Many people ask questions like – Do miracles still happen? Others are quick to point at something in their experience and call it a miracle. I have had many conversations with many different folk about – miracles. And I always find such discussions to be un-helpful until we can make sure we are talking about the same thing. God’s providence and answered prayers are wonderful things but they are not necessarily miracles. At least I don’t think so. Also, direct actions of God like the creation of the world or scouring that same world with a great flood may or may not fall into the category of miraculous. I have often heard it claimed that every new baby is a miracle. I agree that life itself is inexplicable without God and that babies are extremely important – and very cool! But if all the workings of nature (beautiful to be sure, a testament to the handiwork of God for certain) are understood to be miracles, the usefulness of the term – or, as I understand it, of Biblical miracles themselves – disappears. For miracles to serve their purpose they must be distinguishable from the general order of things – no matter how wonderful the general order is. Miracles must stand out against the background, not disappear into it. When everything is a miracle, then nothing is.
Taking the words used along with the term ‘miracle’ in the Bible and just paying attention to the VERY basics of context will help us form a more useful definition. The two words most closely associated with the term ‘miracle’ in Scripture are ‘signs’ and ‘wonders’ There are other terms but these three will give us a baseline understanding.
In and of itself, ‘Miracle’ indicates an act of great power. Good enough. But the specific application of power also creates a sense of ‘wonder’. Things formerly regarded as impossible may be possible after all! My previous comfortable world view may need expansion in light of this kind of act of power. In creating ‘wonder’ the specific application of power opens observers up to new possibilities.
Now, add the concept of ‘sign’ to the mix. The act of great power and the ensuing sense of wonder are not generalized. They convey specific information, point at something, directing our attention to a truth beyond the miracle itself. The point of Jesus’ miracles was not just to be impressive or even that sick people need healed, hungry people need fed, and so forth. The miracles pointed beyond the utility of being able to multiply food (Obvious utility) or walk on water (Think of the short cuts!) The miracles were also signs pointing to the truth that Jesus was the son of God and the Messiah. Jesus carefully explained that if you read the information on the ‘sign’ of the feeding of the 5000 as ‘Line up here for a free meal!’ you had missed the point.
A miracle then may be defined as an act or application of great power which creates a sense of wonder in the observers enabling them to perceive a truth beyond the miracle itself.
Now let’s add another kink. ‘Miracles’ as far as I can tell by looking at the use of the term in Scripture, require a human miracle worker. Perhaps some of you can show me something I have missed in Scripture but I do not find the world ‘miracle’ except in instances involving a human ‘miracle worker’. I realize the power comes from God. The human miracle workers generally realized that as well. Moses did get into some trouble for blurring over that distinction a little bit. In all of these cases, one function of the miracle as a ‘sign’ was for observers to trust and follow the human miracle worker as one currently appointed by God.
I add then to the definition – An act or application of great power, involving a human miracle worker, which creates a sense of wonder in the observers enabling them to perceive a truth beyond the miracle itself.
By this definition God’s original act of creation is not a miracle and as far as I have been able to find, the Bible never applies the term ‘miracle’ to the creation described in the first two chapters of Genesis. In fact, every use of the term ‘miracle’ in the Old Testament Scriptures refers to the acts of power done through Moses/Joshua to liberate the Israelites from Egypt and get them to the land of promise.
Which leads me to my next point. If we accept this definition of ‘miracles’ (and I am willing to be shown in Scripture why I should not) then almost all the miracles of the Bible happen in three concentrated waves through a very small handful of human miracle workers.
This concentrates almost all the miracles of the Bible into three widely separated fifty-year periods.
* Each of these time periods is closely associated with the formation of Scripture. Correlation is not causation I know. Just saying.
*It is consistent with the repeated admonition for later generations of Israelites to remember the miracles God did to lead them out of Egypt.
*It is consistent with the expectation of a prophet to come – a prophet like - or recapturing the glory of the days of – Moses/Elijah.
I’ll leave it here for the moment with the promise to add more soon. But if anyone is worried I will tell you this much – I do not believe that NO miracles can happen today and if I am correct and the majority of miracles are concentrated into brief spans of time, that in no way indicates that God is doing nothing in between those time periods.
Pastor and Author Terry Bailey, Senior Minister of Indian Run Christian Church