Miracle Without Miracle by Peter Rollins
Peter Rollins - Photography by Becky Garrison
31. A Miracle Without Miracle
After Jesus had descended from the Mount of Olives he came across a man who had been blind from birth. And his disciples asked him, "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he cannot see?"
Jesus answered, "It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.. We must carry out the works of him who sent me while it is day for night is approaching, when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world."
Having said these things, he spat on the ground and made mud with the saliva. Then he anointed the man’s eyes with the mud and said to him, "My friend, go, wash in the pool of Siloam." So he went and washed and returned in jubilation shouting, “I can see, I can see!”
The neighbors and those who knew him as a beggar began to grumble saying, "Has this man lost his mind, for he was born blind.” Some said, "It is the same man who was blind." Others said, "No, it is not, but he is like him." In response to this grumbling, the old man kept repeating, "I am the same man. Jesus anointed my eyes and said, 'Go to Siloam and wash.' So I went and washed and now can see everything."
To ascertain what had happened they brought him to the Pharisees. "Give glory to God,” they said. “We know that this man Jesus is a sinner." But the old man answered, "Whether or not he is a sinner I do not know. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see."
But the Pharisees began to laugh. “Old man, meeting Jesus has caused you to lose your mind, you had to be carried into this room by friends, you still stumble and fall like a fool, you are as blind today as the day you were born.”
“That may be true,” replied the old man with a long deep smile, “as I have told you before. All I know is that yesterday I was blind but today, today I can see”.
All too often the miracle of faith is reduced to the level of something that can be seen, touched, and experienced. The miracle of faith becomes synonymous with something like an unexplained healing, a prophetic intuition or a resuscitation from the dead. Indeed the word miracle is often used in newspapers when referring to such things as a lucky escape or unexpected turn of events. In addition to this some researchers have even attempted to test the existence of “miracles” though experiments that attempt to ascertain such things as the efficiency of prayer over the sick. All of these different approaches to the word view a miracle as a physical change in reality that cannot be explained due to the process of natural cause and effect.
One of the outworkings of such an idea concerns the difficulty, or impossibility, of ever being able to show beyond reasonable doubt that what has taken place is actually miraculous. As human understanding deepens, phenomena that we once would have thought of as a miracle are now found to have natural causes. As such it is always possible that what we think of as a miracle today could well be explained by empirical research and human reason tomorrow. The realm of miracles here is reduced to the ever-decreasing space of human ignorance. An understanding of our relative ignorance, combined with existence of charlatans and our own tendency to cloud facts with our own hopes and desires, means that the idea of a miracle as a change in the physical world is always open to legitimate question.
However there is another way of understanding the idea of miracle within Christian faith. One that does not rest upon such fragile foundations, nor does it banish the realm of the miraculous to the gaps in our understanding. This latter idea of miracle does not relate to a physical change in the world (though it may result in changes), but rather it relates to a happening that cannot be reduced to sight, touch, or experience. Unlike the idea of miracle as that which is observed in the physical realm, the miracle of faith is not manifest in the external world. Rather it refers to a transformation in our inner subjective world. In the miracle of faith everything changes in the life of the one who undergoes it. One is transformed, transfigured, re-born. While nothing in the world needs to change nothing in the world remains the same.
This miracle is not something that can be denied by the one who undergoes it, for the miracle is testified to in nothing less than the fact of transformed existence. While the source of the miracle is open to question, the fact of the miracle is not.
This miracle is not an object in the world that can be interrogated by philosophers or dissected by scientists; rather the miracle changes the way we see all objects in the world. This is the miracle of faith and it is this miracle that all the stories of physical transformations mentioned in the Bible point toward. They are not themselves an expression of the miracle of faith; rather they draw us toward it. If we take the spectacular transformations mentioned in the Bible as an expression of the miracle of faith, rather than as hints of the miracle, then we reduce the transformative event housed within faith to the mundane level of a spectacle. The true miracle of faith is too radical and precious to be contained there. For in it the whole life of the individual is liberated, healed, saved, regardless of what takes place in the physical realm.