A Modern Day Miracle?

Charlton Rhinehart

If ever there was a case for a modern day miracle, it would have to be the events that happened on December 23, 1971 to Juliane Koepcke. You will not find a more amazing story of deliverance from certain death than the story of Juliane, she lives to tell the story herself to this day, the evidence of the event is undeniable, and no one hears the story and walks away not wondering how she survived. But if we compare this story to the miracles of scripture, will it hold up to match what we find there?

Juliane Diller, the present day married name of Juliane Koepcke, boarded LANSA flight 508 on December 23, 1971. The 17 year old girl had just attended her graduation ceremony and she was flying with her mother from Lima, Peru to Panguana, Peru. During the flight at nearly two miles high in the air, the plane was struck by lightning and began to tear apart. To anyone’s terror, Juliane was sucked out of the plane with nothing except the seat that she was strapped into. Juliane fell from 10,000 feet outside of the plane with no parachute and nothing but the seat she was in – landing in the Peruvian rainforest. Against all odds, most would say miraculously, she survived the fall!  But the story doesn’t end there; she was now deep in the rainforest with no one to help her survive and no rescue team aware of where she was. Juliane was lost in the rainforest for 11 days. She had many cuts, an injured arm, and despite her fall from the sky, her only broken bone was a collar bone. But now insects were feasting on her and maggots had began infesting her injured arm endangering her life though infection.

Juliane’s survival story continues as she pressed on and was able to search until she found an empty encampment with an old boat motor with some old gasoline. Using her wisdom of the threat to her health with her pending infections, she soaked her arm in the gas to kill the maggots, an action which experts have credited as part of her survival. Latter, loggers returning to the camp discovered her and got her the help that she needed. Once she was treated initially at a hospital she assisted search parties to find the crash site recovering the many killed in the crash, including her mother’s body. She continued to make full recovery and has written about and told her story many times on many programs.

When I first heard the story I did not believe it could be true. Part of my disbelief was my studied position that miracles have ceased, yet this story obviously had to be a miracle to have really happened.  Knowing however the trustworthiness of the individual sharing it, I searched for the story myself. Once I saw how many major news stations had interviewed her, how many articles were written on her and how many books told the story including her own, I had to believe it – but how could this be? People fall from small ladders everyday across our country and die, a fall from a tall ladder is almost certain death, yet here is a woman who fell from 10,000 feet, just shy of two miles high with nothing unusual to land on or not even a tangled parachute but here she is telling the story with no visible handicap.

A story like this is very difficult to fathom, a conclusion of a miraculous explanation seems inevitable, but taking a step back and reevaluating the story brings out some other factors. No, there is not reason to doubt the truth of the account, but there are some factors that don’t match the miracles of scripture. One of the first things you might learn as you look at the story in more detail is that Juliane had spent much time with her father in the rainforest. Though she was only 17 at the time of the crash, this was an important factor in her survival once the crash was over. Likewise her family’s ties to science perhaps played a part in her wise choices for treating her wounds. But this leads us to a very important factor in comparing Bible miracles to Juliane’s  story, and that is, why were there any injuries at all? Granted, the injuries are quite minor considering the event she survived, but does this compare to the miracles of the Bible?

The miracles we find in scripture are not left lacking in any way. For example the many lame men who were healed by Jesus did not walk away with a limp. Naaman’s skin was restored from leprosy, it was not with scars and imperfections, but it “…was restored like flesh of a little child…” (2 Kings 5:14). And even the blind man who Jesus healed at Bethsaida, who saw men looking like trees at first, the miracle wasn’t completed until he was seeing clearly (Mark 8:25). These miracles are not ever left incomplete, these miracles are not left short for natural healing to finish the job, rather the miracles of scripture are unlike any claims we see today. And Juliane’s miracle is lacking in this comparison though still staggering as the story is.

There is yet another similar factor to this story that separates it from a miracle, and that is the other lives that survived but were ultimately lost. Remember her mother’s body and the many others from the wreck that Juliane helped them find? All of those individuals were deceased when rescuers found the wreckage, it was apparent that many of them had also survived the fall from the sky, but sadly they failed to survive the conditions of the jungle.  It is the survival of the fall from 10,000 feet that is the factor making many of us convinced this is a miracle, but the fact that God would have miraculously delivered several individuals just for them to die a short time afterwards does not match the deliverance that we see God gives through Bible miracles. To call Juliane’s survival a miracle would cause us to also have to call the other initial survivor’s deliverance a miracle too; yet their injuries cost them their lives soon after. It’s a factor that we just cannot ignore and one that doesn’t match what God would miraculously do.

This story will always stick with me as an astounding story. The scientific reasons how she survived such a fall will baffle us and even the non-believing scientist, though the explanation of the factors are extremely difficult to comprehend or imagine they are somehow there. Perhaps it was the winds involved in the storm that helped slow her fall, perhaps the foliage of the jungle played a factor, or perhaps the speed of the plane helped create a different force like a parkour athlete jumping from a building with speed and rolling as he lands to break the fall. I do not dare to try to explain exactly how she survived such an event, but I know it was not a true miracle and that the laws of nature somehow had to work in her and the other passenger’s favor in this fall. This story doesn’t match the supernatural and perfect miracles of scripture.

…to claim that a modern day event is a miracle robs the magnificence of the true miracles recorded for us in scripture.

As much as we want to call the events in our lives a miracle and give God the glory for it, to claim that a modern day event is a miracle robs the magnificence of the true miracles recorded for us in scripture. The miracles that we find in the Bible are on a whole other level from even the most amazing stories we have. To discredit God’s hand in helping Juliane survive is not my intention, the providential works of God have always been in effect, but the miraculous have not. Even in miraculous times God also worked providentially, and in non-miraculous times such as today or the 400 years of silence between the testaments. I am glad I got to hear about this story, to challenge my own view in my own mind as I thought it through. It provided me an opportunity to test and strengthen my faith and uphold the view of the church knowing that the miraculous was for confirming the word of God in Bible times. Miracles provided signs and evidence that the prophets, the Messiah, and the apostles were inspired by God and that their message is from Him – proven by flawless miracles. Let us look to His completed word for our guide, and not within ourselves, and may we reserve the term “miracle” for the acts of God in the scriptures.

“For My Thoughts are not your thoughts, Neither are your ways My ways,” declares the Lord. Isaiah 55:8 NASB.

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.