Literally everything that most people think about the world is completely wrong – Part I
November 24, 2010
Earlier this year, I saw a miracle.
Not a nice, “on 34th Street” miracle, where it turns out people are nice after all and it still snows at Christmas, or a cool, scientific miracle like, I dunno, flight or evolution or rainbows, but an actual miracle, where either I and several thousand other witnesses are wrong or alternatively there actually is a God – a terrifying, electrifying, science-disobeying, life-giving, hope-creating, eternal-perspective-requiring, heaven-or-hell-sending God – and, for me, the evidence is closing in on the second, far more wonderful and uncomfortable option.
I’ve been putting off writing about it for months, because it’s such an important subject that I figured I’d need hours to write a decent post about it (that Take That one last week took an hour, and it’s just about key-changes and stuff, so I figured “you all need to accept there’s a God” would take forever), and I don’t usually have hours at a go to write. But today Kat(i)e, who’s requested this in the comments, is in luck*, cos the remote desktop on which I do most of my work isn’t working, so I’ve got until whenever they’ve resuscitated it to tell you about Mike.
(*Given the nature of this post, I have a slight suspicion that luck and the aforementioned Actual Real-Life God may have colluded about this.)
Mike is Kat(i)e’s friend in Bristol. He’s an affable Geordie in his mid-20s who likes football and Jesus and is getting over a crazy bunch of addictions. He’s one of those who have teetered over the abyss, so when he talks about Jesus “saving” him, he means it entirely literally. For a long time, though, he had a seriously bad back, because he had one of those degenerative diseases where the discs in your back shrink down and down until your vertebrae are actually rubbing against one another and it hurts like hell. In April 2010 Mike had a clever operation that takes the residual, now pretty pointless diskage (not a science term) out from between those vertebrae and fuses the bones together with various bits of nails and screws and rods and other ironmongery that would make you beep going through an airport scanner. It means quite a bit less pain but also a lot less movement. You can’t really bend down and touch your toes, or pivot (heh heh – pivot!) very far left or right, or lean backwards.
Mike recovered from his op very quickly (“well it’s Jezuz, innit, he gets me oot and aboot!”, he would tell bemused nursing staff and fellow patients), and when I met him in May it was at a Christian conference at Colston Hall that Fran and I went to. He was working on the doors at the conference, being friendly and welcoming and making sure people all had lanyards and stuff. At one point in the evening session, Bill Johnson, the guy preaching, started talking about people he thought that God was telling him were here and whom God wanted to heal.
Now bear with me. I’m a natural sceptic, I don’t like to accept things I don’t understand, and I think that our brains are the greatest gift God has given us and that the scientific method is the greatest thing humans have ever invented.
Plus, I’ve seen charlatans do this schtick before. They whip up a lot of emotion, and then reel off a list of pretty broad things (bad back, headache) that anyone could say they have and then throw in a couple of things you can’t see or prove that they’ve gone (cancer, AIDS), and they tell you that if you question them you’re questioning God. It’s horrible. It’s so horrible that I went to this conference knowing there’d be talk of healing and feeling prepared to see more manipulation, if I’m honest.
But this Johnson chap was NOTHING like that. His preaching had been warm and funny and thought-provoking and unmanipulative. He didn’t shout or issue instructions that required immediate fulfilment to “get our miracle”, or tell us that he had some kind of “anointing” – in fact he got us all praying for each other: the whole conference was very big on us praying for each other and other people. Quite democratising, which was cool. Anyway, I’m digressing. He just mentioned a number of ailments he thought God wanted to get rid of for people. Some of them were pretty broad, that almost anyone could put their hands up to, but some weren’t: one was “nerve damage going from your shoulder right down into your left arm” – and a couple of people put their hands up to THAT (presumably their right hands =o) ).
My cynicism was already feeling somewhat battered by Johnson’s character and by the precise predictions he was quite successfully making when he started talking about fused vertebrae and Kat(i)e, who’d sat next to me “so she could see my face”, said “Ohmygosh that’s Mike that’s Mike! Where’s Mike? He’s talking about Mike!” She looked around for a minute to see if she could see Mike to go and pray with him, but she couldn’t, so we settled back into watching what was going on, and then gradually moved towards people with their hands up to join the little groups of friends that were forming around them, supporting them and chatting to God about healing.
Then Johnson led us in a calm and comparatively sane-sounding prayer that God would, y’know, completely break all the rules of science and do impossible healing things to people’s bodies, and we all got a-prayin’ and asking people how their arms and legs and necks and tummies and lumps felt. In my case, I swapped numbers with a guy called Edward, who had a stomach ulcer that didn’t hurt right now but was a killer in the mornings, so he could text me if it felt any different the next day. (The next morning, bee-tea-dub, it didn’t hurt a bit. I don’t know what happened after that.)
Then suddenly Mike – friendly Geordie lanyard-checking can’t-pivot Mike – jumped on the stage and started, y’know, doing twists and leaning back and doing squats and all stuff he couldn’t have done that afternoon. The preacher gave him the mic.
“Well, what happened,” says Mike, beaming, “See I had this operation on my back four weeks ago, and it’s meant I couldn’t move me back much, and it did still hurt sometimes, but then like, when you were talking about people with fused vertebrae like, I was outside on the doors, and no-one prayed with me or owt, and I just felt all warm and tingly like, and I felt a bit sick – I’m still shaking a bit actually – and then suddenly I had movement in me back like, and…”
He broke off and did a bunch of twisty gyratey movements that you wouldn’t normally expect to see on a church stage, but given the circumstances I think we can let him off =o)
I’ve sent Kat(i)e off to find out what had actually happened to him, medically speaking. I know he was due a consultant’s appointment sometime soon after the conference, but, not really knowing Mike myself, I’m not sure what the outcome of that was. More broadly, though, the news is he’s still pain free and pivoting and continuing to straighten his life out.
I really, REALLY want to talk more about all this healing business but I’m not going to right now. This post is already nearly 1,400 words long and I want you awake for the next bit. Suffice, for now, to say that I am convinced that, in this case, God has thrown everything I believe about science and falsifiability and that sort of thing to the wind (not that my beliefs about science would have been at the forefront of his mind at the time, obviously, but you know what I mean) and broken the rules and mended Mike’s back because he loves him.
What that means is potentially that everything we all think (believers or not) about the world and God and his place in it and what he is and isn’t allowed to do, all of it, is now completely wrong.
But a thought that huge and expansive needs a second post. For now you have the story. I swear it’s true. Make of it what you will, and what you can.