Lunatic asylums are full of people who believe they are God. Getting others to believe you are God won't make you sane, but it can make you rich. A case in point: the Reverend General Jealous Divine, a.k.a. George Baker, known to his followers as Father Divine. The son of sharecroppers, Divine was working as a gardener in Baltimore when he fell in with an itinerant preacher named Samuel Morris, who got himself ejected from numerous churches by proclaiming, "I am the eternal Father!" For a few years, Divine acted as Morris' acolyte, calling himself "the Messenger." However, he soon decided that Morris had usurped a position that rightfully belonged to him, and he struck out on his own.
As Father Divine, he attracted his own large following but, like his mentor, he also stirred up controversy. Local ministers in Georgia had him arrested and sentenced to 60 days on a chain gang. On another occasion he was charged with being a lunatic but was eventually judged to be sane, notwithstanding his "maniacal" beliefs. He and his mostly black followers were arrested for disturbing the peace in an otherwise all-white suburb on Long Island where they had established their headquarters in 1919. Divine himself was black, and he had apparently inflamed local sensibilities by driving around town in a Cadillac. He was found guilty, but the jury recommended leniency. However, the judge decided to make an example of him and sentenced him to a year in jail, along with a $500 fine. The judge died suddenly a few days later, prompting Divine to comment, "I hated to do it." As it happened, the judge had a heart condition that may have contributed to his untimely demise. To Divine's followers, however, the incident just showed how easy it was to bring down God's wrath when God himself was a direct party to the dispute.
Miracles, like beauty, are essentially in the eye of the beholder, which may explain why there is so little agreement on the subject. Must an event defy the laws of nature to qualify as a full-fledged miracle, or is it enough for it merely to occur at an opportune moment? Divine was certainly adept at seizing the moment. But apart from his sly comment, what actually happened to suggest that the judge's departure was the product of divine intervention? There is nothing inherently miraculous about dying suddenly -- unless, of course, the process is reversed. All you can really conclude about such episodes is that one person's miracle is another person's coincidence.
The two schools of thought on miracles, as Einstein suggested, are that everything is a miracle and that nothing is. The trouble comes mainly when we try to navigate in between. Of the two, I gravitate toward the miraculous, without making much of a fuss about nature versus the supernatural. John Donne wrote, "There is nothing that God hath established in a constant course of nature, and which therefore is done every day, but would seem a Miracle, and exercise our admiration, if it were done but once." The true wonder to me is that, for most of us most of the time, the stupefying fact of our own existence can appear so ordinary.