Pentecostal Christianity (and increasingly a similar version of Islam) boasts of miracles all the time. In fact the growth of these religious houses can be partly attributed to their enormous miracle claims. Our major highways in the country have been taken over by miracle camps where miracle claims are made on a daily basis. Testifiers stand up to grab the stage and wow the worshippers with fantastic stories, too-good-to-be-true stories of miracles. But can they possibly be saying the truth?
But you say people can’t lie in the name of God. And I’ve heard some people claim that certain people can’t lie. Well, it’s no news that humans have the natural capacity and insatiable tendency to lie. Lying is evolutionary to all animals high on the intelligence scale. Baboons, chimps, elephants, dogs, cats, and even chameleons lie. Babies and infants lie. There are many motivations for lying, raNging from self-preservation to gaining control of others. That’s why you shouldn’t readily trust people.
That we know that humans can lie is the reason why people get marriage certificates when they marry and certificates when they graduate from the university. That’s why people have driving licenses. That’s why we have cameras, voice recorders, and lie detectors. That’s why CNN just doesn’t give us news without the details of the personalities, time, and locations of events and even backed up by audiovisual evidence if possible. That’s why we don’t convict people of crimes in courts without providing evidence. Even providing evidence is not enough. We still go ahead to examine the evidence as we know that our propensity to lie can even make us fabricate evidence. So why should you swallow miracle claims hook, line, and sinker?
What are miracle claims? Miracle claims are narrations of positive events that are beyond the natural, i.e., the supernatural. In other words, miracle claims are narrations of desirable events that are allegedly caused by other forces beside the recognized forces of nature. They’re supposedly inexplicable by the current human understanding of nature. Well, I doubt all such claims. I believe they’re lies and untruths. There are reasons why people would readily make such claims and there are reasons why people readily believe them. That’s another article entirely. So as not to make this article winding and too long, let me stay with the issue at hand. The following are some of the questions I’d expect you to ask about miracle claims.
1. Are the miracles really miracles?
Using the template put forward by St. Thomas Aquinas (1225 – 1274 CE), I can classify all miracle claims into three degrees.
I’ll call 1st degree all antinatural miracles, i.e., events that have never happened in the history of humanity or are highly unlikely. Such miracles don’t have human or scientific explanations. Examples of such are an amputee’s limb growing back to normal size and shape instantly, a dwarf growing to normal height instantly, an albino getting healed of his albinism instantly, a corpse resurrecting after 3 months of embalming, an animal suddenly speaking Hebrew language fluently, a primary school dropout becoming a bank branch manager the next day, etc. All these would be 1st degree miracle claims.
2nd degree miracle claims would be those which are very rare occurrences but are still explainable by human understanding. A 70 year-old woman getting pregnant, spontaneous healing of chronic medical conditions like chronic pain, hypertension, cancer and diabetes (even swellings may spontaneously subside over a long time), and a couple barren for 15 years getting a child are examples. These are normal, fully scientifically explainable occurrences whose rarity has made become miracles to the uninformed. There’s nothing supernatural about them. Rather they’re perfectly natural occurrences that point to the well-recognized nature’s imperfections.
3rd degree miracle claims are normal happenings that have been elevated to the status of miracles by the testifiers. They’re not rare occurrences, neither are they any special. They only become miracles to the testifiers just become they have low expectations about life generally. Such things include going on a trip on Nigerian roads and returning safely, clinching a job after an interview, a dead business coming back to life, sleeping at night and waking up in the morning, escaping an armed robbery attack, passing an exam you’ve considered yourself not well prepared for, etc. Of course, once people believe that they can’t wake up in the morning, waking up becomes a miracle to them. To those who think they can’t pass an exam, passing the exam become a miracle. Etc, etc.
Here are the rules of thumb. For 2nd degree miracle claims, the more your knowledge about nature, the shorter your list of miracles. That’s why what are miracles to lay people may not be miracles to doctors or geologists or some other scientifically knowledgeable person. St. Thomas Aquinas in his book titled ‘Summa contra Gentiles‘ perfectly summed this up thus:
These works that are sometimes done by God outside the usual order assigned to things are wont to be called miracles: because we are astonished (admiramur) at a thing when we see an effect without knowing the cause. And since at times one and the same cause is known to some and unknown to others, it happens that of several who see an effect, some are astonished and some not: thus an astronomer is not astonished when he sees an eclipse of the sun, for he knows the cause; whereas one who is ignorant of this science must needs wonder, since he knows not the cause.
Wherefore it is wonderful to the latter but not to the former. Accordingly a thing is wonderful simply, when its cause is hidden simply: and this is what we mean by a miracle: something, to wit, that is wonderful in itself and not only in respect of this person or that. Now God is the cause which is hidden to every man simply: for we have proved above that in this state of life no man can comprehend Him by his intellect. Therefore properly speaking miracles are works done by God outside the order usually observed in things.
For 3rd degree miracles, the higher your life expectations, the shorter your list of miracles. This is why folks from third world countries like Nigeria have longer lists of miracles than their counterparts in the developed world.
Someone told me a miracle story. She said someone died in a vehicular accident but resurrected few hours after his body had been deposited in a morgue. Then I asked if the person’s head was severed from the body and the thing rejoined before the person resurrected. She said no. Then I laughed and walked away. I’m a doctor and I know a few simple explanations for why a supposed dead person might ‘rise up’ few hours after being dropped in a mortuary. A decapitated body coming back to life would be a 1st degree miracle claim. This one narrated here is not a 1st degree miracle for me.
So when I hear miracle claims, I ask myself if they’re real miracles. If they’re not 1st degree miracles, then they’re not real miracles. My belief is that an all-powerful God should make amputees’ legs regrow and do 1st degree stuff like that. After all, nothing is impossible for him and there’s nobody that can say God doesn’t love amputees or amputees don’t have enough faith to receive their miracles. That’s the best way to show his power. Anything less than that is simply not good enough for me. But I also understand that once 1st degree miracles are nonexistent, and 2nd degree miracles are very rare to find, 3rd degree miracles need to be proclaimed to keep our miracle advertisements going. Something like when the desirable isn’t available, the available undesirable becomes the desirable.
Apostle Suleman is one of the popular pastors believed by many to perform miracles. Click here to see a video of how during a crusade, he stylishly avoided confronting a 1st degree miracle. He obviously knew he couldn’t make the woman’s leg swelling disappear instantly.
2. Are miracle claims coherent stories?
Next up. Listen and pay attention to the miracle claims. Are there signs of fabrications all over the story? Let’s talk about the following as an example.
A testimony was recently shared at the Redemption Camp along Lagos-Ibadan expressway, Nigeria. His wife conceived in August. She suffered a miscarriage in October and evacuation was done in the same October. They didn’t have any sexual intercourse as advised by the doctors. But his wife conceived — immaculate conception like Mary, mother of Jesus, did — when Daddy G. O. touched her tummy inside her dream. Lo and behold, by April (i.e., 6 months after the evacuation), the woman gave birth to a bouncing baby boy. And because daddy G. O. promised them a set of twin boys, 15 days after the first baby, another bouncing baby boy was born.
So hear the punchline: ‘We were barren for 15 years but we had 2 babies in 15 days. Who did it? Jesus!’ 15 in 15! Nice one. This is exactly how adverts are garnished with catchy punchlines to attract people. Even Olamide Baddo Sneh, the king of punchlines himself, will be envious of this punchline! Of course, because of the psychological profile of the congregants, and the psychedelic atmosphere in these pentecostal gatherings, such lines always work. You can see it in the following video.
This is even a 2nd degree miracle claim at best but why am I talking about this? It’s because God should’ve told Daddy G. O. that one of his children has just lied. But no. Daddy G. O. himself grinned after the testimony as he stands up to take the pulpit. The incoherence in the story is just too much to stomach. It’s either the miscarriage didn’t happen and the evacuation was not done (in which case he should be suing the doctor for a bad job done) or it was done and they had immaculate conception with a premature delivery (6 month-old fetus). And the twins separated by 15 says? Even Irish twins aren’t that straightforward!
They say someone was born blind. But how does the person’s sight miraculously return and he immediately starts to recognize people and colours and even count numbers? How does someone who has never seen colours or people hitherto suddenly recognize colours or people? How does someone who’s been deaf and dumb since birth start speaking Yoruba or English immediately after the miracle?
This is similar to Daddy G. O. narrating the story of he driving a car on an empty tank for over 200 km. That’s a story that’s too internally inconsistent to accept. Church is the only only place where testimonies are graciously accepted without cross-examination. Try it in a court of law and give me a feedback.
3. Is sufficient evidence provided in the story?
Claims should be backed up by ample evidence. And extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. Miracle claims are extraordinary claims. They just won’t do with any kind of evidence. They will require nothing but extraordinary evidence. If I told you that I finished 2 bottles of Coke in 5 minutes, you might accept without asking for much proof. But if I told you that I finished a truck-load of Coke in 5 minutes, you would be stupid to accept my claim as true without any extraordinary evidence. Once again, the only place where extraordinary claims are made without evidence is church.
Let’s go back to the video. Why didn’t he mention the name and the location of the hospital where the evacuation was done? And the name of the doctor that did the evacuation? If this story was to be published in a standard newspaper, all these details would be necessary. But for the sake of encouraging the faithfuls in church, all testimonies are devoid of such details.
I’ve been a miracle chaser for years now. When I hear a 1st degree miracle claim, I try to get the details to confirm but I’ve been disappointed every single time. The claimants always don’t have the full details. Someone once told me about a guy whose hemoglobin genotype instantly converted from SS to AA when a pastor prayed for him. The claimant is one of my colleagues and he said the beneficiary of the miracle was his cousin. I asked for his cousin’s phone number. I planned to contact him, follow him to the hospital where he was initially being treated for sickle-cell disease. I wanted to see his hospital records. Then I was ready to spend my own money to reconfirm his new genotype. Four years after the incident, the colleague is yet to give me his cousin’s number.
When next someone narrates a miracle to you, ask them for the details. Tell them you want to confirm. The same thing always happens. Their confidence in the story fades gradually and they end up not providing any evidence.
4. Why do miracle claims always involve anonymous people?
This is a serious one for me. If you read these church bulletins or watch these church TV channels advertising these miracles, you will see stories of so many people receiving fantastic, 1st degree miracles. But somehow, all these people are anonymous people. People whose identities can’t be traced and thus their stories can’t be confirmed. Why hasn’t this miracle happened to a popular person whose stories we can all confirm?
So many blind people have received their sight at miracle crusades in America as organized by Kenneth Hagan, Benny Hinn, etc. Why hasn’t Stevie Wonder received his sight? With all the blind people receiving their sight in Nigeria, why hasn’t Cobhams Asuquo been one of them? Even many people claimed to have been healed by Prophet Obadare but how come he died a blind man himself? People do stand up from their wheelchairs in all these crusades and camps but when will Yinka Ayefele stand up from his?
The reason is simple. You can pay anonymous people to fake miracles for you but you can’t lie about people whose situations can easily be confirmed by the whole world. If you say Steve Wonder or Yinka Ayefele has been healed, we will discover your lie. That’s why. And they don’t openly ask those people to come to their church for healing for the same reason. They know nothing will happen and they won’t be able to lie about it.
People get paid for faking miracles. For ₦10,000 or something, they sit in wheelchairs pretending to be lame. As the pastor prays for them in front of a large crowd, they stand up. All these renowned miracle workers have been said to employ such tactics. Click here to read about Chris Oyakhilome being said to have employed the same tactic.
5. Why don’t miracle claims involve neutral locations?
Almost all miracle claims of healing have happened in church auditoriums or crusade grounds. Chris Oyakhilome has a Healing School in Nigeria and a few other places. Why should there be a healing school? Why should folks that need healing need to visit a synagogue (TB Joshua), a camp (Adeboye), or a school (Oyakhilome)? The doctor needs his equipment and his fellow health professionals in a building. That’s why patients need to come to a location to receive the doctor’s healing. Does a miracle healer need more than the spirit of God in his life? Does he need a building or some gadgets? So why has his anointing for miracle tied to a location?
The power of God shouldn’t be geo-dependent. In other words, God is omnipresent. Our men of God who perform all these miracles can take time out to go to a hospital. Not to distribute relief materials to the patients or give some equipment to the hospital like they usually do but just to pray for the sick. Trust me. So many of those patients on admission have faith even bigger than those that go to the miracle camps. I see patients everyday and I marvel at their level of faith. Some patients have kept their bottles of anointing oil close to their bodies even as they’re being stretchered into the operating room. Some of them even stop having a conversation with us as they’re busy on that stretcher praying hard to God.
So their faith is more than enough. What’s left is for one of these our daddy G. O.’s (T. B. Joshua, Oyedepo, Adeboye, Oyakhilome, Odukoya, Kumuyi) to come and pray for these patients in the hospital. Let’s see what happens. Doctors and nurses want their patients to be cured of their illnesses. Trust me. We’ll be more than happy if these miracles happen. If people come to do gospel outreach to patients in the hospital, they can come and perform miracles there too.
The Jesus they claim to copy didn’t have a synagogue, a miracle camp, or a healing school. He allegedly performed street miracles anywhere he went. Same for Paul. No rigging of venues. No planting of fakers. Spontaneous locations, random venues.
But these pastors will never try it. Why? Because they know that in the hospital where there are no ushers/stewards and protocol officers, the lies will easily be open for all to see. Someone can go to church, miracle camp, or crusade and pretend to be sick and immediately claim that he has been healed. People do it for all manners of reasons. But nobody gets admitted to a hospital by pretense. If doctors can’t find a very serious illness in you, you won’t be admitted.
So miracle pastors have kept their healings to synagogues, churches, and healing schools because they know it’s all fake. They can’t take the thing out of their rigged, well-arranged venues.
6. Why are miracles never reported by popular mainstream news media?
Picture a 42 year-old guy who lives on your street in Lagos. He was born blind. You grew up on that street knowing him as ‘the blind guy’. That’s his name. In his 42 years on earth, no less than 10,000 people know him as the blind guy. One day he goes somewhere and returns with a perfect vision. You think the whole Lagos could contain that? You think his testimony could be restricted to the church bulletin or TV station? You think he won’t appear on Channels, AIT, NTA and CNN? If a bread seller that became an overnight celebrity made global headlines, why do you think this blind man, who would’ve been far bigger news, wouldn’t have made bigger headlines?
The conventional media houses want to report extraordinary events like miracles. It will increase their sales and viewership. But there’s only one reason why they don’t report miracles: the miracle claims are fake. That was why the Nigerian Broadcasting Corporation, the government agency responsible for regulating content of radio and TV broadcasts, banned all miracle TV programs. This was what led to the pastors starting their own TV stations like Dove Media (Adeboye), Emmanuel TV (TB Joshua), etc. You can spread falsehood in your own private TV stations but not on standard media outfits. Note that preaching is still allowed on TV stations. It’s the fake miracle claims that we don’t want.
7. What do miracle claims say about an all-loving, all-powerful God?
Let’s go back to that video once again. There are so many barren couples, thousands of them. Why did an all-loving God choose this particular couple and abandon the thousands of others? ‘All-loving’ means his love is inexhaustible. That love should go round everybody. He should be willing to do the same miracle in the lives of all that deserve it. ‘All-powerful’ means if he wants to do miracles for everybody, he can. But why doesn’t he?
…God…desires all men to be saved…(1 Timothy 2:3-4 RSV) but why doesn’t he desire all men to be healed? Why doesn’t he desire all barren couples who are genuinely serving him to receive children? Why this particular couple? If you claim that something good has happened to you and it has nothing to do with God, I can understand. But once you say it was God’s desire to do the miracle in your life, then you’ll need to explain why he has abandoned the others. You can’t claim to know why he has done it for you out of the thousands of people that need it and then claim to not know why he hasn’t done it for the numerous others. To people like us, you would be an insincere joker.
It’s difficult to accept that an all-powerful, all-knowing and just God, as described in the Abrahamic religions, would perform miracles. James Keller perfectly summed up this theological conundrum thus:
The claim that God has worked a miracle implies that God has singled out certain persons for some benefit which many others do not receive and that implies that God is unfair. If God intervenes to save your life in a car crash, then what was he doing in Auschwitz?
8. Why haven’t miracle claims converted unbelievers?
I doubt if anyone would delay becoming a Christian if they witnessed a real miracle in the name of Jesus. Picture gathering a group of unbelievers and right there in their presence, you pray in Jesus’ name and an amputee’s leg regrows into the normal size and shape instantly. Do you think those unbelievers won’t follow you immediately? People saw mobile phones and chose to own one for themselves and today, there’s hardly anyone that doesn’t have one. People always obtain anything if they’re convinced that it’s real and it works. So if miracle claims are real, why have people witnessed them and still chosen to remain unbelievers? With all the miracle claims all over the place (even on electronic and social media), why are there still unbelievers?
John 4:48 (KJV) Then said Jesus unto him, Except ye see signs and wonders, ye will not believe.
Well, can we then conclude that the population of unbelievers have remained the same in Nigeria because they have not witnessed real miracles?
This topic can not be exhausted in one write-up. There’s still more to say and I’ll be doing that in subsequent articles. A one hour-long documentary on miracles was done using Benny Hinn’s and Reinhard Bonke’s purported miracles as index cases, including live interviews from both pastors. Folks who want further information about this topic can watch it below.
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