My friend is not a very religious person, but he prays before every meal and goes to mass every Sunday with his family. He is aware of and has great respect for my lack of faith, and we occasionally find ourselves discussing and debating on religion. Some of our discussions revolve around our contrasting views of Jesus Christ – he firmly believes in him and his preachings, while I take him to be nothing more than a compelling historical figure. Other discussions are about our similar negative views on the overly-structural methods of the Catholic Church in propagating their faith. Sometimes, our minds repel, while in other times, they are in sync. He is always open to the thought-provoking ideas I lay on the table and tries to judge them without bias.
During one of these discussions, he narrated to me a story about his grandfather. This story had a great impact on him, and he admits himself that it has strongly solidified his belief in God. He told me that a long time ago, his grandfather was diagnosed with cancer. He has consulted with several doctors, all of which were consistent with the cancer diagnosis. He was told to have surgery. On the day of the surgery, he managed to escape from the hospital to go to a nearby church to pray. Eventually, he was found by his family and/or hospital personnel and was brought back to the hospital. After a series of medical tests, they found his cancer to have completely vanished. So he never had that surgery and went home cancer free.
My friend told me that he sometimes thinks his grandfather to be overly-religious, but softens his judgment because he knows what his grandfather had been through. That reminded me of my overly-religious mother, who initially was not a very religious person. But there was a time when she was going through a difficult crisis, and with the help of Opus Dei and its teachings, she was able to cope with it and actually managed to resolve the crisis. It may not be as life-changing as the cure of cancer, but it was very significant for her. Now, she is a devout Catholic, and a supernumerary in Opus Dei. These two individuals have had significant experiences in their lives which they attribute to their faith. We cannot just easily tell them that they must resort to reason, that their belief in God is wrong, when their lives are changed by it.
I am in no position to confirm or disprove the validity of my friend’s story. I did suggest certain other possibilities such as: a non-threatening easily curable disease that mimics the signs and symptoms of that specific cancer but cannot be easily detected by medical practitioners of that time and may have been cured medically by some chemical component of the medicines he was taking or cured naturally by his immune system sometime within the duration after his last medical test prior to his escape and the time he was tested after he was found. Yes, that was a very long sentence. The point is, it may just be a coincidence. However, it was a pretty compelling coincidence that I, myself, could not fault his grandfather, who is by all means a normal human being with human thoughts and emotions, to immediately assume it as some divine miracle.
For whatever the scientific explanation behind it, one can still argue that the timing of its occurrence may be the decision of God. Another example would be the parting of the Red Sea. Even if it may have been caused by some natural phenomenon like shifting tectonic plates or unstable magnetic fields, the fact is, it happened at the moment when Moses raised his staff and the Israelites needed an escape route. By their knowledge of seas (they just don’t part) or staffs (they don’t cause seas to part) how else could the Israelites have interpreted it other than as a miracle of God? Whether by lack of knowledge or lack of mental health (let’s say they may have all taken hallucinogenic herbs and may have hallucinated the whole ordeal), the fact is, they believed it to have happened that way, was not presented with enough explanations that disproves that belief, and was greatly and personally affected by its occurrence, and most especially, its timing. The natural phenomenon could have happened on any normal day, but the fact that it happened at that specific time could easily (though not necessarily correctly) be assumed as the will of God. Disclaimer: I do not know if the parting of the Red Sea actually happened. It’s just an example.
My friend believed the story of his grandfather to be true, to have been caused by God, whether miracle or explainable. And he says that I am too mistrusting and over-skeptical to be so vehement in disproving it to the point of trying to come up with some weird disease. Eventually, our discussion ended without any joint conclusion. He stands firm in his belief in God and this so-called miracle, and I still maintain that it may be caused by the weird disease.. or other explainable thing. And then we ate pizza and went to videoke with friends.