The Curious Incident of the Pony in the Nighttime

^Mark Marx – of leg-growing faith-healing fame – recently made another rather intriguing claim:

Well, it seems God heals animals too. We’ve seen a flock of sheep healed, and now a pony!

Sadly Marx refuses to engage with me, but another kind tweep was able to get the story from him, which is quoted unedited and in full below:

Here’s the story, with kind permission to share… “Hi, I would just like to thank the lovely ladies who prayed for my very sick pony a few weeks ago. I know it sounds strange praying for a pony, but i cared a lot about him and the worry was affecting my health. He became v sick with Strangles and his throat swelled up so he couldn’t eat properly. He was seen by 2 different vets and given antibiotics but nothing helped. Both vets thought he would die. This went on for a few weeks and the 2nd vet said to give him till July and then he would be a loss. He also said there would probably be complications with his throat if he did survive. I went to the healing on the streets and some lovely women prayed with me for the stress and anxiety I was suffering from, and also prayed for a miracle for my pony. She prayed that that night he would be galloping about the field. Well, that evening, with 3 witnesses, my wee pony came galloping up to the field gate! He previously had been lying down or slowly walking about. I was so thankful. Just before July, the infection finally left him and he was able to eat. He has since put on loads of weight, is very bright eyed and full of life. Last week he galloped about the field non-stop for 5 minutes, a happy, healthy boy. The results have just come back from the vet that he is all clear. I am v thankful for the healing prayers he received. God cares for all creation, not just ourselves.””

Now, there’s not too much we can do with anonymous anecdotes except to analyse what little we have, without being able to follow up and ask questions of the various relevant parties.

On the face of it the story is probably enough to convince many people that the power of prayer was instrumental in healing this afflicted beast. To my mind, however, the story simply illustrates the problem with trying to use such anecdotes to defend miracles. A careful reading of the story suggests a much more simple explanation beneath the surface. Sadly, many people don’t bother to read carefully (few people have the time for that these busy days, I guess), and I suspect the story will be passed on as a simple “pony at death’s door – got prayed for – was healed – galloped in celebration” story. Perhaps in a few years we’ll hear also how eyewitnesses saw it turn into a horse, sprout wings, and fly. But let’s have a more careful reading.

Firstly, the pony was “very sick” with a condition called Strangles. Now, how many people will hear this story and bother to find out what Strangles is and how it’s treated? Very few, I suspect. But it sure does sound horrible, doesn’t it? It sounds like the sort of killer disease that would torment a poor beast, finally killing it through asphyxiation or starvation. That’s not quite what it is. Granted, like any health ailment, it isn’t pleasant, but in most cases it simply runs its course and the animal recovers in time. There can sometimes be complications, but the disease is very rarely fatal.

Which brings me to the second point: how sick was this particular animal? The anonymous owner says “very sick,” but notice that she was suffering from stress and anxiety. As a fellow-sufferer of these scourges I know only too well the reality-warping effects they can have. On several occasions I was truly convinced I was “very sick” – dying of cancer, in fact – due to the appearance of some otherwise common physical symptoms. Sufferers of anxiety tend to catastrophize, and one’s judgment is not terribly reliable under such circumstances. “But, wait a minute, Stephen,” I hear you cry, “didn’t this woman’s judgment get confirmed not only by one but two vets?” I’m glad you asked, this brings us to the third point.

The answer is “not quite.” Notice how this woman says “both vets thought he would die.” But this can’t be quite accurate since she also reports that one of them “said to give him till July and then he would be at a loss.” [Emphasis mine] So, this vet at least had not lost all hope. Seemingly in his professional opinion the animal could still get well again. Note that later on the woman tells us “just before July the infection finally left him,” which is in keeping with the vet’s prognosis.

These words bring us to the fourth point. After the pony was prayed for he was up and able to run over to a gate. But the woman appears to imply he wasn’t fully healed even at this stage. It seems to be a much more gradual recovery before “the infection finally left him” and the vet was able to give him the all clear. Perhaps the antibiotics that the woman had spoken of previously had begun kicking in, and the disease was now fading out – as one of the vets seems to have expected.

Upon our closer reading then it seems that what we really have here is a case of a pony with a disease that tends to run its course, (though this animal may have suffered some complications or perhaps for longer than is normal), and which recovered in the time frame laid down by at least one vet, after receiving treatment which included the use of antibiotics. The woman – suffering stress and anxiety as a result of her sick animal – was clearly incredibly relieved that the animal got well and, being a religious person, quite naturally attributed the recovery to a supernatural intervention.

It would be interesting to get the testimony of one of the vets rather than have to go on an interpretation of their words by a woman suffering stress and anxiety. Patients frequently have a very different understanding of their illness from that of their doctor – typically thinking they are in worse shape than they actually are. There are other questions we could ask: What was the time frame of the illness? How long after being prayed for did he fully recover? Did the vets think this within the parameters of what is normal in the circumstances? These are all questions that naturally arise on the back of a more careful reading of the story. Only by ignoring all these relevant details can anyone sensibly claim that what we have here is a case of a pony being miraculously healed by God. Sadly I suspect Mark Marx won’t care one jot about being careful, nuanced, and critical. It gives him another wonderful anecdote to share as he travels the world seeking to amaze the masses.

Stephen J. Graham


Filed under Faith-Healing, Miracles

2 responses to “The Curious Incident of the Pony in the Nighttime

  1. Good evening, Stephen… Hmm… After our Twitter exchange last night, I’m curious as to your thought processes here.

    It strikes me of nothing else that much of your exploration of the claim of the pony being healed rests on speculation. For sure, there may be an alternative explanation of the facts along the lines you suggest, but you simply weren’t there.

    I kind of feel as if Mark Marx’s honour needs defending too, so a few points to address the whole of what we’ve been discussing. I have attended Healing on the Streets training with Mark Marx and helped to set up two Healing on the Streets teams myself, so I have had a certain amount of contact with both Mark’s ministry and healings in general.

    I’ll try to be gentle (but you seem like a big boy in any case). I’m not angry, just giving you a god argument. :o)

    1.) Should Mark Marx (or anyone else) have to defend himself to you? People in charismatic evangelism get quite a lot of stick, from theological objections to outright harassment. Your querying of his ability to provide evidence for the pony’s healing may be burningly important to you, but if he spent time justifying every miracle to every doubter, he would never get away from his laptop to exercise his ministry.

    2.) What do you hope to get out of being presented with incontrovertible evidence of the pony’s healing, or any other miracle? Are you going to ask for proof of the next healing? And the next, and the next? Claim the whole thing is nevertheless baloney, and Marx a charlatan? Continue to insist that there is something wrong with Marx’s ministry? In my experience of arguing with atheist sceptics, no attempt to teach them anything is ever successful, because they always revert to the same arguments they made previously, and in the end one finds a better use for one’s time. I have had a similar experience with Christians who are sceptical of one or another aspect of God’s work in the world today. You may be different, but Mark Marx has surely had his fill of people demanding explanations.

    3.) Which leads me on to the next point: if it’s miracles you want, go see some! There are enough Healing on the Streets outreaches, and enough charismatic churches, for there to be any amount of healings for you to hear about, and may be even observe. Picking on one specific instance which is no grander or lesser in the scheme of things would seem to be a moot point. This whole issue is a test of “heart”. If you really wanted to see miracles, you could sign up for Healing on the Streets training as I did, and be in the thick of it, rather than lobbing objections from behind a computer screen.

    4.) From our “conversation” last night, it kind of seems like your mind is already made up that there’s nothing to charismatic ministry but smoke and mirrors, in keeping with Derren Brown’s conclusions. To what end, then, could Mark Marx possibly try to persuade you otherwise, since there appears to be no way for him to win the argument, and the best he can probably hope for from you is grudging agreement? If one thinks that healing miracles are real, as I believe them to be, then one is inclined to take a gracious view of reports of healings made by other parties. We just say, “Praise God, that’s great!” and feel encouraged. If biology had a role to play, we praise God for that too. (If nothing else, the pony *is* alive and well. That’s wonderful!)

    5.) HOWEVER that doesn’t mean we are gullible or naïve. But we do just use ordinary standards of discernment, and take a mature view of the significance of any one event.

    6.) You seem to place an inordinate amount of value on any one miracle story – in common with a lot of atheist sceptics – as if any one report of a miracle should be the basis of believing or not believing in God. Unless the miracle has happened to oneself or in one’s own experience, I would suggest that most believer’s faith is only stimulated by talk of miracles – e.g. to praise God or to believe for miracles in their own lives – but it is not the be-all and end-all of a person’s faith, which rather rests on the Word of God and the indwelling witness of the Holy Spirit. Thus stories (secondhand) of healings fall into the “nice to have” category, rather than the “bare essentials”.

    7.) OF COURSE this does not mean we should be gullible. There are still charlatans out there. But do we have any real evidence that Mark Marx is a charlatan – other than the fact that he won’t answer your emails, Important Voice of Christian Media though you may be? (Let us not forget that arguments from silence are unreliable at best.) I notice that Jesus often did not answer the Pharisees, because they were only playing mind games; they had no intention of believing or participating in the ministry of the gospel. See e.g. Jesus’ question about the nature of John’s baptism in Matthew 21:23-27. Jesus was wise not to indulge the Pharisees’ speculation (whether it was idle curiosity or an attempt to trap him). He revealed the secrets of the kingdom to those who were hungry for them (“ears to hear” and the “secrets of the kingdom”; Luke 8). Not that I am putting Mark Marx in the place of Jesus, but I think the same wisdom applies. Jesus would invite people to participate rather than spending time in endless (fruitless?) dialogue and speculation.

    8.) You really don’t do the other players in the pony scenario a lot of credit. The woman is too stressed to know what is going on; she has misinterpreted matters, and so on. The apostles said the same to the women who announced that they had seen the resurrected Christ. Scepticism is not a blessed posture in the kingdom of God; Jesus rebuked his apostles for their doubts, not the women for their credulity. And yes, I am aware that we must be on our guard against false prophets and the like, but there needs to be evidence that they are false, rather than speculation and disbelief. And there also needs to be a willingness to believe in the fulfillment of things the Scriptures promise.

    9.) What would Mark Marx have to gain from being a charlatan in any case? When I met him (and his wife) they seemed to be very down-to-earth people. It did not appear that they had a great financial reward from Mark’s ministry. Are they just so deluded that they find fulfillment in bringing other people into the delusion? That’s an argument beloved of atheists, but it is easily testable against the facts (see point 10, below). It just doesn’t seem credible that Mark Marx would travel the world at great inconvenience (airline food starts to pall after a while), for little reward, to foist something that doesn’t work on people. I notice that Mark Marx has regularly taught on healing at New Wine, where there is little tolerance for hand-waving and pushing people over, but a lot of experience of healings and gifts of the Spirit, as New Wine is rooted in John Wimber’s Vineyard movement (which you may also find ridiculous and unpalatable, but these are no Benny Hinns).

    10.) The healings speak for themselves. I had personally seen some people healed in response to prayer before attending HOTS training, and quite a few more afterwards. If HOTS wasn’t healing anybody, people would quickly become disenchanted. Instead of that, people report healings from all over the country and all over the world. Indeed, just last Sunday morning in church, I found myself sitting next to an acquaintance who I hadn’t seen for some time, and he had come to church that morning because somebody from that church’s HOTS team had prayed for him the previous day and his knee, which had been very painful and under medical treatment for years, had been healed. (He was also at least partially healed of another physical ailment when I prayed for him a couple of years previously.) “My” two HOTS outreaches saw healings of various kinds, and I have seen many other healings as well. The feedback from the people I pray for tells me that it’s working, and some healings are beyond doubt, such as that of my friend whose knee was smashed in a motorcycle accident, whose “after” scan showed his knee fully restored and no longer needing surgery, to the amazement of the specialist surgeon.

    11.) I do wonder (and you may have answered this already) if you’ve been hurt by charismatic Christians or the misuse of charismatic gifts. In that case, you have my deepest sympathy. I have been hurt in church too, and it pushed me away from God for some 5 years. It totally sucks when people misuse God’s Name, his Word, or any aspect of ministry, deliberately, or just hurtfully. Some of those people know what they are doing, and others are just humans being. Should that diminish the work of Christ, which is real? The challenge is to hold fast to that which is good, as modelled in God’s word. The rest we hold lightly.

    12.) How beneficial is a sceptical outlook? I meet a lot of Christians who are determined not to be deceived or who go to great lengths not to make mistakes. Yet many of them simply end up living smaller and less effectively than they should, given the glorious provision of spiritual gifts that God has laid on, which they refuse to walk in. After seeing the miracles of the Bible – Pete walking on water; David slaying the giant with a single stone; the plan of salvation resting on the obedience *and* sinlessness of Jesus the Son – it would seem that risk aversion is not God’s foremost characteristic, nor is it one He particularly calls us to.

    And there’s probably more. I’m just praying that you’ll step into these things for yourself, because they are real. Just don’t look to a man, but rather look to Christ.

    Have a blessed evening!

  2. alfie tanner

    To be fair, cookiejezz J, I find Stephen’s arguments sound. I think like most of us, we want proper evidence- it is as simple as that. Like many healers who are asked for their five best cases-when examined, there is in fact no healing at all. This makes me sad. The cases Stephen cites sadly do not prove that a healing took place at all for the reasons stated.

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