We lived near the Congo river, on a mountain overlooking the city.
Sounds romantic if you stop right there. And from atop that hill, the city was beautiful. But when you made your way down to see the view from up close, all romantic notions crumbled like dust.
It was a typical sizzling day under the African sun. We’d gathered in the city with a thousand or so believers for an outdoor conference. A slick American evangelist was visiting as a guest preacher for the day. The choirs came and went from the stage for several hours, singing and praising and dancing. Like most church services there, this one lasted most of the day.
At one point a family brought a sick baby up for prayer. The baby was whisked off to an area to the side and several of the American missionaries, including my husband, were called over to pray.
The baby had a stubborn fever that’d lasted over a week. The parents had done everything they knew to do yet the fever persisted threatening the baby’s life.
But after thirty minutes or so, they all emerged praising god for the miracle they’d witnessed. During the laying on of hands, beneath their fingers, the baby’s fever broke. My husband was astounded.
To my knowledge there was no follow up to that story. Whether the baby went on to live a healthy life, or died, I do not know. None of us knew. (Verifying miraculous claims isn’t a strength in the Christian faith, in my experience.)
In hindsight, I see with more skeptical eyes. Given the nature of this blog, it won’t surprise you that I’ve pondered other reasonable explanations for what happened.
I’ve come to a certain stream of thought that’s becoming rather universal for me. By that I mean, it seems to apply to much more than the above event.
And it has to do with math.
The topic of coincidence comes up A LOT in Christian conversation. With a healing event like this one, a Christian defending the experience would say, “What are the chances that the fever would break at exactly the same time they were praying for healing? Is it just a coincidence?”
For many Christians, that in itself is enough reason to believe. And it’s a good question. So, if the answer is the criteria for belief, then really… What are the chances?
Since I’m not even remotely good at math, the best jab at this I’ll give is my own real-life example: That one leaf on the tree outside my window.
One day last fall, I got up from the sofa and went to the back porch for a breath of fresh air. And in that exact moment, the very last leaf of the season came loose and fell from the tree in my back yard. And I thought, “Man. What are the chances that I’d be here to see that at this exact moment?”
When I think it through, the chances were virtually non-existent.
That particular leaf only had one life and one shot at falling. It held on longer than all the other leaves that season. When it fell, it did so in the perfect window of time for me to witness it. If I could factor in all the life decisions I made that brought me to that point on the porch at that moment in time, all the cities we’ve lived in, the choices that sped things up or slowed things down, the right turns verses left turns … I’d have to conclude my chance of witnessing the fall of that specific leaf was pretty close to zero. Was it just a coincidence or was it divine?
The baby’s fever broke in perfect unison with the laying on of hands. What were the chances? Absolutely as astronomical as my chances of seeing that one particular leaf fall. The baby had probably been given medicine … maybe even just minutes or hours before the prayer. Could it have kicked in at just the right time? And what are those chances?
Maybe life is just one big math equation. Maybe it’s chocked full of coincidences that beat the mathematical odds.
I finish on this note: If the baby had died just as they were praying, what would we Christians have said?
I feel like I know. It’s a response I’ve heard dozens of times from Christians who need a Plan B: “God DID heal that baby … by taking the baby to heaven.”
Somehow I doubt we’d have classified THAT version of healing as a “miracle”.