It has been said that French poet and journalist Anatole France, upon visiting Lourdes and observing a stack of discarded crutches, exclaimed, “What?? No wooden legs?” I once asked myself if anyone actually missing a set of limbs or both eyeballs ever went to Lourdes and actually prayed for a new pair. But I can’t see anyone (well, except for old Anatole) having such arrogance, at least at Lourdes. As the scriptures say, “You shall not put your Lord to the test”.
However, when dealing with agnostics and atheists, what does the Catholic apologist say to those who are seeking the “unambiguous miracle”, though not at Lourdes, but in the gospels themselves? All the miracles of Christ seem to leave much room for interpretation and indeed skepticism: from the “loaves and the fishes”, to the raising of Lazarus, to walking on water, to the blind being given sight. In the case of the blind, for example, never is it stated that a blind man who was in fact missing BOTH eyes was given his sight by Christ. Never does Christ work a miracle where an amputee (or one missing a limb due to a birth defect) is suddenly given a fully functional limb, though I do acknowledge that a skeptic would doubt miracles as “explicit” as those too. The gospels DO talk of Christ healing the man with a “withered hand”, and to my point, that leaves much room for interpretation and skepticism – the agnostic will not be convinced.
Even in the miracles needed for evidence of sainthood today, never are any due to an “unambiguous miracle”, as my atheist friends would say…the remission of a cancer seems quite “common” lately. And I agree with them. There is ALWAYS room for doubt, and often much doubt. At least the ambiguity of these healing miracles seems consistent throughout history. So is that (the ambiguity) by God’s design, and if so, why?
As Christ said to Thomas, “Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.” But then, were not SOME explicitly clear, unambiguous miracles (his resurrection in the case of Thomas – “Put your hand into my side”), witnessed by many, not absolutely required for Christ to have gotten to that point such that he could even make that very statement…that those who believe and who have NOT seen are “blessed”? Did not Thomas “put his Lord to the test”? And was he not rewarded with unambiguous proof (for him personally)?
Now in no way I am I suggesting that the miracle itself be divorced from the deeper and more profound (for believers) messages associated with these same miracles – conversion of heart and how to follow Christ. But for the skeptic who is not yet there, the unambiguous miracle is almost needed first. Yes, Christ did warn against those seeking only signs. But if in our time, the only true way to belief is the suspension of skepticism and the conversion of heart due to belief in Christ’s word and message, were any “unambiguous miracles” in fact ever needed, now or then?
In the case of some many of my skeptic friends, they cannot make that leap. The real truth seekers among them want both – the instruction of Christ (as in the beatitudes) AND the unambiguous miracle. I don’t know how to answer them, other than hope that they have some conversion of heart.