How to Believe in Miracles

I am one of those people who is seldom shocked or startled. News alerts, angry barking dogs and people sneaking up on me just do have the same effect on me as most people. I am not sure if that is a positive thing or not, but it is factual.

At the age of fourteen for instance, I was hired as a Boy Scout camp counselor. Counselors were required to sleep in their campsites for a whole week before the campers arrived so they would be familiar with the camp and night sounds. At least that was the logic behind the explanation they gave me.

My campsite, unfortunately, was a half mile from the main camp, deep in the thick woods. I was not only required to sleep alone at the site on the ground every night, but also had to make the long journey on the dark trail to the campsite after dinner each evening. Admittedly, it was a little spooky, but I was a man of fourteen after all and I was not about to let anyone think that I was a sissy.

On the night before the campers arrived, the older, tenured counselors, apparently motivated by boredom, painted their faces in “Lord of the Flies” fashion and hid out on the trail to my campsite. How they arrived there ahead of me after we dismissed from dinner remains a mystery, but they somehow managed it without my hearing them. Then, at what seemed to me the darkest point in the woods, they jumped out, shaking their lights wildly and letting out blood-curdling screams.

I didn’t startle me. I didn’t flinch. I don’t know if the week of preparing the camp fatigued me to the point I couldn’t react or if somehow in my sub-conscience I had half-expected them to pull some hi-jinks like this. In any event, it didn’t startle me. I shook my head and walked by them, but not before giving them a whispered “grow up”.

Many years later as a seasoned believer, I was to experience one of the few true shocks in my life. In fact, it was a series of shocks. I was reading an article in a Christian periodical. I do not recall the title, but the topic was focused on a poll that had been conducted. The poll that was taken canvassed some 12,000 “Christians”. The question posed to them was “of all the miracles in the Bible, which one do you believe least of all?”

The premise of the article was shocking enough; to think that there were people who claimed to believe in God, but who did not believe what he said in his word. But it got worse, much worse. Sadly, only a handful of people said they believed all of the recorded miracles. Over 95% of those polled disbelieved at least one recorded miracle and some disbelieved several. Most surprising of all was the fact that the miracle that registered most skepticism was the virgin birth of Jesus.

I suppose as I read the article I should have been prepared for anything, but I simply did not see that coming. In my wildest dreams I could not have imagined that people who say they believe Jesus is the Son of God can also believe that he was not born in the miraculous way the Bible claims. As I read the results of the poll, it truly shocked me.

A close second was the story of Jonah and the whale (or great fish). This was not quite as startling a revelation. Somehow I perceived that if someone was a skeptic, this would be where their skepticism and faith collided. Still, it perplexes me how people can believe part of the Bible and not all. Where does one draw the line?

Meaning no irreverence to any of the other miraculous accounts (all of which this writer believes), the story of Jonah is one that should be believed above all other miracles, simply because modern history gives credence to it. The story that follows may seem unbelievable, but I assure you it is true.

On a whaling ship named “Star of the Sea” out of England at the end of the nineteenth century, an unbelievable series of events were about to unfold. A boat crew had harpooned a whale and drawn it up to the side of the main vessel, supposing it to be dead. Without warning, the mighty giant thrashed its tail, sending the entire boat crew into the deep. With another lunge of its muscular body, it broke free of the securing lines and sounded. All but one of the crew was rescued. The missing man was pronounced dead at sea and appropriate entries were made in the ship’s log.

Nearly three full days later another whale was harpooned and drawn up to the main vessel. This time it was dead and the crew began to process the great beast. Several hours into the process of stripping the blubber and meat from the creature, one of the crewmen screamed out with great alarm “there be a man inside”.

Sure enough, there in the throat of the great beast dangled the legs of their missing comrade. They had harpooned the same whale that had broken free days earlier. Apparently, in its haste to escape, it had inadvertently swallowed the crewmember, and he had become lodged in its throat cavity.

Sadly, shipmates began to cut away the blubber to get to their friend. After a few minutes another cry rang out “he be alive, he be alive”! To the astonishment of the crew, their shipmate was still alive. His hair and skin had been bleached white by the enzymes present in the whale’s gullet, but he had been so perfectly positioned that he was able to breathe by the great mammal’s air intake and it had been enough to sustain his life.

The man was finally freed from his fleshy prison, but he was unconscious and there was little hope of his surviving. Surprisingly, several days later he regained consciousness and eventually made a full recovery.

The account is documented by the ship’s own logs and preserved in British archives. That believers would discount the ability of God to do on purpose what a whale could do by accident is one of the few things that has truly shocked this writer.