Human beings crave connection. It is part of who we are. We are not isolated individuals, we are connected: parents with children, spouses with each other, friends with friends. But is connection real? Or is it an illusion, a mere construct of social evolution, something that happened only because it is easier for human beings to survive as a community than as individuals?
Atheists argue that human connection, as any other human characteristic, is a simple consequence of evolution: connection helps us to survive in a hostile world, and so it exists only because of that. It’s no more fundamental to existence than a lion’s claws, the fecundity of mice, or the social organization of ants or bees: it exists solely because it helped us survive where we would otherwise not live to pass on our genes. But beyond survival, the atheist believes it has no significance.
Jesus says otherwise: we are made by God to be connected to him and to each other. The most important connection is love: a connection God initiated from the beginning, a connection that gives life:
This connection is not just between God and people, it is intended by God to be between one person and another:
One way to tell is to ask whether or not the connection to God actually exists. We love God and God loves us, but if so, then it must make some difference in the real world. I don’t mean only a difference in us: certainly the idea of God can be a powerful one and might have genuine beneficial effects. But for the connection to be genuine, God must be more than an idea, he must be a friend, a beloved, and one would expect that there would be concrete signs, observable evidence, that God exists and really enters into relationships with people.
Nicodemus, a prominent person of Jerusalem who went to visit Jesus one night, did so for a concrete reason: he believed God exists and that Jesus was from God, because of things he saw Jesus do. He said to Jesus:
When Nicodemus mentions signs, he’s talking about miracles. Indeed, miracles have been associated with Jesus from the beginning [e.g. John 2:23, 6:2] and were acknowledged even by his enemies [John 11:47]. The greatest of these is the resurrection of Jesus himself from the dead. The Christian church does not exist except on the basis of this miracle: as St. Paul writes, “if Christ has not been raised, then our proclamation has been in vain and your faith has been in vain” [1 Corinthians 15:14]
What is a miracle? A miracle is an occurrence that happens because of a connection with God, which is extremely unlikely to happen without it. A person prays at Lourdes for God’s healing, and it happens despite all medical expectations. Jesus takes five loaves and two fish in hand, and through prayer turns it into enough food to feed thousands [Matthew 14:13-21]. These are miracles. Your lottery number comes up unexpectedly: that’s not a miracle, it’s just an unlikely but possible thing. You ask God for more time to spend with your kids, and you get a day off from work: that’s not a miracle either, because getting a day off work is not an extremely unlikely thing: this is simply an answer to prayer. A miracle happens only because God did it in the context of a relationship, and it would not have happened otherwise: as such, it’s genuine evidence of both the presence of God and the existence of a connection with him.
That’s not very scientific, one might exclaim. Scientific results are repeatable and duplicable, subject to testing and observation through experimentation. But science is the study of the natural world: the study of things, the observation of objects by subjects, not the personal relating of two subjects. We do not live out our intimate relationships through scientific experimentation. So it is with God. God acts as he chooses, not as a natural law dictates, and as such, he is not subject to experimentation. Miracles cannot be called up in a lab, they happen only as God chooses, not necessarily as we wish. Prayer may persuade God to act, but it is not the prayer that makes the miracle, it is God himself, acting freely. This is why the Catholic church generally requires that a deceased person have verified miracles credited to their intercession before they are declared to be a saint: this way, it is God himself who confirms the sanctity of the saint.
One set of miracles that have been extensively studied are the healings at the shrine at Lourdes since 1858. In a 2012 paper, The Lourdes Medical Cures Revisited, in the Oxford Journal of the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences, B. François, E. M. Sternberg and E. Fee examine various cures of the 19th and 20th centuries associated with Lourdes. They conclude that “numerous astounding cures have been attended by hundreds of honorable physicians and thousands of witnesses. These are facts that cannot be ignored.” Yet they do not go so far as to believe the connection: they conclude that there must be some scientific explanation that escapes them, claiming that “the miraculous cures are evidence of somatic and mental processes we do not know.”
While it is perhaps understandable that doctors studying cures might prefer unknown medical reasons, however unlikely, rather than acknowledge miracles as such, I suggest a more straightforward explanation: just as claimed, the cures that happen at Lourdes are God’s doing. And so it is with miracles over the years, from the miracles of Jesus in his public ministry that made Nicodemus seek him out, to Jesus’ miraculous resurrection, to the miracles associated with the saints throughout Christian history, and miracles still happening today: these are God’s doing. These attest to the reality of the connection between God and people, and the truth of what Jesus teaches. From them, we see evidence that love and connection are not just survival tools, they really matter. God loves us and sent Jesus to teach us how to love. In so doing, God promises us eternal life. This is who we are meant to be, this is the sort of connection for which we were made.