Tweed Lion

In the jungle, the mighty jungle, the lion reads the paper

Offended by Miracles: Spared by the Hand of God

There was recently an article in the paper about an upcoming movie, The Cokeville Miracle, and the story of how 154 students and teachers miraculously survived an encounter with a crazed gunman and the accidental detonation of a large bomb. I was curious about the details of this dramatic account, but I found the public comments that followed the article even more fascinating. Some wished that all school shootings could have ended the same way. Others simply wished for a world with no school shootings. But the comments that stuck with me were made by many who were offended by the suggestion that what happened in Cokeville was a miracle.

Most of the offense was founded in an uncomfortable logic: If what happened in Cokeville was a miracle, then those children and teachers were saved by a higher power; but if they were saved by a higher power, then why was there no intervention at Sandy Hook, Virginia Tech, Columbine, or a dozen other tragedies?

Though I am religious, I’m not offended by faith-challenging questions. I’ve found sometimes faith is a matter of assurance, and other times it’s a matter of suffering doubt with patience. So I spent some time wondering why some people receive a miracle while others lose loved ones.

For me the answer is profound as it is common: I don’t know.


Outside of Cokeville Elementary on May 16, 1986.

I cannot imagine trying to explain to brokenhearted parents why their child didn’t come home while 136 kids in Cokeville lived to play and laugh another day. (Even the thought of trying to explain that makes me ill.) There are inequities I can’t explain, but in thinking through the issue, I did find that there was one miracle available to all—from Cokeville to Sandy Hook, and for every case in between. It’s the miracle of a change in heart.

The more I dug into what happened in Cokeville, the less I was impressed by the low fatality rate and the more I was impressed by the community. It’s one thing to be spared by the hand of God; it’s a more impressive thing to resemble the hand of God. By all accounts these people are kind, wonderful, and ready to care for their neighbors and strangers alike. They sleep with unlocked doors and know each other by name. I began to wonder if the town would still be as friendly if the lives of the children hadn’t been spared. There’s no way to really know, but evidence suggests it’s a possibility.

In 2006 a gunman entered a one-room schoolhouse in the Amish community of Nickel Mines, PA. He killed five children and injured five more before taking his own life. The community instantly bonded together, forgave the perpetrator, and wrapped their collective arms around gunman’s widow and her family. That outpouring prompted the widow to release a statement of appreciation to the public:

Our family wants each of you to know that we are overwhelmed by the forgiveness, grace, and mercy that you’ve extended to us. Your love for our family has helped to provide the healing we so desperately need. The prayers, flowers, cards, and gifts you’ve given have touched our hearts in a way no words can describe. Your compassion has reached beyond our family, beyond our community, and is changing our world, and for this we sincerely thank you.

This school house was torn down and a new on was built elsewhere in the community.

This school house was torn down and a new on was built elsewhere in the community.

I do not know why a loving God did not save the Amish children, but I am comforted by the idea that the miracle of His grace and a change in heart is available to all. The LDS apostle Elder Oakes summed this idea up nicely in an address about miracles. He told stories of people being raised from the dead and church buildings being spared the ravages of war, but concluded with this thought:

The greatest miracle is not in such things as restoring sight to the blind, healing an illness, or even raising the dead, since all of these restorations will happen, in any event, in the resurrection.

Changing bodies or protecting temples are miracles, but an even greater miracle is a mighty change of heart by a son or daughter of God. A change of heart, including new attitudes, priorities, and desires, is greater and more important than any miracle involving the body. I repeat, the body will be resurrected in any event, but a change affecting what the scripture calls the “heart” of a spirit son or daughter of God is a change whose effect is eternal. If of the right kind, this change opens the door to the process of repentance that cleanses us to dwell in the presence of God.

Some might say a change of heart isn’t really a miracle, that’s it’s simply a result of will, and there might be cases where that’s true. But I would respond with a simple experiment: Think of someone you really dislike and then decide to like him or her. (Did it work?) Changing how we feel is really difficulty, yet many of us have experienced this sudden, miraculous change, and it seems to come from without ourselves and from a power we do not understand.

When I consider how that power and grace interacts with my body to change the way I feel and improve my experience, I come back to that common and profound place: I don’t know. But ultimately a belief in miracles is to surrender yourself to accepting results you cannot explain, or, in more scriptural terms, to not dismiss “the evidence of things not seen.”

Cokeville Today

Idyllic Cokeville today.

There are things both good and bad that we cannot explain, and to believe in miracles requires us to surrender a bit of ourselves to the discomfort that comes from uncertainty. A belief in miracles does not mean we will be spared severe heartbreak or pain, but to recognize there is power we do not wield, order we do not understand, and grace that is not ours to bestow. The lesson of Cokeville and Nickel Mines is that the ordeals of life will certainly find us, but they need not overcome us, and that whether God intervenes early or late, all his essential miracles are universally available to those who seek.

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One Comment on “Offended by Miracles: Spared by the Hand of God

  1. Reida Swenson
    May 20, 2015

    this is a wonderful response to the question, very thought provoking.

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Published on May 18, 2015 by .