|Print | Back||February 5, 2009|
In The VillageMiracles happen after faith
by Orson Scott Card
The prophet Moroni is perfectly clear when he says that the true Church ought to have miracles.
"It is by faith that miracles are wrought; and it is by faith that angels appear and minister unto men; wherefore, if these things have ceased, then has faith ceased also; and awful is the state of man ..." (Moro. 7:37).
It's no surprise when critics of the LDS Church scoff at our lack of miracles today. "Where's your speaking in tongues? Your moving of mountains? Looks like you Mormons use phones and cars and medicine and satellites just like the rest of the world."
I've heard some loyal Latter-day Saints respond to the same perception: Where are the miracles? Have they ceased? And if they have, what does that mean?
That we don't need them?
Or that we're not faithful?
None of the above.
Miracles have not ceased. They still happen under the same circumstances as ever. But it is true we don't hear about them much.
In fact, we hear most about miracles that didn't happen!
For instance, by September 13th, 2001, a particularly obnoxious "web weeper" was zipping through the internet, claiming that a missionary meeting had been scheduled in the World Trade Center for the morning of the attack.
But every single missionary pair was either sick, delayed in traffic, had a car breakdown, missed their train, or some other such intervention so that not one of them was present for the scheduled meeting.
This was such an obvious lie that I was shocked that any of my friends had believed it enough to forward it. The Church has a perfectly lovely building of its own in midtown Manhattan. Why in the world would a missionary meeting be scheduled at a very inconvenient and expensive downtown location, when it could be held at the much more central and absolutely free Church building?
What was even sadder, as far as I could see, was that some Latter-day Saint had made this thing up.
Oh, I can imagine a chain of rumors in which each contributor didn't actually lie, but simply read more into what had gone before. "What about the missionaries in New York? Were any of them at Ground Zero?" turns into "Did you hear about the missionaries who were supposed to be in the building."
But I hope you'll excuse my skepticism about there being anything "innocent" involved in making up such a bald-faced lie. Even if each person only exaggerated a little, exaggeration is still lying.
This is where a genuine lack of faith shows up -- when you know there ought to be miracles, and you don't know about any, so in order to reaffirm the faith, you make one up.
But making up miracle stories does not affirm faith, for two reasons:
First, faith is not affirmed by miracles, but rather the reverse -- we have miracles only when we already have faith. (Ether 12:12,18)
Second, lies like this are always exposed, sooner or later. And if someone has built their faith on a made-up miracle, the exposure will make them doubt all miracles.
Why can't we build faith on miracles? Because unbelievers can always make up an alternate explanation for any miracle, even the ones they see for themselves.
It would have happened anyway. Random chance says that sometimes spontaneous healings will follow prayers. The miraculous part of the story took place only in your perceptions. People see what they want or expect to see. You believers, always trying to put one over on the rest of us. If it did happen that way, there's a rational explanation that doesn't require a god.
Oddly enough, I am also a skeptic of miracle stories, even though I believe that miracles happen.
I'm especially skeptical of any miracle story whose climax is, "I was that soldier/bishop/healed person" or whatever the story requires. When the teller of the tale shapes it so that the point of it is for us to be impressed with how blessed he is, I hear these words echoing in my head: "Behold, he has his reward."
Often, these "ain't I spiritual" miracles don't sound at all miraculous to a skeptic like me -- they sound like someone is so hungry for miracles, for the reassurance that God is watching over them, that everything that happens is a miracle.
These are the people who believe that whatever idea comes into their heads must be revelation. It makes me sad, for it means they have never had revelation: if you have, the difference is crystal clear, and you never would make such a mistake.
Real miracles are sacred experiences. And those who have taken part in or witnessed such miracles would not dream of exposing them to scorn or ridicule by telling about them to unbelievers -- or to any large audience that might include skeptics, cynics, or critics of the faithful.
Even when testimony is borne of such an event, the teller of it usually says, "I know that if you weren't there, you might not believe that it was miraculous, but for myself, I have no doubt."
That is a modest testimony, in which you give thanks, but do not expect this to prove anything to anyone else.
Most of the time, however, sacred miracles are kept private, shared among those who experienced them.
When do miracles happen? Two conditions must be met: Faithful people need miraculous intervention, for no other means can help them; and the desired miracle must not interfere with the purposes of God.
Our family visits the graves that mark yearned-for miracles that did not happen. In one of those cases, we saw enough in later years to understand the greater purpose served, though our hearts often ached.
But we have also seen, or heard undeniable witness of, obvious miracles -- of revelation, of inspiration, of healing, of circumstances being bent to meet the needs of the faithful.
Every one of them could be explained away by skeptics; even some who were present have since come to believe there was nothing miraculous or divine about it.
But, like almost all those who receive or witness miracles today, I know what I know, and have no need to prove it to anyone. It will be proven to you in good time, if you have both faith and need, and it serves the will of God.
One thing is certain: God changes not, and is a God of miracles (Morm. 17-20).
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