The Problem with Miracles

How shocking would it be if I said I don’t believe in miracles?  We’re conditioned as Christians to believe in miracles – so much so that if we don’t, it’s highly questionable we’re truly Christian.  But there’s a problem with miracles.  They don’t actually exist in the Bible!  Let me explain: There are several biblical words often translated as ‘miracle’, but with various meanings.  In Hebrew, pālā and mopet occur 75 times as ‘wonders or signs’, 7 times as ‘miracle’.  In Greek, teras (wonders) dunamis (power), and ergon (work) are used 286 times, 25 times translated ‘miracle’.  So who decides whether something is a miracle – or just God’s regular day job?

This leads to the more serious problem: our view of ‘miracle’ is one the biblical writers would never have fathomed!  We view miracles as ‘supernatural’ – God somehow messing about with the physical world (from outside?) and overturning the laws of nature: healing, walking on water, raising the dead, that sort of thing.  But the very notion of separate categories for ‘natural and supernatural’, or ‘physical and spiritual’, would have been nonsensical to the biblical authors.  These category distinctions arose with Enlightenment empiricism but are so ingrained in Western culture we cannot see any differently.

In the biblical worldview, God is always at work in the world (ergon), maintaining and sustaining all things, sometimes powerfully (dunamis), or with wonders (teras), the difference being purely in human perception!  There is no special word for ‘miracle’.

Defining miracles as ‘God interfering with the laws of nature’ is complete biblical nonsense.  Is answered prayer a miracle?  Is giving birth a miracle?  Is our very existence a miracle? Is it a miracle that the sun rises every day, or that the grass grows and feeds the herbivores?  We somehow have the view that if we can explain something naturally, or it’s a regular occurrence, it’s not a ‘miracle’, and we tie ourselves in knots deciding.  But in one sense, everything is a miracle – by virtue of God’s involvement!

A better definition would be this: Miracles are unusual manifestations of God’s work or power in the world.  God is responsible for natural laws, the sun, and our ability to see. ‘The heavens declare!’  As C.S. Lewis wrote, ‘Miracles are a re-telling in small letters of the same story which is written across the whole world in letters too large for some of us to see.’

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