An Insider's Look at Mormon Culture

Posts tagged ‘miracles’

Explaining God

“Who made God?” was my first unanswered theological question—at about age five, I think. Since then the list has only grown. Reading Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand stirred another longtime question—“Is God omnipotent?” Hillenbrand’s extensively researched book relates the saga of an American pilot and bombardier downed in the Pacific during WWII who survived 46 days at sea on a two-man life raft.

Minor miracles occurred—rain fell as water supplies were exhausted. A few birds flew onto the raft to provide food and fish bait. Currents eventually carried them to an island—albeit one populated by the enemy. Of course, their own resourcefulness and will to live played a part in the men’s survival. Naturally, they and their families waiting for word of them prayed fervently for their lives.

Hundreds, maybe thousands, of planes crashed into the sea during the war and few crew members were rescued. It’s hard to believe the lost men and their family members prayed less fervently or were less righteous than the small number actually rescued.

Believing God had the power to save all these men but elected to provide miracles for only a handful is tough to reconcile with the doctrine of a loving, merciful God. Religious apologists answer that with an analogy: Mortals can no more understand God’s purposes than dogs can learn calculus.

A different view of God—that he is not omnipotent and cannot alter natural laws works better for many people. From this perspective, God can offer comfort and insights to help mortals cope with factors beyond their—and his—ability to control. A third view is simply that the universe runs without divine intervention.

The second and third views offer less comfort and security than belief in an all-powerful Father who can create miracles to benefit worthy supplicants. The downside to believing in an omnipotent God is that faith is often shattered when fervent prayers go unanswered.

Certainly, we live in a world where unexplained things—both good and evil—occur. Perhaps the wisest course of action is to give thanks for the good, work constructively to overcome the ill, and not worry too much about the source.

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Faith to Move Mountains or Maybe Molehills

Driving by the former Point of the Mountain dividing Salt Lake and Utah Counties, I realize that power shovels and dump trucks are as capable of moving mountains as faith. More so, I guess. I’m not aware of any mountains that have been relocated through faith—unless you count Hanuman flying the mountain of herbs from the Himalayas to provide healing to Ram’s army in the Ramayana legend.

When I was growing up, church lessons routinely featured stories of Apostle Matthew Cowley’s miraculous healing of Polynesian members in New Zealand and the Pacific Islands. Even without the visuals used in contemporary church lessons, those stories flamed to life in my mind. I saw the dying man lying on a woven mat on the sandy floor of his grass shack. His wife and children weeping. No medical help available. A runner bursts through the doorway. An apostle from the Church of Jesus Christ has just arrived on the supply boat. Minutes later, Elder Cowley enters the hut and looks at the dying man. The Apostle hesitates to administer to such a hopeless case, but the man whispers, “If you bless me, I will live.” A sacred hush envelops the hut as Elder Cowley lays his hands on the man’s head and administers a priesthood blessing of healing. Witnesses barely open their eyes before the man sits up and asks for something to eat. His faith has made him whole.

My heart thumped at the conclusion of each story. If I had the undoubting faith of these Polynesians, my prayers would be answered like theirs. Yet, other church lessons emphasized God answering our prayers according to His greater knowledge. For our own good, sometimes the answer is no. Which was it—faith works miracles or God might say no?

BYU tilted my faith system to the miracle side. When our first child was born, I believed that, in answer to sincere fasting and prayer, God would provide total guidance for raising this precious child. A three-week bout of colic demonstrated that not even fervent prayers guaranteed trouble-free child-rearing. Faith and parenting were both more complex than I’d imagined.

Faith can provide comfort, but faith can also postpone action. Ray, a good man in our ward, was diagnosed with liver cancer. He received medical treatment, priesthood blessings, and a ward fast. Ray ran a construction business and his wife begged him to put his business affairs in legal order, just in case. Ray refused. In his mind, planning for the possibility of his death demonstrated lack of faith in the Lord’s power to heal. For Ray, death preceded the miracle. Relying on prayers and blessings left his business in a costly mess.

The D&C tells us “To some it is given to know . . . To others, it is given to believe . . . .” (46:12-13) No one “knows” about spiritual things in the empirical sense, but many believe—some strongly. Others can only hope or, less optimistically, wish. Maybe faith encompasses more than belief in God. Maybe faith includes belief in our own capacity to act. And maybe the faith to move mountains refers to the human capacity to design, build, and operate earthmovers.

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