Do miracles really occur?

[SPOILER ALERT: if you haven’t seen the movie Miracles from Heaven and don’t know the story but want to see it, this article will spoil the ending, so you might not want to read it yet.]

Some people don’t believe in miracles, because they don’t believe in a supernatural God.

However, only the first dictionary definition of “miracle” refers to divine intervention; it offers a more secular alternate definition that describes miracles merely as any extremely unusual event or accomplishment. Samuel Clemens (a.k.a. “Mark Twain”) wrote:

Truth is stranger than fiction, but it is because fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities. Truth isn’t.

And what is the truth? Quid est veritas?

As the author of three novels and three nonfiction books and articles, let me assure you that writing non-ficton is considerably easier than creating the plot of a novel from scratch.

The fictional story must appear to be plausible enough to the reader that he or she becomes willing to suspend his or her disbelief. The same isn’t the case for stories purported to be true — they simply require verifiable evidence to support any claims being made in the account.

Take the plot of the movie Miracles from Heaven, for example.

The main story simply sounds ludicrous —  a young girl suffering terribly from a rare, incurable stomach disease falls thirty feet inside a rotted tree, landing on her head.

But the fall that should have killed young Anna Beam allegedly cured her. Though her neck should have been broken, and her skull smashed in pieces, not only does she survive with only minor injuries, landing on her head appears to have somehow caused her devastating, potentially fatal disease known as pseudo-obstruction motility disorder to go into remission.

Anna’s doctor suggested that the fall had somehow jump-started her immune system so that her lower intestines began to function normally…a child surviving on pain medication and feeding tubes resumed a normal life of playing soccer and eating pizza.

The medical term for Anna’s miracle cure is spontaneous remission, which simply means a diagnosed and confirmed affliction was cured due to unknown causes, without treatment or surgery.

Anna’s story sounds utterly preposterous, right? The problem is that documentation and other evidence exists. Photographs are shown during the credits of the people in real life who had been portrayed by the actors in the movie.

Anna Beam is an actual person.

Most of the facts asserted in her incredible story can be rather easily verified — for example, there are hospital and other medical records documenting her illness, the filmed news reports of her fall, etc. But not all of Anna’s story is supported by evidence and documentation.

She also claims that when she fell, she died and left her body. Anna says that Jesus told her that she must return to Earth, and that her body would be healed.

The only evidence supporting that specific claim is the fact that her body has been healed of its horrible affliction — she makes no other assertions of any corroborated veridical information learned during her alleged NDE.

So, do miracles really occur? By the second definition, absolutely. But what about the first?

The film plays up the mother’s loss of faith when Anna becomes sick. She stops going to church. Her faith is shaken. And in truth, many people must be asking themselves, why would God let a young child like Anna suffer such horrible pain, to go through such a horrible ordeal?

Is it because God wanted a great movie made about Him in Hollywood, or was the reason much more subtle? Is there even a reason at all?

The movie doesn’t explicitly say, but it seems to give us a hint. While in the hospital, Anna befriended a young girl dying from bone cancer. Her father became upset when Anna gave his daughter her necklace, a small crucifix. He subsequently found out that Anna had shared her faith with his daughter through facing her own mortality, and it upset him.

Though he was portrayed as agitated during the hospital scenes, at the end of the movie when Anna’s mother shares her testimony in church and someone in the crowd questions whether Anna had really been near death from her illness, the now grieving father of the cancer victim announces he has traveled from Massachusetts to Texas at his own expense, to corroborate her story. He claimed that Anna’s faith had given his daughter hope, and the courage to meet her imminent death.

Did Hollywood make up that last bit? How much of Anna’s story is true?

What if all of it is true?

The Pearl: 15 April 2015

Mark_TwainWhat is the difference between a taxidermist and a tax collector? The taxidermist only takes your skin. — Mark Twain

Few professions have been the butt of more jokes or inspired more scorn and derision than a tax collector, known in modern times as an IRS employee. Even Jesus the Christ used tax collectors as the stereotype of humans behaving badly, saying: “For if you only love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same?”

Ronald Reagan joked that, “Government’s view of the economy can be summed up in a few short phrases: If it moves, tax it. If it keeps moving, regulate it. And if it stops moving, subsidize it.”

Sadly, there is an element of truth in that joke.

But there is always hope for the future…at least one politician running for President in 2016 understands the true nature of America’s growing tax-and-spending problem.

Senator Marco Rubio said, “We don’t need new taxes. We need new taxpayers, people who are gainfully employed, making money, and paying into the tax system. And then we need a government that has the discipline to take that additional revenue to pay down the debt and never grow it again.”

What we need is a tax system that is designed to fund the government, not a system designed to redistribute wealth under the guise of “fairness.”

In other words, we need the FairTax.

The Pearl: 8 April 2015

Mark_TwainIt’s good sportsmanship to not pick up lost golf balls while they are still rolling. – Mark Twain

Occasionally a quote requires no further elaboration. This is one of those times. But because golf has provided a wealth of quotes worthy of remembering, I’ve managed to cobble together a few of the wittier observations about the sport.

Twain also wrote that, “Golf is a good walk spoiled.”

Comedian Buddy Hackett didn’t like golf very much, either. He said, “Golf is more fun than walking naked in a strange place, but not much.”

Former U. S. President Gerald Ford joked, “I know I am getting better at golf because I’m hitting fewer spectators.”

An excellent golfer, Hall of Fame baseball player Mickey Mantle said, “He who has the fastest golf cart never has a bad lie.”

In contrast, famed humorist Will Rogers said, “The income tax has made liars out of more Americans than golf.”

Al Boliska asked, “Have you ever noticed what golf spells backwards?”

Humorous author Dave Barry wrote, “For me, the worst part about playing golf, by far, has always been hitting the ball.”

James Patrick Murray said, “Show me a man who is a good loser, and I’ll show you a man playing golf with his boss.”

According to actor Jack Lemmon, “If you think it’s hard to meet new people, try picking up the wrong golf ball.”

Actor Dick van Dyke added, “I found out that retirement means playing golf, or I don’t know what the hell it means. To me, retirement means doing what you have fun doing.”

Former professional golfer Gary Player once said, “As we all know…golf is a puzzle without an answer.”

His contemporary Lee Trevino, also a tremendous golfer, was struck by lightning during a tournament in 1975. He later joked, “If you’re caught on the golf course during a storm and are afraid of lightning, hold up a 1-iron. Not even God can hit a 1-iron.”

One of the more amusing professionals on tour to interview when he played, Trevino said, “I’ve been hit by lightning and been in the Marine Corps for four years. I’ve traveled the world and been just about everywhere you can imagine. There’s not anything I’m scared of, except my wife.”

And with an “for golf insiders” joke, Trevino said this: “You can talk to a fade, but a hook won’t listen.”

Just for the record, from personal experience I’ve learned that slices don’t listen, either.

Golf legend Arnold Palmer quipped, “I have a tip that will take five strokes off anyone’s golf game. It’s called ‘an eraser.'”

And famed evangelist Billy Graham said this about the game: “The only time my prayers are never answered is on the golf course.”

The Pearl: 24 May 2015

Mark_TwainFamiliarity breeds contempt – and children. — Mark Twain

Once upon a time, my wife and I had two young children at home aged 8 and 3, and a border collie named Maggie who loved to herd the munchkins.

One night Maggie got a little too excited while following her instincts and nipped at one of our daughter’s friends, so my wife and I took our most excellent little sheepdog to obedience training.

The lady at obedience school told us, “One problem is that your dog doesn’t respect your children.”

To which I honestly replied, “Most of the time, we don’t either.”

The trainer seemed to think that was a significant contributing factor to our dog’s bad behavior.