How often have we encountered this? An unbelieving friend challenges us, “If God give me a sign today, then I will believe he is real.” Such an instance may have us scouring through the history books, looking for miracles that will help convince our friend. And when such stories of past miracles failed to achieve that purpose, we said to ourselves, “If only we can witness a miracle now, then my friend will believe.”
Will it really?
In the story of Exodus, in spite of witnessing a series of ten miracles, the Egyptian Pharaoh still steadfastly refused to believe (Ex 5-13). In that same story, the Israelites did not fair much better themselves. In spite of witnessing the Red Sea parted before their eyes, they grumbled and complained about Moses and about God at the first sign of hardship in the desert.
Fast forward to Jesus’ time, we hear in Mt 12 that after hearing Jesus has healed a demon-possessed man, the Scribes and Pharisees, instead of believing, confronted Jesus demanding a sign. Jesus responded by pointing them to the Sign of Jonah – how three days entombed in the belly of a large fish led to Jonah’s conversion (Mt 12:38-41). With this, Jesus hinted at his own three-day-entombment and subsequent resurrection – the greatest miracle of all. So, did Jesus’ resurrection lead to the conversion of the whole world? No, in fact Thomas, one of the Twelve Apostles, cast doubt when told about Jesus’ resurrection, earning him the rather unsavoury title of Doubting Thomas.
How about this one: In 1917, while World War I raged, the Virgin Mary appeared six times to three little children in Fatima, Portugal. On one of these occasion, Mary promised the children a miracle in October, “so that all may believe”. So it was, on 13 Oct 1917, exactly one hundred years to the day, many gathered around Fatima awaiting the promised miracle, believers and sceptics among them. Then, as promised, the sun started dancing in the sky. Witnessed by 70,000, the phenomenon continues for about ten minutes, a phenomenon that science cannot explain till today. In the aftermath of this miracle, were there mass conversion? Were there, as requested by Mary, fervent prayers for the conversion of Russia, so that Russia would not “spread her errors throughout the world”? No. Vladimir Lenin went on to establish Communist Russia, and many countries followed suit in embracing communist ideologies. This continues for many decades until Pope Saint John Paul II visited his native Poland in 1979, and started the non-violent revolution that brought down the mighty Soviet Empire.
Through these accounts, we realise that while miracles have theirplace in bearing witness to God, ultimately, it is faith that converts the heart, not miracles. It is through faith that Moses performed the miracles. It is through faith that the Apostles accepted their martyred death. It is through faith, that Pope Saint John Paul II achieved what tanks and diplomacy could not – bringing down Communism.
In the parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man, the rich man was languishing in Hell and pleaded with Abraham to allow Lazarus to return to earth to help convert his brothers, “if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.” To this, Abraham, our father of faith, replied, “If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.” (Lk 16:19-31).
Inspired by the faithfuls that came before us, may our faith bloom and flourish in turn. God bless you.