Here’s a question I recently received:
“I’m not sure all of Jesus’ miracles happened, so how can I have hope for the miracles that I may need?”
It’s actually a fair question. I, for one, have doubts that Jesus walked on water. I simply can’t believe (nor do I see a need to believe) in Jesus’ virginal conception. And for me, the Easter stories are about an experience more than an event.
Still, however firmly established my skeptic’s credentials may be, I am also a person of faith. I have great confidence in the power of prayer, and in ultimate reality, and in the benefits of communal worship. I even believe in the principle of tithing!
So, if Jesus didn’t walk on water, how can the God that the Jesus stories point to bring me the blessings I need or desire most? As I said before, it’s a fair question.
Many of the stories of the bible may have a mythological quality to them, but the wonderful thing about myths is that they are true! They are not factual, but they are imaginative tales meant to communicate something that is universally true. The stories of heroes being miraculously conceived don’t refute the laws of nature; they show us our heroes being born in a special way to indicate that their lives had great promise and power. Our heroes remind us that we also have the potential to express great promise and power. Did Jesus heal the people he touched? Who cares?! The very idea that he would touch those society said were untouchable is powerful and life-changing. The stories don’t have to be news reports or history lessons to be significant and true. So, we get to read, ponder, wrestle with, question, and apply those stories even if we doubt some of them factually occurred.
Meanwhile, miracles happen not because the bible says they do but because we’ve experienced them for ourselves. A miracle is a change of perception. When we see things differently, things on some level really are different. Prayer doesn’t persuade God to do something God otherwise wouldn’t do; prayer helps us see possibilities we wouldn’t let ourselves see before. Once we’ve changed our perception, we’ve changed our experience and “presto-chango,” a miracle has taken place!
In my theology, God is Omnipresent Good. That means that wherever I am, God/Good is. If I’m not seeing/experiencing Good, I need to change my thinking about the situation. So I pray, that is, I affirm and visualize the Good until I feel it’s at hand, can accept it, and thus manifest it in my life. Miracles don’t depend on the bible being free of exaggeration; they depend on my being able to change my mind about a situation. Maybe that’s what the miracle stories in the bible are really saying after all.
The walking on water story tells me that when I’m drowning in a sea of fear-based thinking, I can summon the faith to rise above the fear and walk on that troubled sea to a better place. The story of an unwed maiden delivering a child who will be a savior reminds me that when I’m feeling overwhelmed and powerless, I can bring forth (birth) a new attitude that will deliver me from my distress. The miracle stories of the bible aren’t arguments for what did happen; they are creative literature demonstrating what can happen. Do I believe the bible is factual? Not all of it; but that doesn’t keep it from being in many ways true, and the truths of the bible can still encourage us to see and embrace miracles in our own lives.