Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Miracles... What (And Where) Are They?

1 Chron. 16:12: "Remember the wonders he has done, his miracles..."

Neh. 9:17: "They ... failed to remember the miracles you performed among them."

Psalm 77:11 "I will remember the deeds of the Lord, ... your miracles of long ago."

Psalm 77:14: "You are the God who performs miracles; you display your power among the people."

With passages like those, we are reminded over and over again throughout the Bible, that God is a performer of miracles. We are told to think about the miracles, to wonder at them, to remember them in times of trial or temptation, and to ask for them. Jesus is seen performing miracles often in the Gospels. When the apostles come on the scene, they continue the pattern.

1 Cor. 12:28 lists "workers of miracles" as a special appointment given by God to the Church, right under apostles, prophets and teachers. Gal. 3:5 just assumes that miracles are a common occurence in the Church, asking "does God give you his Spirit and work miracles among you because you observe the Law, or because you believe what you heard?"

Miracles are frequently, especially in the New Testament, put forward as proof of the miracle worker's claims. More specifically, since only God can really perform them, miracles are seen throughout the Bible as God's personal seal of approval on someone's life or ministry. This is the case with Jesus. This is made plain over and over in statements like:

Acts 2:22: "Jesus... was a man accredited to you by God by miracles"

Hebrews 2:4: "God also testified to it by signs, wonders and various miracles."

Jesus himself made an explicit connection between miracles and people's ability to believe in him on a number of occasions:

John 10:38: "Even though you do not believe me, believe the miracles, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me, and I in the Father."

John 14:11: "Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the miracles themselves."

John 4:48: "'Unless you people see miraculous signs and wonders,' Jesus told him, 'you will never believe.'"

Reading through the Bible, one is presented with a steady stream of stories involving miracles. From the creation itself, the flood, the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, the sun standing still for Joshua (and going backward for Hezekiah), and on through a myriad of miraculous births, healings, resurrections, etc.

In the Bible, we are rarely, if ever, presented with the modern-day sort of miracle. We are told of a woman who wasted all of her money on doctors before coming to Jesus for healing, but we are never -- i repeat NEVER -- given to think that anyone's cure at the hands of a doctor is any sort of miracle or divine healing. Everyday occurances, such as the natural birth of a child, an advantageous business deal, a financial windfall, or that sort of thing are not presented in the Bible as miracles. They might be said to come from God, in the sense that all good things come from him, but miracles are a special kind of thing. A pleasant breeze, a sunny day or a particularly good parking space at Costco are not the kind of miracles that attest to the truth-claims of Gospel, or serve as God's seal of a approval upon a man's life or ministry.

When I was a young man, I used to thrill when missionaries and the like would tell of miracles they'd witnessed in far away lands. I remember a story of a man who prayed in a public place for a child with a deformed leg, and the leg was instantly healed. In some cases, but by no means all, I later came to find out that those stories were either outright lies, or at best exaggerations of something far more mundane that really happened.

We hear a lot about "medical miracles". I'll never forget a Discovery Channel special I saw once about a boy who lost half his head -- and half his brain -- and through the wonders of modern medicine was able to fully recover and live a normal life (except that he looked really weird). I am frequently awed by what doctors are able to do sometimes. But it's not miraculous. Doctors carefully study the human body -- they have been doing so for hundreds of years, each building on existing knowlege -- and their understanding of how it works has grown and grown until today they can do some pretty amazing things.

So what does all this come to? I must say I'm somewhat disappointed. The Bible seems to portray God as an able miracle-worker, but in my life I have yet to witness anything like a miracle in the Biblical sense. Why is that? Some of my former teachers would tell me (indeed they did tell me) that it's because I haven't believed, or have believed the wrong things, or haven't asked in faith or have asked with impure motives, etc., etc. It seems there are so many ways for God to get out of working a miracle for someone, it's a miracle that any miracles ever happened!

The Bible writers admonish us to remember God's mighty works, but how can you remember something that happened 2000 or more years before you were born? If Jesus thought the Jews of his own time couldn't believe without the help of a sign or a wonder, how am I supposed to believe?

Remember Doubting Thomas? He said "Unless I stick my finger into the holes in his hands and thrust my arm through his side, I will not believe." What did Jesus do with Thomas? Did he hide from Thomas and tell the other apostles he was no good because he had doubts? No, he appeared to him and said "stick your hands here, and your arm here and don't doubt any more, but believe!"

Jesus then told Thomas, "Because you have seen you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen, and yet have believed."

I really don't get that. Let's consider all the things that the apostles -- Thomas, along with Peter, James, John, and the rest -- had seen prior to this: Jesus walking on the water, healing lepers and multitudes of other sick, making blind people see, raising the dead, calming storms, and on and on and on! Not to mention predicting his own death and resurrection just a few days before this!

I need a little of that "not seeing" to believe! Yes, a little of the sort of "not seeing" that the apostles were able to "not see" would go a long way with me.

I hope Jesus will hear my complaint: I'm not feeling the blessedness here. I hope he won't be upset -- he knows my heart. After a lifetime of grasping at straws to hang on to belief, it really feels more like being ignored and abandoned. If one sees nothing, how is one to believe at all? How is one to distinguish the truth from the many other things one has never seen? I've never seen Zeus -- am I blessed if I believe in him? I've never seen vampires or ghosts or Santa Claus -- am I blessed if I believe in them?

The absence of miracles, in the face of what the Bible claims happened in the past, is to me a great yawning chasm opening at my feet, seperating me from faith. It seems to me that my plight is the same as those Jews in Jesus' time about whom he said "unless they see signs and wonders, they will not believe." Yes, he said it disparagingly, but he said it because it was true, and he proceeded to give them what they needed!

Will God do that for me? If so, when? And if not, why not?

Like Fox Mulder (one of my favorite fictional characters), I want to believe. No, I long to believe. I'm desperate to believe! Throw me a bone here, God! I'm crying out for help!


At 9:29 AM, Anonymous Mike Lopez said...


The world needs more miracles today but god seems to think otherwise - that is if there really is a god. But why are there less miracles today than before?

Here's my take on this...

Perhaps, people of old are easily convinced that something unexplainable is a miracle which is probably why miracles are getting sparser these days. We merely are more capable of explaining things. In other words, we're more intelligent and therefore less foolish.

As Arthur Clarke said...

Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. (Clarke's Third Law)


Mike Lopez
The Filipino Atheist

At 7:54 AM, Blogger Tim said...

I like Gehm's Corollary to Clarke's Third Law: "Any technology distinguishable from magic is insufficiently advanced."

To be a miracle (in my book), an event does not have to be "unexplainable". As I said in one of my posts, it's not so much that I'm looking for some amazing thing. It's more a kind of two-way interaction with God that I'm looking for, such as is revealed in the Bible over and over in both the O.T. and the New.


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