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Christian Talking Points: Billy Graham on miracles and prayer.

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Billions of people pray everyday. Muslims pray five times a day. Some of those prayers are innocuous such as prayers of thanks or a blessing on a meal.

Why would someone pray? Christian preachers like Billy Graham tell their followers to believe that miracles occur because of prayer.

Most Christians believe that God has a plan and that God knows what will happen in the future. God’s plan involves every living thing on Earth and all the rest of the universe. Most Christians also believe that prayers can cause God to change his plan for the benefit of the person praying.

It is not clear why God would change the world at the request of a human. But if a person prays for money, health, love, or long life and God did not intend for that person to have that thing, the believer thinks God will change his mind and change his plan for the universe at the whim of that person.

If God has a plan and won’t change it, prayer is futile. If God changes his plan for each person who prays, then God is not in charge of the universe. If a person prays for wealth and God’s plan includes that person getting wealthy it was not the prayer that produced the wealth.

Prayers for rain during a drought, prayers for rain to cease during a flood, prayers for the healing of a loved one, or prayers for the death and destruction of enemies all ask God to make some change in his plan.

As a side note, if one person gets wealthy due to prayer, did others lose money due to that prayer? Is God redistributing wealth to help those who pray? Do billionaires pray harder than everyone else? Is it logical that poor Christians do not pray for more money to ease their financial burden? God may not want to cure diseases in Africa but one might think a loving God might influence the political system so that the poor could get food and medical care. Perhaps, the Christian conservatives are praying for the poor to starve and suffer from illnesses?

In the May 16, 2014, Sioux Falls Argus Leader, Billy Graham answers a question about miracles and his response involves prayer. Billy’s reader says, “Does God still do miracles, like He did in biblical times? If He does, why doesn't He do more of them? Maybe more people would believe in Him if He did.”

Billy responds by affirming God’s ability to do miracles but implies that God doesn’t do them any more because he doesn’t want to. Billy says, “God is not limited, and He is certainly able to work in miraculous ways today just as He did in biblical times, if He so chooses.”

So, for some reason, apparently only known to Billy Graham, God has decided that he won’t perform miracles.

Billy then says, that God does perform miracles in response to people praying. Billy says, “If He didn’t, why would we bother to pray when a loved one falls ill or God’s work is opposed by evil forces?”

Why indeed? Does God heal someone because of prayer? Or, does God allow doctors to affect that cure? How much credit goes to God and how much to the doctor’s skills and knowledge. What was the rate of cure from the Black Death during the middle ages? In the 14th century, as many as 100 million people died. Did no one pray for them? Indeed, pray was the main form of dealing with that plague.

So God does not choose to cure those millions of dying Christians but he does to choose to heal someone, today, because a family member or friend asks for them to be healed?

What about people who have had a limb amputated? Why does God hate them so much?

God has a long-standing hatred of these unfortunates. In Leviticus 21: 16-22 prohibits any man that has a blemish including the blind, the lame, a man with a flat nosed, or a broken foot, or a crooked back, or who is a dwarf, or has had his testicles crushed from offering a sacrifice in the temple. While it is possible that some attractive people might make better representatives for presenting sacrifices, who could tell that a man has “broken stones” just by looking at them? Only God, I guess.

Billy goes on to say that God sends angels to do work on our behalf and claims this work could be labeled as miracles. Billy does not offer any examples of what work the angels do but it seems clear they are not working in Africa to bring the starving food or clean water. They don’t seem to be working to prevent ethnic cleansing or tribal warfare.

Billy then refutes the idea that miracles would encourage people to believe by claiming that “countless” people saw Jesus perform miracles and still refused to believe in Jesus. Again, Billy says this with no proof. There is no proof that Jesus performed miracles, there is no proof that anyone saw Jesus perform a miracle, and there is no evidence that anyone denied Jesus after seeing a miracle performed.

Billy does not give the best arguments for a lack of miracles in modern society. First, those things that are claimed as miracles are subjected to extreme scrutiny. Carl Sagan said it best, “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.”

Any event claimed to be a miracle, today, would be examined very closely. Generally, those events are found wanting in the evidence area. A careful examination of the miracles attributed to past Popes, who need those miracles in order to become saints, shows no regrowth of an amputated limb. The miracles are all events that doctors describe as rare, but not necessarily impossible. Remission from cancer, a dissolving blood clot, recovery from a stroke and recovery from other illnesses all happen, even without treatment, but in many cases, it is the doctors who should be thanked and not a dead Pope.

Most important, if there were a genuine miracle, if there were an event that was thoroughly documented and could not be explained by science, such as an amputee spontaneously re-growing a lost hand, there would be no need of people having faith. Almost all Christians believe that having faith is fundamental to being saved and going to heaven. They may or may not believe that good works are also necessary, but faith is the big issue. If an actual miracle occurred, people would believe, not because they have faith, but because of the evidence. Those people could not be saved or go to heaven because they believe for the wrong reason.

You can read all of Billy Graham’s answer here.

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