There is an atheist website with a particularly provocative argument against God’s existence called “Why Won’t God Heal Amputees?“.
Their argument is pretty simple: Christians believe God sometimes heals people miraculously in response to prayer. But the types of things that are usually healed – cancer, a virus, an infection, etc – are hidden from view in a way that makes it difficult to confirm for sure that a true miracle has taken place. Something like the healing of an amputee (e.g. a miraculous replacement of their amputated limb) would be clearly miraculous, and yet never takes place. Thus, the atheist argument goes, we can be sure that God probably isn’t healing anyone, and so probably doesn’t exist.
But here’s the thing: there are credible, well-documented examples from the modern period of God miraculously curing amputees. Here is one of them.
A Terrible Accident
Miguel Juan Pellicer was born in the early 17th century to a Catholic family in the small agricultural community of Calanda, Spain. In 1637 when he was 20 years old, he was working on his uncle’s farm when a terrible accident occurred: he was riding a mule pulling a cart and accidentally fell off, and the cart ran over his right leg, breaking his tibia (also known as one’s shin – ouch!).
He received some treatment at a local hospital but soon decided to go to a special hospital in the city of Zaragoza dedicated to Our Lady of the Pillar. He, like many Catholics in Spain, had a strong devotion to her, and he hoped to benefit from her intercession.
Unfortunately, by the time he arrived, his leg was so gangrenous that it was black. The only option left was amputation. Two expert surgeons removed most of the lower half of his right leg from just below his knee. They cauterized the wound with fire.
Now, keep in mind that this was the mid-17th century, so there was no anesthesia. They gave him alcohol and other drugs to try to numb the pain, but Pellicer nonetheless experienced incredible pain. One witness later wrote: “In his torment the young man called upon the Virgin of the Pillar, unceasingly and with great fervor.” They then buried his amputated leg in the hospital’s cemetery, as was the custom.
A few months later, he was released with a wooden leg and crutch. Apparently, he was also able to get some sort of license for begging (I didn’t know that kind of thing even existed) at the Sanctuary of the Pillar. He was able to survive from begging and, since it’s a popular pilgrimage destination, was seen by thousands if not millions of people. He also got regular checkups with his doctor at the hospital.
But he didn’t lose hope that God still might heal his leg, as impossible as it seemed. In an act of faith, every night he would request some oil from the sanctuary, rub it on his stub, and pray for the intercession of Our Lady.
After about two years, with the health of his leg seemingly stable, he finally decided to return home. He arrived in the midst of the 2nd week of Lent (sometime around March 11-14) in 1640. Unable to help on the farm, he took up begging again, and many people in the surrounding towns saw his stub leg.
Then, about two weeks later on March 29th, the miracle happened.
It was around 10 p.m. and he was ready to go bed. A soldier was temporarily staying in his family’s home and was sleeping in his bed, so Pellicer plopped down in an extra bed in his parent’s room instead. About an hour later, his mother walked in and saw two feet sticking out of the covers. Thinking the soldier had gone to sleep in the wrong room, she called her husband to resolve the misunderstanding.
But when her husband came and lifted the blanket, he was shocked at what he found: it was their son, and he had both of his legs!
They tried to wake him up right away, but he was in a deep sleep and it took a while. Once they finally were able to shake him awake, he explained that he had been having a vivid dream in which he was at the Sanctuary of the Pillar and was rubbing his stub with the oil as he used to do.
The three of them rejoiced, praised God, and thanked the Lady of the Pillar for her intercession!
The Church Investigates
News of the miracle spread like wildfire in the surrounding towns, and both government and ecclesiastical officials came to their house to see his healed leg for themselves. Three weeks later, Pellicer and his parents made a pilgrimage to the Sanctuary of the Pillar to give thanks, and many people there who had known him with his stub leg were amazed to see him with both legs.
The story became such a sensation that the local archbishop conducted an extensive investigation of the miracle. When they dug up the box that he been buried with his amputated leg in the hospitals’ cemetery, it was apparently undisturbed – but empty. Regarding eye-witness testimony, there were obviously thousands of people who had clearly seen his stub leg before the miracle. So investigators asked two dozen of the most respected witnesses to testify in the court proceedings, including doctors who had treated him. No doubters of the miracle could be found.
A year later, the archbishop finally issued a judgement: the miracle was authentic.