Before I tell you "the rest of the story," I'll include below the account as I related it in my book:
Jeanine's miraculous healing, as recounted in my book
Stories like this are fairly commonplace in faith healing circles, but third-party investigations of such incidents have consistently exposed the emptiness of their claims. In this case, however, the church I attended was a non-Charismatic Bible church with little or no emphasis on present-day miracles or supernatural manifestations of the Spirit. Furthermore, I knew the woman, had seen her every Sunday in her wheelchair, and had no reason to doubt her.
Later, after my deconversion, an acquaintance (I'll call him Doug) asked me what I thought of this incident and how I could account for it under my new worldview. I asked him whether he thought all miracle claims were bona fide, and he said that no, probably over 99 percent are spurious, but the 1 percent that are legitimate demonstrate that God is still alive and active in the world today.
Based on Doug's admission that most miracle claims are not genuine, it should follow that it is unwise to give the benefit of the doubt to a miracle claim until it has been thoroughly investigated and proven to be genuine. Yet when Doug mentioned the healing of Jeanine, he immediately chastised me when I paused and said, "Well ..." instead of admitting up front it was a supernatural event. Our guard in Niger likewise could not understand why I didn't accept his claim (and the claim of many others) that a woman turned into money after a certain kind of soap was applied to her. I am not equating Jeanine's experience to that of the African woman who turned into money, but it is premature to consider her experience a supernatural event without further investigation. Minimally we would need to know her diagnosis and whether it is reversible in the medical literature. To some, this all may sound like fancy excuse-making—"Why can't he just accept it?"—but again, given that most miracle claims turn out not to be genuine, I believe it is not only warranted but also wise to greet claims like this with at least some degree of skepticism.
...what if I had the ability to look through medical records and find cases of unbelievers who had experienced spontaneous rehabilitations like Jeanine's? The way the story was recounted made it sound as though she had never before prayed to be healed or listened to Christian music, but then when she was listening to Christian music and praying, begging God for healing, she was suddenly healed. If I were a betting man, I would wager a significant sum that she had prayed about this on a great many occasions prior to her recovery. I do not know what her medical diagnosis was or whether it was reversible, so it is premature for me to join in on the spot and say, "Yes, this is undeniably a miracle and can be explained in no other way."
...I did not know Jeanine very well at all, but I know that a lot of trustworthy people consider her trustworthy, so I am disinclined to think she was pulling a deception by sitting in her chair and pretending to be disabled (though it is a possibility that should be kept open). I know too little of her condition to make a call: was she diagnosed? If so, are there any statistics on recovery rates from her condition? Have any physicians evaluated her healing? It is not unfair to ask these questions before coming to the conclusion that it had to be supernatural. After all, a certain percentage of people recover spontaneously from even the most deadly of cancers, on the order of 1 in 100,000.
"As physician I was a little disappointed that you didn't pursue things a bit more in the case of "Jeanine" and her sudden ability to stand and walk. Didn't you have enough curiosity to talk to her sometime and find out a little more about her condition? I mean, the worst that could have happened is that she would have just brushed you off. It seems to me it was a waste of a great opportunity. Of course if I'm fair here the believers here missed a real opportunity as well, because they could have had this lady see some specialists to see if there was any plausible naturalistic explanation. If they could not come up with one it would make for some rather interesting possibilities."
"I'm not trying to be overly critical here, but it seems like the believers were too ready to believe the miraculous explanation and you were too ready to accept a naturalistic one and neither side was willing to think outside of the box."
More recently, on March 25, 2012, a reader posted a review of my book on GoodReads, rightly chastising me for not doing my homework on this story:
"He [speaking of yours truly] also shares a story of an apparent healing of a woman he knew and why he was skeptical of it but he did not talk to her after it I noted in the margin, why didn't he just call her and ask about it?"
Because I had already followed up on it in 2009 but had not yet made public what I learned from my followup, I figured I would use this week's blog post to let everyone know.
On October 9, 2009 (after I received the e-mail above from the physician), I contacted the youth pastor of the church I had attended along with "Jeanine" (whom, incidentally, had graciously knitted a baby blanket for our firstborn son) asking him the following:
"A couple people who read my book challenged me to find out more about the lady I mentioned ("Jeanine") in my chapter on miracles. Her real name is [...]. I'm genuinely interested in knowing more about the background of her apparent recovery from being bound to a wheelchair. I don't know whether she still attends [church name] or how I might be able to find out more about what happened to her back in the 1990s. I think I was at college at the time she recovered, and most of the details I heard were sketchy. If a real miracle happened, it's in my best interest to recognize what occurred. The fact that I left it all open-ended in the book doesn't sit well with some of my readers, nor does it sit well with me. Are you still at [name of church]? If so, I'm wondering whether you could help me find out more about her recovery and what led up to it. In particular, I'd be interested to know her diagnosis, how long she suffered from it, and how her physician interpreted what happened. I know it's a strange request out of the blue, but since I've been in touch with you more recently than with anyone else at [name of church], I thought I'd call on you if you can help."
This youth pastor to whom I wrote was not present at the church during the early 1990s when the incident occurred, but he spoke with the senior pastor and responded as follows to me on 10/15/2009:
He [the senior pastor] informed me that she and her husband attended the church for a while, however, they left because they accused [the pastor] of being a new age preacher for using translations other than the KJV. He also was familiar with the apparent miracle, however, he felt it was not an actual miracle (he also informed me that a christian counselor who attended the church at the time felt the same way). Both [the pastor] and the counselor felt that the use of the wheel chair was for mental reasons and not physical necessity.
"I do not know where she is now but I hope this information is helpful...."
"May God Bless You!"
So there you have it. Does this prove that miracles don't happen? Far from it; this only serves to cast down on one particular miracle claim, albeit the one I was most personally acquainted with and which formerly gave me the strongest reason for thinking miracles might actually occur. I encourage you to read the section on miracles in my book for a more complete discussion of this topic based on this and other stories I've heard.
You would probably expect a doubter like me to come down on the side of skepticism as it relates to miracles, yet believers themselves are typically skeptical of miracles in other religious traditions, and sometimes even of those in their own tradition. Check out this site for an example of the latter.
I'd be interested to know whether any of my readers have experienced what they consider to be an undisputably miraculous event. If I am mistaken in my opinion that miracles probably don't happen, the consequences for me could be grave, according to a discussion following a critical review of my book:
"You write, 'But show me a person with an amputated limb that grows back before my eyes, and I will believe.' You sound a bit like the Pharisees. If God is God then he does not perform at our bidding. This does not mean he does not perform miracles. He performs them when he deems it appropriate and often only in response to someone’s faith. But, nevertheless, consider this: If in fact such miracles do occur and you fail to see one of them because you have already written all such occurrences off as somewhat less than actual or real, then your own testimony is that you will not be able to believe. And if you cannot believe then your eternal destiny is sealed. Because your eternal destiny hangs in the balance at this point in your life, I would strongly encourage you to follow-up on some of those miracle stories others so quickly right off. Secular humanists are unable to see miracles because their worldview doesn’t allow it. For them, at best, miracles are only unexplained momentary anomalies."
"These are serious matters – for you and your family. When the time comes, and it will most certainly come, that you stand before God and give an account for your life, your “sincere” journey into unbelief, all your skepticism, and your every argument against faith will appear as utter nonsense in that context. Saddest of all, you will have to bear responsibility for your sins."