Welcome to a new series in Christian Courier! We asked you, our readers, to send us tough questions about faith. Why? Because the new atheism is forcing Christians to give evidence for what we believe. Because our neighbours and our kids have tough questions and we can’t rely on pat answers. Because we may be faithful-but-doubting ourselves.
Over the next seven months, we will be printing seven responses written exclusively for CC by Campus Ministers in the Christian Reformed Church. Each minister chose a question from among the wide-ranging and provocative ones sent in by CC readers. Thanks to everyone who submitted a question. Keep your eyes on this space to see if yours has been picked.
It is my prayer that this series will help us all make use of “redemptive windows” – those everyday, ordinary windows of witness. – Angela Reitsma Bick, Editor
Reflection, debate and curiosity have always surrounded miracles. By definition, miracles are mysterious. They resist air-tight definition. Like jello, they can’t be nailed down.
Young adult author Lemony Snicket said that miracles are like meatballs because nobody can exactly agree what they’re made of. He also said that miracles are like pimples, because once you start looking for them you find more than you ever dreamed you’d see.
This is not the place to give a final answer on all the debates about miracles, if that were even possible. But three things are crucial to consider when we ask whether miracles still happen.
Your perspective on miracles depends a lot on your worldview. If you believe that God created the world long ago in history, that he has an arm’s-length relationship with creation today and that the return of Jesus is just that – a “return” from a place far, far away – then miracles as interruptions in the ordinary course of the world are always going to be a faith problem for you. But if you don’t subscribe to that un-Christian worldview and instead believe that God is intimately involved in every second of the world’s history (yet veiled from our sinful and rebellious eyes), then miracles aren’t an interruption. Then they are only what we call God’s deviation from his “normal” course of activity.
M. Scott Peck says that we don’t often recognize miracles because our frame of reference expects God to act too dramatically. Rather than looking for the burning bush, the parting of the sea or the voice from heaven, we should be grateful for the ordinary, day-to-day evidences of God’s miraculous relationship with his hell-bent creation. Similarly, the late Dallas Willard said that sometimes we get caught up with what God can do but we lose sight of what God actually has done. In North America, many have food instead of famine, law-abiding neighbours instead of riots and war, hospitals and medicine instead of death by diarrhea. These are miraculous gifts from our God who continues creating each step of the way. And those times in history where miracles tend to be concentrated (the New Testament, the mission field, etc.) are the cutting edges where God’s redemptive reign is advancing in new ways.
‘Not my will but yours’
A second lesson on miracles can be learned from Jesus praying in the garden the night of his arrest. When Jesus prayed to the Father, “Not my will, but yours be done,” he was reminding us by his own example that this is our Father’s world and the restoring of creation is our Father’s promise. Too often Christians lose faith because their loved one didn’t get the miraculous healing/job/relationship that everyone was praying for. But miracles are never a tool (or a magic wand) that we use to control the universe according to our desires. Miracles are always for God’s purposes.
That’s why the miracles in the Gospels are always about the restoring of creation. Miracles are signs that God is repairing his world – they are normal processes sped up, as St. Augustine said. Miracles don’t happen according to our timeline. They’re always surprising. Miracles are the flashes of divine activity in the world.
Who or what will you follow?
Charles Darwin wrote in his journal that after being raised a Christian his belief in miracles went down as scientific discovery and knowledge went up. But the great Christian leaders have always cautioned us to follow Jesus rather than miracles. Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoyevsky wrote that it’s not miracles that generate faith but faith that generates miracles. So we have a choice to make: who or what will we follow?
Albert Einstein put it another way, saying that there are only two ways to live your life – as though nothing is a miracle or as though everything is a miracle. Without faith, there will always be enough evidence to disbelieve God’s presence or working in the world. With faith, every breath our sinful selves breathe before a holy and just God is a miracle of grace and divine patience.