Have you ever witnessed a miracle? What exactly is a miracle?
Recently, a friend of mine asked why there are not as many miracles today as there were in Jesus’ time. “It seems like Jesus was healing people, driving out demons, and calming storms all the time,” she said. “I think I would have an easier time believing in Jesus if I could just see a miracle like that,” she concluded.
Would it be easier for you to believe in Jesus if you witnessed a miracle?
In the moment, I was not exactly sure what to say to my friend. (What came to my head was the line from John 20:29, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” But that would not have been a helpful thing to say at the time!) But now that I have had some time to think about it, I think part of the answer is related to how we understand miracles now versus how they understood miracles in Jesus’ time.
In our modern world, we often look to science to provide us with explanations for how things work. In this worldview, a “miracle” is when something happens that we cannot explain. When the usual cause and effect does not apply, when it seems as if the very laws of nature are violated, we may call something a miracle because it is an exception, an unexpected outcome. Take for instance the case of a terminally ill person, who has been told by doctors that she only has six weeks to live but then ends up getting better, against all odds and contrary to any feasible medical explanation. We are tempted to call this a miracle, because we simply cannot explain how it happened, because it is an exception to how the world is supposed to work.
But those who lived at the time of Jesus would not have defined a miracle in the same way that we do today because their worldview was very different. In contrast to our scientific worldview, they saw the world as controlled by God, not by laws of physics. God shaped human destiny along with the natural world. This was just how the world worked. In this world, a miracle was not an exception but was rather a heightened example of how things always were. In other words, miracles were just clearly visible examples of how God operated to control the world. Thus while miracles may have been less surprising to people at Jesus’ time, they did provoke wonder, awe, and reverence for God.
If we understand miracles as a visible manifestation of God’s power and as events that evoke awe and reverence for God, is it possible that there are more miracles that happen in our lives today than we might at first recognize? For instance, on the back of Spirit magazine this week, there is a brief version of a scientific creation story, with the sun born 5 billion years ago and the first simple life forms beginning to reproduce 1 billion years ago. Reading this scientific story of creation provokes a sense of wonder and awe in me, and I know that God must have been involved in this miracle of creation for it to have unfolded as it has. Similarly, when I think about how medical treatment for diseases like cancer have developed over the past few decades, I think that this must be a miracle, too, with God working through human beings, who develop cures using their creativity and knowledge.
Or, on a less heady level, there are times when I am walking in nature or sharing a good laugh with a friend that I also feel wonder and awe and sense God’s presence. We could call these miraculous moments at well, moments when we can experience God’s power in the world. So maybe there are just as many miracles now as at Jesus’ time, if we just know where to look. Miracles happen when people love each other, as God so loved the world. Miracles happen when people create, as we do so in the image of the Creator God who made us in God’s image.
If you think of miracles as those times that evoke wonder and awe at God’s presence, then have you experienced a miracle?