Miracles: Handle with care

“If your mother says she loves you, check it out.”

That jarring statement used to hang in Chicago’s famed City News Bureau as an admonishment to reporters.

In the rough-and-tumble world of Chicago journalism, it simply meant to verify all claims with eyewitness accounts.

In reporting about the works of God, we are particularly careful on the subject of miracles. If someone has experienced dramatic healing, we’ll recount what happened and attribute it to the source:

Steve remembers waking up that day and feeling dramatically better. When a doctor examined him, she found no evidence of the tumor.

But we won’t say:

Steve woke up that day to a miracle: God had removed all traces of the tumor.

It’s not that we don’t believe the person’s story. God can and does heal people miraculously. And if readers choose to believe that God performed a miracle in this case, based on the answers we have heard and the information we present, then so be it.

But I’ve also seen the word miracle used to label everything from a resurrection to football comebacks to finding a parking space. Which means we treat the word, and the subject, cautiously.

In his thoughtful book, Miracles, journalist Tim Stafford writes:

People exaggerate. People pass on stories without checking their facts. People eagerly report miracles when there aren’t any. …

Some Christian circles inadvertently encourage exaggeration. They create an atmosphere where Christians feel obliged to believe reports of miracles. If you express skepticism or suggest that more information is needed, they show disappointment in your lack of faith. True Christians, it seems, don’t have any doubts; they experience miracles everywhere they turn.

I’ll say it loud and clear: I believe in miracles, but I don’t believe in most reports of miracles.

We’ve chosen this approach to reporting about a supernatural event: If it’s going to be mentioned, the report needs to come from an eyewitness. Not someone who heard about it from someone else, who heard about it from someone else. If the eyewitness talks about the occurrence, we quote them or at least attribute the information to them. It’s never our “narrator’s” voice claiming the miracle, unless we have witnessed it firsthand. At least for me, that hasn’t happened yet.

This all boils down to relentlessly pursuing the truth while celebrating the works of God, and those two goals fit together quite nicely. Our source for this approach is no less than the Gospel writer Luke:

Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word. With this in mind, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, I too decided to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught. (Luke 1:1-4, NIV)

I think Luke would have liked working at City News Bureau.

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