Simon himself believed and was baptized. And he followed Philip everywhere, astonished by the great signs and miracles he saw.
– Acts 8:13
“If believing in the possibility of miracles is logical, or at least certainly not illogical, that does not mean we should believe in anything claiming to be a miracle. On the contrary, we should examine miracles with the greatest critical rigor possible.
“Mark Twain said that if you dissect a joke, you kill it, just as you must kill a frog before dissecting it.”
– Eric Metaxas, Miracles
Eric Metaxas gives C. S. Lewis’ definition of a miracle as “something unique that breaks a pattern so expected and established we hardly consider the possibility that it could be broken.” He also provided a definition given by skeptic and philosopher David Hume as “a transgression of a law of nature by a particular volition of the Deity, or by the interposition of some invisible agent.” Metaxas goes on to offer his view, in great length. The chapter that he devotes to the definition boils down to something that is not explainable within known science (including what known science would consider a ‘transgression’ of natural law as expressed by Hume) and something that there is clear evidence of actually happening. But maybe most importantly, did the miracle have a profound impact on the active participants or the witnesses?
Yet, in his stories in the latter two-thirds of his book, most of the stories have only eye witness testimonies of the person involved, not any third parties. Of course, Eric Metaxas only included stories of people he knew well. Thus, he can attest to the fact that these people are sane and rational about all other aspects of their lives, and he has no doubt that they are telling the truth as they see it regarding the miracle.
But other people can look at these stories and still disbelieve that there is irrefutable evidence. I’ve heard people state that the one thing that others cannot take from you is your testimony, but I have seen many people that try to take your testimony away. These are people who throw insults at you that what you experienced did not happen, including Jesus coming into your heart. With that in mind, I will not suggest these stories to not hold up to scrutiny, but others might.
I mentioned something that was a borderline miracle a few months ago to a preacher friend of mine. He smiled and said, “Another GMC.” I asked what a line of trucks and SUVs has to do with this miracle. He laughed and said, “God-Made Coincidence, GMC.”
Now that I have definitions out of the way, I agree with Metaxas and Twain regarding once a joke has to be explained, it is not funny anymore. In effect, you have killed it. Metaxas was basically saying that a miracle, on the other hand, is only a miracle if you dissect it and cannot find any natural method to explain the event. Thus, the miracle remains alive as a miracle.
One poignant story that Eric Metaxas includes in his miscellaneous miracle chapter is a story of a father and son. The son had just experienced a brutal divorce. He was despondent, and he had blamed God in the process. Maybe that’s not exactly the case, but he was not going to God for relief, comfort, and assurance. He was avoiding God. He decided to go to Bali to get away for a surfing vacation. His father insisted that he read the Bible and pray each day. He had no desire to do either, but to appease his father, he agreed. The son also took a copy of Bonhoeffer’s devotional The Cost of Discipleship. At the end of the first week of the trip, he became so depressed that he decided to do nothing but read and pray for one day. He never took his surfboard to the beach, but he went to the beach to walk and pray.
In the meantime, his father was in Denver, heading to Colorado Springs for a business meeting. He decided to pray for his son during the drive. At one point, he became so upset that he pulled the car off the road to earnestly pray. He then sang three songs, “Great is Thy Faithfulness,” “I Love You, Lord,” and “It is Well with My Soul.” When his son returned, it was a while before they got back together, since his son lived a couple of time zones away. The son told his father about the amazing thing that happened on the beach that day at the end of the first week. He was simply walking and praying. Then he sang three songs even though he had no reason to sing them. At that moment, the Holy Spirit burst through the son’s barriers and ministered to him on the beach in Bali. Of course, the father wanted to know which songs. They were the same three songs, sung in the same order. Then they started comparing the time of day and date. Bali was already in the morning of the next day, but accounting for the time zones, they had sung those three songs at the same time on opposite sides of the world.
Now for the question posed as the title of this post, is this story a miracle or a God-Made Coincidence? It does not defy any natural law other than the coincidences of the timing, the same songs, and in the same order. Yet, I tend to agree with Leroy Jethro Gibbs of the TV show NCIS. Gibbs rule number 39 is that there is no such thing as a coincidence.
I love the idea of a GMC though. The word ‘miracle’ leads to the argument that Metaxas mentions in the quotation above. Skeptics will try to dissect it until the miracle goes away. Believers, therefore, must examine the miracle for purposes of a defense. Many times, the person directly affected by the miracle backs down and calls it a coincidence just to restore peace. The miracle didn’t create discord, just calling it a miracle and a clear sign that God was involved was the fuel thrown on the fire.
Calling something a GMC is softer. Believers know that it wasn’t a coincidence. Unbelievers are less likely to set up battlements and start a war of semantics.
Sometimes those wars need to be fought. I would hope calmly and without raised voices and hurt feelings. I have mentioned before that arguing with someone is a very poor evangelism technique, but Lee Strobel points out in Today’s Moment of Truth that carefully staged debates have been effective in leading people to Jesus. I’m thinking that those who change sides during such a debate are people who are lost within the cobwebs of arguments that their minds (with the Devil’s help) have created. In other words, they complicate the situation with their own intellect. Those people aren’t hopelessly lost. They just need the right person to pull the right string that unravels their issues (the web) without creating a new knot.
Is what a friend calls a miracle in his life really a miracle or a GMC? Does it matter? God’s hand is in both. If it brings people closer to Almighty God, does it matter what you call it?
But what of today’s Bible verse? Simon the Sorcerer sees the miracles that were performed by Philip in Samaria. He becomes a follower, but when he sees the other Apostles performing miracles, he wants to buy the power. Peter rebukes Simon the Sorcerer and curses him. The last that we see of the sorcerer, he prays that the curse will be lifted. Was this a true repentance or did the curse remain? We don’t know. Simon the Sorcerer may have only followed Philip to cash in on the ability to do greater deeds for money. Or he could have been a true follower, and he stumbled along the way, lured by the idea of turning miracles into money.
It is not for us to decide Simon’s fate, just as it is not up to us whether something is a miracle or a GMC. We can only know our own fate.
Are you following Jesus to capture the power and blessings? Or are you totally committed to God’s plan in your life, wherever God takes you?