Do you know about the popular website snopes.com? The site describes itself as “the internet’s definitive fact-checking resource.” It was founded by David Mikkelson and his wife Barbara in 1994 as a means whereby people can fact check stories and urban legends that seem a little too far-fetched to be true. I have visited the site several times over the years in my attempts to verify some of the fantastical stories that permeate Christian sermons, devotional books, and websites. Sadly, I’ve found that many of the best stories, stories that a preacher or a writer can use to really make hay, simply never happened. I recently ran across one such story, called “The Price of a Miracle,” about a little girl who had a sick brother.
As the story goes, an eight-year-old girl (in some versions her name is “Tess”; in others it’s “Sally”) overhears her mother and father talking about her fatally ill little brother (in some versions he’s “Andrew”; in others he’s “Georgi”). The girl hears her father say about the brother, “Only a miracle can save him.” This prompts the little girl to go to her bedroom, count the money in her piggybank, sneak out of the house, and carry her money down to the corner drugstore. (One version of the story goes into great detail about the drugstore being a Rexall’s Drug Store that was located six blocks away and had a big red Indian Chief sign above the door.)
After trying for several minutes to get the pharmacist’s attention, the little girl finally resorts to loudly banging a quarter on the counter. Annoyed, the pharmacist interrupts the conversation he is having with another man (in one version the other man is his brother from Chicago), walks over to the girl, and asks, “What do you want?” The little girl answers, “My brother is sick and is going to die. My daddy says only a miracle can save him. How much does a miracle cost?” With compassion in his voice, the pharmacist replies, “I’m sorry, we don’t sell miracles here.”
It is then that a well-dressed man (one version has him being the pharmacist’s brother from Chicago) who has overheard the conversation stoops down and asks the girl, “What kind of a miracle does your brother need?” “I don’t know,” she says, “I just know he’s really sick, needs a miracle, and my daddy can’t afford to pay for it.” “How much money do you have?” asks the man. “One dollar and eleven cents,” says the little girl, “but I can get more if I have to.” “What a coincidence,” says the man, “one dollar and eleven cents is the exact price for a miracle for little brothers.” The man then accompanies the little girl back to her home to see what kind of miracle the brother needs.
Then comes the grand reveal that the brother has a brain tumor, the man’s name is Dr. Carlton Armstrong, Armstrong is an imminent neurosurgeon, and he cures the boy by performing the operation for free. Later on, once the surgery is over and the brother is back home, the mother says, “That surgery was a real miracle. I wonder how much it would have cost.” The little girl just smiles because she knows exactly how much a miracle costs: one dollar and eleven cents.
If that story doesn’t tug at your heart strings, evidently you need to be restrung. I know that it tugged at mine when I first read it. I have to admit, though, that even as I read it the questions started flying in my mind: “Didn’t those parents have insurance?” “Couldn’t some type of payment plan have been worked out with the hospital?” “What kind of parents in the United States let their boy die for lack of medical treatment?” “What kind of parents let their eight-year-old girl wander through the city streets alone?” “What kind of pharmacist sees an eight-year-old girl in his pharmacy and doesn’t wonder where her parents are?” “Why did the girl assume that pharmacists sold miracles?” “Why did she associate surgery with a drugstore?”
The snopes.com staff point out that they’ve only turned up a couple of notable Carlton Armstrongs. One is a bass player for a group called the Vibe, and the other one was a man who blew up Sterling Hall (a building located on the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus) thereby killing a physics researcher and injuring three other people. For the record, the latter didn’t even spell his name “Carlton” but rather “Karleton.” The site also questions why the little girl headed to a pharmacy to buy a miracle rather than head to a church to pray for one. Sarcastically, the site asks, “What denomination were these people, anyway? Pharmaceuticalian?”
Look, if “The Price of a Miracle” story pans out to be a true, I’ll happily recant this post and be the first to sing the praises of Dr. Carlton Armstrong, neurosurgeon. I’m certainly not anti-little girl, anti-sick brothers, or anti-miracles. Furthermore, let me also say that God is plenty big enough to orchestrate events to cause such a story to occur. No one except an atheist would question that.
With these things understood, though, this post is a call for discernment. We Christians have got to start realizing that we make ourselves look foolish and cast doubt upon our Savior when we prove ourselves gullible enough to present syrupy fiction as solid fact. The lost person watches us fall for such drivel and assumes that all that jargon we present about Jesus, the cross, and heaven must be drivel, too.
Even God, in 1 Thessalonians 5:21, commands us to, “Test all things, hold fast what is good” (N.K.J.V.). Unfortunately, most Christians simply don’t want to put in the time and effort to do that testing. It is, after all, a whole lot easier to just read a tear-inducing story on the internet or in a book and run with the story as a tool to manipulate your audience into believing what you want them to believe. Of course, the problem with that is that our Savior actually called Himself, among other things, “the truth” (John 14:6). That being the case, how can we, the people who name His name, lazily traffic in untruths? How can we use made-up stories to convince others to follow Him? Asking the question bluntly, how can we expect lost people to believe what we say about Jesus when they can’t even believe what we say about little girls and doctors named Armstrong?