Placebo Effect Miracles

Charlton Rhinehart

We all know what a placebo is, that fake pill given out to some of the test group during the trial of a new drug. Yet it is always amazing how many of those who simply receive a fake sugar pill somehow have beneficial results. It makes for a challenge for the actual drug to compete with, not only does the real medication have to show real results, but it has to prove it is better than all these false results that people claim. But why are there so many benefits from a fake pill? Perhaps some of it is psychological to the person taking the drug – when they think positive they get positive results. Perhaps some of it is natural healing that takes place on its own and gets credited to the drug. And finally perhaps some of it is just plain dishonesty. Nevertheless, the placebo effect is something that even scientist have to account for. Could it also be that modern day miracles are the same thing, a placebo effect in our thoughts for those who believe them?

The churches of Christ have a unique view on miracles that I honestly haven’t seen in any other group. We believe that miracles have ceased. No, we don’t claim the miracles of the Bible are false, we don’t deny that God has the power to perform miracles, but we still claim they have ceased for the time we live in. The simple straight forward reason is because miracles served a purpose – they were to confirm the word of God, and that word is now complete. II Timothy 3:16 tells us of the inspiration of scripture, and verse 17 goes on to tell us that by it we can be “complete” and “thoroughly equipped”. This same message has been “…once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 4). And as John wraps up the book of Revelation he concludes by warning about those who would add to the words of the book, or take away from the words of the book (Rev 22:18-19). He was clearly talking about the book he had just written, but it also seems as more than coincidence that this is the last book of scripture written. The statement serves as a warning as well to not add to or take from the book as a whole, the big book that is – the Bible, it is now complete.

The fact is, miracles were performed not just for the convenience of the person benefiting from them, but they served a purpose, they were a sign that this is true. A sign that this prophet really is a true prophet from God, a sign that Israel was God’s nation, a sign that Jesus really was the messiah, and a sign that the apostles really were revealing inspired truth. The scriptures interchange the term signs and miracles often, John chapter 20 tells us these “signs” (v30) were “written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ” (v31). If this is the case with miracles and the prophets have been fulfilled in Christ, and if the apostles have revealed their message in scripture, then the need for miracles or signs are no longer needed.

So what about the miracles we see today? We have all seen some amazing things – are these not the same miracles we see in scripture? A miracle by definition is something supernatural, something that cannot  happen by natural laws, not just something that is rare, but something that cannot possibly happen within any natural odds. One of the most common things today that we call a miracle is the birth of a child. As amazing as the birth of a child is, especially your own child, birth is a very natural thing. Birth is well within the laws of nature to look at it from a scientific point, or well within the design of the human body from a Christian perspective. Truth be told we often misuse the term miracle for natural things that we don’t see every day, but a miracle is something that no person can explain. But what if a couple is told by their doctor that they are unable to have children, they pray for a child anyway, and a pregnancy occurs? Is this not a miracle?

Perhaps a better term for this unlikely pregnancy would be providence, this is what we pray for and hope for as God works with us today. The situation of the desired pregnancy is that the woman was highly unlikely to become pregnant, so much so that the doctor told her it wouldn’t happen. But just because the pregnancy occurred does not mean that a miracle has occurred. This isn’t something supernatural and totally unbelievable, but at the same time don’t rule out God’s involvement with it either. Perhaps if there was no prayer for this child the pregnancy would have never occurred. You see God can work out things that would have never occurred without His influence, but though He is involved, the result is not a supernatural unexplainable sign. God used those miracles, those signs in the past for a reason, to witness part of His word. But the need for that miraculous witness is fulfilled now as His word is complete for our understanding of Him. Still we know of His power and capabilities, still we pray and hope for His influence on the world around us providentially, but the instant supernatural response is not what we can expect in our time.

So why are there so many believers today that buy into miracles? They will tell you of things they have been healed of miraculously, tell you about angels they have seen or things God has spoken to them verbally. Perhaps the only way to explain this is the placebo effect and their own misunderstandings. Just like the convincing healing of the placebo pill that has to be false, so also many are convinced that they have witnessed the miraculous. Often these individuals are friends we know and trust to tell the truth. Sometimes it makes us think twice if something miraculous really occurred, but we have to realize these things cannot be true. For many of these individuals the churches they are a part of encourage their thinking. At these churches people will testify of things they have seen, Calvinism will have them looking for a calling to salvation, or preachers will tell of their unique miraculous calling to preach. Soon our friends are looking for something similar in their life and it doesn’t take long for them to find it in that mindset. One of the hardest challenges in evangelism is trying to show the truth to someone convinced they have seen the miraculous; someone who doesn’t believe the word of God is the whole authority for truth. Please reexamine the subject, just as there were 400 years of silence from God between the testaments, God can be silent today also yet we still know what He expects and that He is faithful.  Don’t swallow a sugar pill of lies.

“ Love never fails; but if there are gifts of prophecy, they will be done away; if there are tongues, they will cease, if there is knowledge, it will be done away. For we know in part, and we prophecy in part; But when the perfect comes, the partial will be done away.” (1 Cor 13:8-10)NASB.

“But the one who looks intently at the perfect law, the law of liberty…this man shall be blessed by what he does.“  (Jas 1:25)NASB.