Sunday, October 17, 2010

Miracles -- Doctrine and Reality

Roger Ebert
Someone sent me a blog post written recently in the Chicago Sun-Times by Roger Ebert, the famous movie critic (thanks Alan).  It is interesting to read his analysis of how he characterizes the word "miracle." He contends it is overused to explain a natural phenomenon. Ebert concludes, "Do I believe in miracles? No. I believe any event we observe can be explained by natural or scientific laws."

Ebert begins his blog with the observation the Chilean miners who were rescued recently after spending 69 days underground were not the recipients of a "miracle."  Opines Ebert:

"How much better to describe the rescue as the result of the fortitude of the miners and the skill of the good-willed people on the surface who reached them in what was, after all, a very short time. How much better to say the outcome in Chile was the result of intelligence and good will. But there seems to be a narrative in these matters that requires the citing of divinity. Newscasters, victims and their families alike praise the powers above."

When I first read his blog post, my reaction was, "That's a little cynical, Roger."  I can accept cynicism from a film critic, but was there no divine intervention involved and no response to millions of prayers around the world on their behalf?  Who held up the roof so it didn't collapse until the rescuers could drill the hole to free them?  Can we so easily dismiss faith?  He once said of himself:  "I have never said, although readers have freely informed me I am an atheist, an agnostic, or at the very least a secular humanist — which I am."

So we have the logical question:  When does God intervene, why and how?  And when He does intervene is it counted as a miracle even though natural laws we don't understand are likely being invoked, or is it just God dispensing His will in random fashion, or could we just say miracles have nothing to do with God but are the result of pure coincidence and nothing more?

I saw a quote attributed to Carl Sagan recently, something to the effect, "If you're truly going to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first create the cosmos."  Ebert rejects out of hand the belief in creationism and intelligent design.  However, there is a valid opposing view to Roger Ebert's.

Again, Joseph Smith:

If in this life we receive our all; if when we crumble back to dust we are no more, from what source did we emanate, and what was the purpose of our existence? If this life were all, we should be led to query, whether or not there was really any substance in existence, and we might with propriety say, "Let us eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die!" But if this life is all, then why this constant toiling, why this continual warfare, and why this unceasing trouble? But this life is not all; the voice of reason, the language of inspiration, and the Spirit of the living God, our Creator, teaches us, as we hold the record of truth in our hands, that this is not the case, that this is not so; for, the heavens declare the glory of a God, and the firmament showeth His handiwork; and a moment's reflection is sufficient to teach every man of common intelligence, that all these are not the mere productions of chance, nor could they be supported by any power less than an Almighty hand; and He that can mark the power of Omnipotence, inscribed upon the heavens, can also see God's own handwriting in the sacred volume: and he who reads it oftenest will like it best, and he who is acquainted with it, will know the hand wherever he can see it; and when once discovered, it will not only receive an acknowledgment, but an obedience to all its heavenly precepts. For a moment reflect: what could have been the purpose of our Father in giving to us a law? Was it that it might be obeyed, or disobeyed? And think further, too, not only of the propriety, but of the importance of attending to His laws in every particular. If, then, there is an importance in this respect, is there not a responsibility of great weight resting upon those who are called to declare these truths to men? Were we capable of laying any thing before you as a just comparison, we would cheerfully do it; but in this our ability fails, and we are inclined to think that man is unable, without assistance beyond what has been given to those before, of expressing in words the greatness of this important subject. We can only say, that if an anticipation of the joys of the celestial glory, as witnessed to the hearts of the humble is not sufficient, we will leave to yourselves the result of your own diligence; for God ere long, will call all His servants before Him, and there from His own hand they will receive a just recompense and a righteous reward for all their labors.  (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 56).

As holders of the Holy Priesthood, after the Order of the Son of God (D&C 107:3), commonly referred to as the Melchizedek Priesthood, ordinary men in the Church are invited to participate in extraordinary, even miraculous, outcomes by invoking their faith, the faith of family members and friends, and their priesthood authority coupled with the power devolving from their personal righteousness.  Often we limit our thinking about miracles to healings, but some of the biggest miracles I have witnessed involve the restoration of faith and matters of soul and spirit transcending the physcial realms.  Someday when the books are opened (I suspect "the books" include the journals we have kept), the ordinary events of the lives of members of the Church throughout the world will reveal miracles were indeed commonplace among people who believed in miracles.

I am tempted to write about some I have witnessed and been party to this morning, but I will wait for that future day to come when the record of my existence is adjudicated by a heavenly tribunal -- my journals are full of them.  So are yours.  I have also been party to events where miracles did not occur, but faith, priesthood and full desire of heart for a happy outcome were all in evidence.  When all that happens, we defer to "God's will," and I confess I know little about that.  My faith has never been contingent upon outcomes.  I have learned I have little or no control over outcomes.  What I can control is my faith in Jesus Christ, no matter what.

There is an element associated with the working of miracles we rarely discuss, but it is real.  Miracles to which I have been party have always required a degree of revelation.  When we seek for an outcome we cannot possibly facilitate in any other way because it is simply beyond our knowledge or our ability to effect, then the outcome is a miracle.
I always take Joseph Smith as my guide in these matters.  Said Joseph in one of his revelations:

"Whatever principle of intelligence we attain unto in this life, it will rise with us in the resurrection. And if a person gains more knowledge and intelligence in this life through his diligence and obedience than another, he will have so much the advantage in the world to come. There is a law, irrevocably decreed in heaven before the foundations of this world, upon which all blessings are predicated — and when we obtain any blessing from God, it is by obedience to that law upon which it is predicated." (D&C 130:18-21).

When we seek a miracle (and Roger Ebert is correct on this point) the miracle is dependent upon obedience to a natural law upon which it is predicated. The bursting of his carotid artery twice, and the subsequent repair on two occasions, he argues, cannot be classed as a miracle.  He claims medical science and being in the right place at the right time produced the result his life was spared.  So be it. 

But the first verse in The Book of Mormon attests:

"I, Nephi, having been born of goodly parents, therefore I was taught somewhat in all the learning of my father; and having seen many afflictions in the course of my days, nevertheless, having been highly favored of the Lord in all my days; yea, having had a great knowledge of the goodness and the mysteries of God, therefore I make a record of my proceedings in my days." (1 Nephi 1:1).  Based upon that beginning, the reader is immediately immersed in an adventure with Nephi and his family chronicling miracle after miracle.  We live in a day of fulfillment of prophecy, as Roger Ebert's assertions have so amply proven.  He is among those who mock the believers from the great and spacious building and declare, "Miracles have ceased."

President Harold B. Lee
I have always treasured Harold B. Lee's definition of "a mystery," when he observed, "A mystery may be defined as a truth which cannot be known except by revelation."  (Teachings of Harold B. Lee, 575).

Here's a scripture chain to illustrate:

"They deny the power of God, the Holy One of Israel; and they say unto the people: Hearken unto us, and hear ye our precept; for behold there is no God today, for the Lord and the Redeemer hath done his work, and he hath given his power unto men; Behold, hearken ye unto my precept; if they shall say there is a miracle wrought by the hand of the Lord, believe it not; for this day he is not a God of miracles; he hath done his work." (2 Nephi 28:5-6).

"Yea, wo unto him that shall deny the revelations of the Lord, and that shall say the Lord no longer worketh by revelation, or by prophecy, or by gifts, or by tongues, or by healings, or by the power of the Holy Ghost! Yea, and wo unto him that shall say at that day, to get gain, that there can be no miracle wrought by Jesus Christ; for he that doeth this shall become like unto the son of perdition, for whom there was no mercy, according to the word of Christ." (3 Nephi 29:6-7).

"It is given unto you [Jesus' disciples] to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them [those who are not spiritually attuned] it is not given." (Matthew 13:11).

"Let a man so account of us, as of the ministers of Christ, and stewards of the mysteries of God." (1 Corinthians 4:1).

"And it came to pass that I, Nephi, being exceedingly young, nevertheless being large in stature, and also having great desires to know of the mysteries of God, wherefore, I did cry unto the Lord; and behold he did visit me, and did soften my heart that I did believe all the words which had been spoken by my father; wherefore, I did not rebel against him like unto my brothers." (1 Nephi 2:16).

"For he that diligently seeketh shall find; and the mysteries of God shall be unfolded unto them, by the power of the Holy Ghost, as well in these times as in times of old, and as well in times of old as in times to come; wherefore, the course of the Lord is one eternal round." (1 Nephi 10:19).

"For I am God, and mine arm is not shortened; and I will show miracles, signs, and wonders, unto all those who believe on my name. And whoso shall ask it in my name in faith, they shall cast out devils; they shall heal the sick; they shall cause the blind to receive their sight, and the deaf to hear, and the dumb to speak, and the lame to walk." (D&C 35:8-9).

"Do we not read that God is the same yesterday, today, and forever, and in him there is no variableness neither shadow of changing? And now, if ye have imagined up unto yourselves a god who doth vary, and in whom there is shadow of changing, then have ye imagined up unto yourselves a god who is not a God of miracles…
"And who shall say that Jesus Christ did not do many mighty miracles? And there were many mighty miracles wrought by the hands of the apostles. And if there were miracles wrought then, why has God ceased to be a God of miracles and yet be an unchangeable Being? And behold, I say unto you he changeth not; if so he would cease to be God; and he ceaseth not to be God, and is a God of miracles." (Mormon 9:9-20).

"Has the day of miracles ceased? Or have angels ceased to appear unto the children of men? Or has he withheld the power of the Holy Ghost from them? Or will he, so long as time shall last, or the earth shall stand, or there shall be one man upon the face thereof to be saved? Behold, I say unto you, Nay; for 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 wo be unto the children of men, for it is because of unbelief, and all is vain." (Moroni 7:28-38).

"Yea, he that repenteth and exerciseth faith, and bringeth forth good works, and prayeth continually without ceasing — unto such it is given to know the mysteries of God; yea, unto such it shall be given to reveal things which never have been revealed; yea, and it shall be given unto such to bring thousands of souls to repentance, even as it has been given unto us to bring these our brethren to repentance." (Alma 26:22).

"If thou shalt ask, thou shalt receive revelation upon revelation, knowledge upon knowledge, that thou mayest know the mysteries and peaceable things — that which bringeth joy, that which bringeth life eternal." (D&C 42:61).

"Seek not for riches but for wisdom, and behold, the mysteries of God shall be unfolded unto you, and then shall you be made rich. Behold, he that hath eternal life is rich." (D&C 6:7).

"And to them [the righteous] will I reveal all mysteries, yea, all the hidden mysteries of my kingdom from days of old, and for ages to come, will I make known unto them the good pleasure of my will concerning all things pertaining to my kingdom." (D&C 76:7).

"The power and authority of the higher, or Melchizedek Priesthood, is to hold the keys of all the spiritual blessings of the church — to have the privilege of receiving the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, to have the heavens opened unto them, to commune with the general assembly and church of the Firstborn, and to enjoy the communion and presence of God the Father, and Jesus the mediator of the new covenant." (D&C 107:18-19).

Miracles are by definition something we do not understand, therefore they are mysterious to the natural man.  However, a miracle occurs when the natural laws -- "the mysteries" involved -- are revealed to someone holding the priesthood and those laws are invoked to produce the desired outcome.  The scriptures teach this principle clearly and without ambiguity -- when we obey the law upon which the blessing is predicated, mysteries are revealed and a miracle happens, even though the natural laws may not be universally known at the time. 

Computers are a miracle to me.  I simply do not understand the software code that makes them tick.  Neither do I understand the minute detail of the hardware assembled to make it all work.  I toured a chip manufacturing plant in Palo Alto years ago when I was consulting, and was ushered into a clean room where the chips were microscopic.  They told me the future of chip making was to harness "light," the purest element.  Those little chips had more computing power than the first computers filling rooms in the early days.  To me it's all a mystery.  I suspect to the inventors of hardware and software those laws upon which computers operate are perfectly understandable and sequential, but to me those principles will likely forever remain an unrevealed mystery.  In turn, what is obvious to me about faith, miracles and mysteries remains an unrevealed mystery to Roger Ebert.

We are told signs follow those who believe. Signs are evidence of faith:  "Verily, I say unto you, there are those among you who seek signs, and there have been such even from the beginning; but, behold, faith cometh not by signs, but signs follow those that believe." (D&C 63:8-9).

Signs are a natural consequence of righteousness.  They are given as gifts from God to those who purify themselves before Him. When we accept and believe what the Spirit tells us, signs follow as a natural consequence.

President Spencer W. Kimball
President Spencer W. Kimball said, "Signs will follow them that believe. He makes no promise that signs will create belief nor save nor exalt. Signs are the product of faith. They are born in the soil of unwavering sureness. They will be prevalent in the Church in about the same degree to which the people have true faith." (Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, 500).

President Brigham Young
President Brigham Young said, "Miracles, or these extraordinary manifestations of the power of God, are not for the unbeliever; they are to console the Saints, and to strengthen and confirm the faith of those who love, fear, and serve God, and not for outsiders." (Discourses of Brigham Young, 341).

Elder James E. Talmage
Elder James E. Talmage adds this insight: "Miracles are not primarily intended, surely they are not needed, to prove the power of God; the simpler occurrences, the more ordinary works of creation do that. But unto the heart already softened and purified by the testimony of the truth, to the mind enlightened through the Spirit's power and conscious of obedient service in the requirements of the Gospel, the voice of miracles comes with cheering tidings, with fresh and more abundant evidences of the magnanimity of an all merciful God." (Articles of Faith, 199).

Elder Bruce R. McConkie
Elder Bruce R. McConkie put it this way: "Miracles are part of the gospel. Signs follow those that believe. Where the doctrines of salvation are taught in purity and perfection, where there are believing souls who accept these truths and make them a part of their lives, and where devout souls accept Jesus as their Lord and serve him to the best of their ability, there will always be miracles. Such ever attend the preaching of the gospel to receptive and conforming people. Miracles stand as a sign and a witness of the truth and divinity of the Lord's work. Where there are miracles, there is the gospel, the Church, the kingdom, and the hope of salvation. Where there are no signs and miracles, none of these desired blessings will be found." (The Mortal Messiah, 2:10).

Elder McConkie also wrote: "Signs flow from faith. They may incidentally have the effect of strengthening the faith of those who are already spiritually inclined, but their chief purpose is not to convert people to the truth, but to reward and bless those already converted. . . . To seek the gifts of the Spirit through faith, humility, and devotion to righteousness is not to be confused with sign-seeking. The saints are commanded to 'covet earnestly the best gifts.' (1 Corinthians 12:31).  But implicit in this exhortation is the presumption that those so seeking will do so in the way the Lord has ordained." (Mormon Doctrine, 713, 715).

To the world without the fulness of the gospel, of course, the gospel itself is a mystery.  We know the Father and the Son have bodies of flesh and bones.  But the world, not knowing, claims the Father, Son and Holy Ghost are an unknowable "mystery."  The false doctrine of the "Trinity" is the result. 

"If your eye be single to my glory, your whole bodies shall be filled with light, and there shall be no darkness in you; and that body which is filled with light comprehendeth all things. Therefore, sanctify yourselves that your minds become single to God, and the days will come that you shall see him; for he will unveil his face unto you, and it shall be in his own time, and in his own way, and according to his own will." (D&C 88:67-68).

We are headed for a time when all will know God.  The "mystery" of God's true identity will be revealed to all, and all the mysteries, all the "hidden things" regarding the earth's creation, will likewise be revealed without reservation:  "Q. What are we to understand by the book which John saw, which was sealed on the back with seven seals?  A. We are to understand that it contains the revealed will, mysteries, and the works of God; the hidden things of his economy concerning this earth during the seven thousand years of its continuance, or its temporal existence." (D&C 77:6).  Until the book is opened and the seals broken, we walk by faith not seeing.

Joseph Smith
Joseph Smith was an eyewitness: "We beheld the glory of the Son, on the right hand of the Father, and received of his fulness; and saw the holy angels, and them who are sanctified before his throne, worshiping God, and the Lamb, who worship him forever and ever. And now, after the many testimonies which have been given of him, this is the testimony, last of all, which we give of him: That he lives! For we saw him, even on the right hand of God; and we heard the voice bearing record that he is the Only Begotten of the Father — that by him, and through him, and of him, the worlds are and were created, and the inhabitants thereof are begotten sons and daughters unto God." (D&C 76:20-24).

That would certainly count as a miracle, even in Roger Ebert's world!

"Great and marvelous are the works of the Lord, and the mysteries of his kingdom which he showed unto us, which surpass all understanding in glory, and in might, and in dominion; which he commanded us we should not write while we were yet in the Spirit, and are not lawful for man to utter.  Neither is man capable to make them known, for they are only to be seen and understood by the power of the Holy Spirit, which God bestows on those who love him, and purify themselves before him; to whom he grants this privilege of seeing and knowing for themselves; that through the power and manifestation of the Spirit, while in the flesh, they may be able to bear his presence in the world of glory." (D&C 76:114-18).

"Verily, thus saith the Lord: It shall come to pass that every soul who forsaketh his sins and cometh unto me, and calleth on my name, and obeyeth my voice, and keepeth my commandments, shall see my face and know that I am." (D&C 93:1).

Elder McConkie, writing in his last book, said, "Personal revelation is not limited to gaining a testimony and knowing thereby that Jesus, through whom the gospel came, is Lord of all, nor is it limited to receiving guidance in our personal and family affairs — although these are the most common examples of revelation among the Lord's people. In truth and in verity, there is no limit to the revelations each member of the Church may receive. It is within the power of every person who has received the gift of the Holy Ghost to see visions, entertain angels, learn the deep and hidden mysteries of the kingdom." (A New Witness for the Articles of Faith, 489-90).

"This greater priesthood administereth the gospel and holdeth the key of the mysteries of the kingdom, even the key of the knowledge of God. Therefore, in the ordinances thereof, the power of godliness is manifest. And without the ordinances thereof, and the authority of the priesthood, the power of godliness is not manifest unto men in the flesh; for without this no man can see the face of God, even the Father, and live." (D&C 84:19-22).

President Joseph Fielding Smith
President Joseph Fielding Smith observed: "It is impossible for men to obtain the knowledge of the mysteries of the kingdom or the knowledge of God, without the authority of the Priesthood. Secular learning, the study of the sciences, arts and history, will not reveal these vital truths to men. It is the Holy Priesthood that unlocks the door to heaven and reveals to man the mysteries of the Kingdom of God. It is this Divine Authority which makes known the knowledge of God! Is there any wonder that the world today is groping in gross darkness concerning God and the things of his kingdom? We should also remember that these great truths are not made known even to members of the Church unless they place their lives in harmony with the law on which these blessings are predicated." (Church History and Modern Revelation, 1:338).

President Smith made it clear these supernal spiritual blessings were available without restriction to men and women: "It ought to make every man among us who holds the priesthood rejoice to think that we have that great authority by which we may know God. Not only the men holding the priesthood know that great truth, but because of that priesthood and the ordinances thereof, every member of the Church, men and women alike, may know God." (Doctrines of Salvation, 3:142-43).

In our extended family right now we are uniting our faith on behalf of beloved cousins who are struggling with cancer and other physical ailments.  Miracles are being sought and priesthood blessings are being given.  Medical science has advanced in these areas beyond what it was even five or ten years ago.  Common treatments today, but unknown a few years ago, would have been classed as "miracles" then.  I heard a speaker at a technology symposium for small business last week make the statement that anyone studying for a technical degree in today's universities can expect a shelf life for his degree of about six months, the advances are coming so fast now.

Elder Dallin H. Oaks
Elder Dallin H. Oaks, speaking in a recent General Conference, said, "Latter-day Saints believe in applying the best available scientific knowledge and techniques. We use nutrition, exercise, and other practices to preserve health, and we enlist the help of healing practitioners, such as physicians and surgeons, to restore health.

"The use of medical science is not at odds with our prayers of faith and our reliance on priesthood blessings. When a person requested a priesthood blessing, Brigham Young would ask, 'Have you used any remedies?' To those who said no because 'we wish the Elders to lay hands upon us, and we have faith that we shall be healed,' President Young replied: 'That is very inconsistent according to my faith. If we are sick, and ask the Lord to heal us, and to do all for us that is necessary to be done, according to my understanding of the Gospel of salvation, I might as well ask the Lord to cause my wheat and corn to grow, without my plowing the ground and casting in the seed. It appears consistent to me to apply every remedy that comes within the range of my knowledge, and [then] to ask my Father in Heaven … to sanctify that application to the healing of my body.'" (Discourses of Brigham Young, 163).

Elder Oaks concludes:  "From all of this we learn that even the servants of the Lord, exercising His divine power in a circumstance where there is sufficient faith to be healed, cannot give a priesthood blessing that will cause a person to be healed if that healing is not the will of the Lord.

"As children of God, knowing of His great love and His ultimate knowledge of what is best for our eternal welfare, we trust in Him. The first principle of the gospel is faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, and faith means trust. I felt that trust in a talk my cousin gave at the funeral of a teenage girl who had died of a serious illness. He spoke these words, which first astonished me and then edified me: 'I know it was the will of the Lord that she die. She had good medical care. She was given priesthood blessings. Her name was on the prayer roll in the temple. She was the subject of hundreds of prayers for her restoration to health. And I know that there is enough faith in this family that she would have been healed unless it was the will of the Lord to take her home at this time.' I felt that same trust in the words of the father of another choice girl whose life was taken by cancer in her teen years. He declared, 'Our family’s faith is in Jesus Christ and is not dependent on outcomes.' Those teachings ring true to me. We do all that we can for the healing of a loved one, and then we trust in the Lord for the outcome."

And many of those outcomes today do involve miracles.  Even if Roger Ebert wouldn't call them that.

No comments:

Post a Comment