I haven’t heard much about weeping statues recently. It seems that this kind of thing was a much hotter topic when I was growing up Catholic on the South Side of Chicago back in the 1980’s. But recently, not so much. Or perhaps I just am not keeping track of phenomena like this the way I used to, which is probably the better explanation for my ignorance.
Still, a questioner on another forum recently asked about some videos of “weeping Madonna” statues, statues of Mary that weep what appears either to be blood or some kind of oily substance. If this is the case, how might a Bible-believing Protestant think about such phenomena? Should we immediately affirm anything miraculous in this highly skeptical world? Or, should we proceed more cautiously?
Well, first, I think it’s important to try and offer some explanations about what the event might actually be before making and theological speculations about why it happens. So, let’s think through it a bit, what’s the deal with these sorrowful Madonnas? As far as I can tell there are three possible explanations, one of which has two possible sources for its explanation.
Explanation 1: It is a hoax.
I’m inclined to think that these days it is actually unlikely that recent instances of a weeping statute of Mary are actually hoaxes, although certainly some might be. However, while I tend to think that examples from further back in the past may very well have been hoaxes, probably ones designed to lure unsuspecting pilgrims into the church so that the coffers might fill, these days I think that such trickery is much harder to pull off. What with the technology we have today, and the willingness to prosecute such activities through legal channels, I doubt many deacons, or parish priests are willing to take such a risk. Depending on when a video was taken and where it was taken might provide circumstantial evidence one way or another whether a hoax was involved. Just like in videos of Cryptozoology, if there is some grainy home video from 1982, then I would be more suspicious of a hoax. But, if this were more recent, and if there were multiple videos of the same event by tourists with I-Phones, well, then I don’t think a hoax is that likely. The hoaxers, I think, would be taking far too great a risk by exposing not only the trickery itself, but also in opening themselves to lawsuits.
Explanation 2: Natural processes.
Now, I doubt this explanation would work if it were actual blood that was recorded by these videos, blood that was, of course, later confirmed through testing. But, if this was not real blood but just something like a red-pigmented oil or paint, then it could easily be some natural phenomena occurring. Same with an oily substance dripping from the area around the statue’s eyes. While the timing might be curious, even the context, the phenomena itself is clearly just that of natural processes naturally proceeding.
It could even be the case that some of these statues were designed in such a way (and this might overlap with the hoax theory) to “sweat” from the area around the eyes in order to produce this affect. Maybe it was created intentionally so that when certain atmospheric conditions obtain, the phenomena is generated naturally. Or maybe it happens indirectly, i.e. without intentional design, when those same atmospheric conditions obtain.
Explanation 3: Miraculous event.
Now, this explanation could have two sources, although, ultimately, every explanation could be drawn back causally to God Himself, since God is creator of all things, to include secondary causes like natural condensation and human free wills, free wills that can choose to perform hoaxes upon unsuspecting pilgrims. But, let’s say this is an instance of an actual supernatural miracle. In other words, especially if it were demonstrated that real blood is pouring from the statue’s eyes, these kinds of phenomena would simply not obtain in reality solely through the natural causal powers acting upon the properties of the statue within the environmental context the statue happens to be in. Some other causal source for the phenomena is required for the phenomena to obtain.
The first supernatural source that it could be would be God’s own causal powers. This would be beyond simple for God’s power to instantiate. Simply put, God efficiently causes the statue to weep blood. This is certainly possible, and if God wanted to use this weeping statue to draw people into some knowledge of His divine presence, then I could easily imagine Him doing that. So, source one of a supernatural occurrence like this could be God’s causal powers.
The second source would be that of a demonic agent. Demons may be able to affect the physical world, in fact I think the Bible makes it abundantly clear that Demons can interact with the physical in some way (Job 1-2, 1 Thess 2:18, Mk 5:11-13, Lk 9:38-42, Lk 13:11-16), although some have argued that demons can only interact with the non-physical (e.g. with the human soul or mind). Still, I think there is scriptural evidence and evidence from exorcism and deliverance ministries that demons can interact with material object. If that is the case, then this could be an example of a demon altering the subatomic particles or physical properties of the statue so as to make it weep oil, or blood, or whatever.
But why would God or a demon cause such an odd event?
With regard to the demonic source, it seems that the main reason would likely be to try and trick viewers in some way, perhaps make them think, for example, that the power of God is in things like statues, or that Mary is somehow worthy of worship in the same way God is. In other words, the demon would want to cause viewers to believe some false proposition (statues have magical powers and should be idolized) that would potentially lead them to reject some essentially true proposition about God and His work in the world (all power comes from God and only God should be worshiped). The intent of the miraculous event would be to hurt the viewers by affecting their beliefs.
That said, I think even if there were instances of phenomena like this that were caused by a demonic will, God could still use the same phenomena to affect the right kind of change in the human viewers. So, some viewers might see the weeping blood as a sign of God’s power working in the world and rightly give Him glory, but others might see it as a sign that they should worship Mary as if she was divine, or some such thing. So, in that sense God can still use Satan’s tricks to His advantage, something we see throughout scripture and that we should always be aware of.