news. They were sentenced to five years in prison because they decided not to drive her daughter to a hospital. She was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, I think, but all three of them preferred to believe a miracle would heal her and not medicine.
If they prayed and if they really, really believed in Jesus, the Bible and God, their 16 years old daughter will get healed – that was their strong belief. God works miracles for the ones who love him. Jesus works miracles for the ones who follow in his footsteps.
Nowadays, in the time of medical wonders and of science, these parents seem confused, to put it mildly. They are bad parents in our eyes. Their daughter died because of them. She died, because her parents believed in God and not in medicine, like society in general does.
This is clearly a case in which the belief in miracles was dangerous, even with deadly consequences.
But, let’s say, four or five hundred years in the past – and that’s not a long time. My grandfather was born hundred years ago and I knew him well! Let’s say four times hundred years ago the case of medicine versus miracles would have been just the other way around.
We, the majority, the society would pray for a healing, if we got sick. Praying, visiting the mass, asking saints for help or lighting candles in church were the way we treated, let’s say, cancer.
Because medicine could not help you a lot. Imagine a world without pain killers, without antibiotics and without any understanding how the body works at all. Dissecting a human body was a sin and doctors had no clue about how the different organs worked.
In medieval times wars were fought very different from what we see in Hollywood. The goal of a battle or a fight in battle was not to kill – that was too risky – the main goal was to wound your enemies. To wound as many enemies as possible.
If a soldier was stabbed or cut or broke a bone, he would not be a part of the enemy army at the next battle. A simple cut would probably kill him because of infection, a broken bone would make him a cripple.
And if you were a soldier in those time and critically wounded: All you could really do was praying.
All you had left was the belief that there was a chance, didn’t matter how small, that a miracle would happen to you. Hadn’t Jesus healed the cripples? Hadn’t he brought Lazarus back from death?
Four hundred years ago the judge may have asked the parents:
“Really? You brought your daughter to the doctor, but you didn’t pray at all? You don’t believe in miracles? You clearly are a heretic! Maybe you are a witch or a wizard and you have a pact with the devil – anyhow, it will be better to burn you for not praying for your daughter! God can judge you in the afterlife. Case closed!”
That was not really an exaggeration. It is very difficult to understand how different the mind set of ordinary human beings was in times before science and before constant information. When you didn’t have a clear explanation of what was happening.
Nowadays, if a storm comes, we know about that days in advance. We even know how intensive the wind will blow, if it will rain or not and when it will end.
Hundreds of years ago farmers were surprised by the weather, surprised by storm. Sure, there were dark clouds, the birds didn’t sing – but did that give you enough time to reach your home safely?
This storm may come out of the blue skies in a matter of an hour!
Sure, this was a punishment of God – what else makes the sky so angry? What else makes sense?
Hundreds of years ago you, as an average human being, were a victim.
You had no human rights at all. You were delivered to powers you could not influence. Things happened to you without any plausible cause.
There was the weather, extreme cold or extreme heat, bears, wolves, snakes, mosquitoes, rats, dukes, lords, barons, kings, emperors, priests, bishops, cardinals, popes, sickness, wounds, epidemics, age, mould, rotten food and let’s not forget the devil, demons, witches, wizards, the evil eye and a God who sometimes decides to flood the whole planet or to burn a city to the ground.
All you had to help you was your belief. And your belief was that miracles can happen. That they might happen, if you are pious and devout. If you confessed your sins regularly. If you were a good boy and a good girl Jesus may protect you from all the bad things we just collected.
That was the only thing that made sense at all!
Because life was mostly miserable for the normal people, with bad things happening to them without any explanation or recognisable reason, they were in dire need of miracles!
Thus every religious founder worked miracles.
Or there were miracles written around them, your choice.
Jesus rises Lazarus from death, Mohammed saves Medina from drought with rain, Buddha teleports across the Ganges, Moses parts the Nile, Krishna had ten children with each of his 16.000 wives. (He got 125 years old, you can do the math.)
Religious literature is filled with miracles all over the world. Because miracles were important. Because miracles were needed!
Sometimes people ask: Why did all these miracles happen so far in the past?
Why don’t they happen anymore?
And the answer is: Because our life is not as miserable any more. Because of science, baby! And human rights, too. And no aristocracy, took us six hundred bloody years in Europe, to get rid of those nobles.
If the poor injured medieval soldier lying on the battlefield prayed and would then NOT die from a sepsis, everyone would have agreed: It’s a miracle! God intervened personally to save him from certain death. That was the only explanation, because the odds were so bad.
Nowadays we would disinfect his cuts, sew the arteries, give him antibiotics – profilactically – and his chance of survival would be really good. No miracles necessary here.
We don’t need miracles any more.
And the miracles our ancestors experienced look just like something normal statistics can explain for us. No miracles today and none in the past, too.
No one needs miracles!
Except when we still do.
In my case: When I didn’t learn for my tests, back in school. Which I never did, because I was unbelievably lazy in school. Honestly? I never even learned how to learn!
But when this one test was very important, I was – suddenly – very proficient praying to God.
“Just this one time. If you’ll help me out this time, I will begin to learn every day from now on! Promised!”
It’s really funny to remember, because I must have been in panic every time I prayed.
But: God didn’t work a miracle for me. Which – after the test – gave me an excuse to not learn every day. I mean: We had a deal and who broke it first? Hm? God, I am looking at you right now!
We still need miracles when we get sick and the prognosis is bad. Something that will happen to almost all of us, sooner or later. That’s just one of the few moments left, when we fall back to the way our ancestors experienced life. Because, then, life is miserable again. Then, there are no explanations.
Even if we don’t start to pray, we still hope that we are in the one percent of people who suddenly and miraculously do regenerate from stage IV cancer. We want to be one of the few who have ‘beaten’ cancer. I loathe this way to put it, ‘beating cancer’, turning all people who die into losers.
So, even in modern times, with science and human rights we still need miracles. And, even today, things happen against all odds. Miracles do happen. Things that are not probable do happen, just with a lower probability. Miracles are not made by God, but by statistics.
But you cannot rely on miracles. It’s not a healthy thing to need miracles: They are called miracles, because they are the exception to the rule. They are called miracles, because the odds are against them. They are called miracles, because they almost do never happen. And that’s the same for the pious and for the rocket scientists.
As it was in olden times, it’s still the same:
When you are in need of a miracle, you’re on the fringe, at the brink, or: am Arsch, as we say in Bavaria.
So, let’s summarize: Regardless if miracles exist or not, or if God, Allah, or the Flying Spaghetti Monster works them or not, they are – per definition – the absolute exception to any rule.
Even if you are filled deeply with faith to the deity of your religion, you’ll be much better off, if you were not in need of a miracle – am I right?
Jesus saved Lazarus, but the rest of us just dies; Mohammed may have saved Medina, but only Medina; Buddha teleports, thus making the children of the ferryman hunger; Moses parts the Nile, but not for the soldiers of the Pharaoh; Krishna married 16.000 women, but he did not marry the rest of the female human population on Earth.
Miracles are nothing to rely on.
Even if they happen, you better do not make plans counting on them.
So, the question is not really whether miracles exist, but if they are still important.
I mean: Sure, Jesus walked on water. Buddha did, too.
And Criss Angel does. David Blaine, too. I’ve seen it on YouTube!
I hear you: You say, that Jesus worked a REAL miracle, David Blaine is just a stage magician.
But, to be honest: What is the difference?
What do all the miracles have to say about the belief or the religion or even its founder him- or herself – that is of any worth or any interest to us normal people?
These kinds of miracles proof nothing. If you and me cannot work those miracles on a daily base for everyone in need of them; if those miracles are still the great exception to the rule, then I am not interested.
Fine, those founders feed thousands miraculously, they all do, but – right now – one billion of us are starving! Those miracles do not matter at all.
For me there is no difference WHO is walking on water. Have fun, Criss Angel!
As long as we normal human beings still have to swim or pay the ferryman, I do not mind!
These miracles are not important.
Okay. This said, another confession: I really do believe in miracles!
I do believe in the miracle that there is me. And that there is you, listening to me, maybe on the other side of the planet. That we are connected.
I do believe in the miracle that there is life! This iron ball we call Earth is covered with life. You may see the images the rovers send from Mars and think: Well, that’s just like the Sahara. But it is not. Every square inch of the Sahara brims with life!
I do believe in the miracle that the universe is not a dead place far away at all. Because even life here on Earth is connected with the whole universe. There are thousands of tons of cosmic dust from outer space raining on us on every year. Dust, not comets. And we life forms here on Earth, we make living, breathing organisms out of that dust. And out of comets. We are not picky.
Every atom in you and me and in anything around us, that is not made up of hydrogen or helium, was once created in a supernova. We are a part of an evolving universe. We are here because of 14 billions of years of the existence of this universe. That’s a miracle!
And I do believe that the universe is conscious. Just like I am or you are or the rocks the Mars rover is examining right now. I believe that consciousness and matter are connected. And that isn’t even esoteric or spiritual or religious, it may be something that science will prove in the near future.
Still, that counts as a belief, strictly speaking, I know. So, let’s forget about that last one.
The first three bullet points are miraculous enough, don’t you think? And the most astonishing thing is: We experience these miracles every moment!
We are a part of that miracle that is this universe. There is no explanation why we are here. It seems like the odds are against selfconscious life forms, but still: Here we are!
I do believe in the miracle of life. That’s the biggest miracle you can believe in.
I believe in the miracle that there is NOT nothing, but there is something.
Not nothing, but life.