What is a Miracle?
Are miracles possible? If we believe in an open universe, that is, that God exists and is personally involved in the creation, then miracles are possible. They really do happen.
Rationalists and cynics exclude the possibility of miracles, not because they have a rational reason for doing so, but because they begin with the assumption that miracles are impossible. Christians don’t limit their imagination as do naturalists. Christians hold the assumption that some things are supernatural because within the realm of reality there exist physical and spiritual aspects of nature.
Have you ever witnessed a miracle? I’m not asking if you have seen something amazing, but have you seen something so unusual that you would call it a miracle? Videos on the internet claim to document miracles and many people claim to have seen the supernatural, such as angels or weeping statues. It’s important that we define what a miracle is before we discuss the reason for miracles.
Four Definitions of a Miracle
Some claim a miracle is a direct intervention by God. But God is always intervening in his world. He causes the most common physical activities such as sunrises, rainfall, and grass to grow (Mt 5:45, Ps 104:14). It could be said that common events like sunrises are miracles, but if we do that we must also say every event in nature is a miracle. This makes the word miracle a meaningless term since it refers to everything.
Is a miracle an act of God when he doesn’t use any physical means? In other words, is a miracle something that just pops up from apparently nowhere? If this is true then the miracles listed in the Bible aren’t miracles. Jesus made wine from water and multiplied existing bread loaves and fish. Most miracles transform existing things. They rarely create something from nothing.
Perhaps the best way to describe a miracle is that it’s an event impossible to explain by natural causes. This definition comes closer to describing miracles found in biblical stories, but it doesn’t always fit our experience of “little” miracles. Little miracles are coincidences and occurrences where details come together in an amazing and purposeful way. They’re not random, or purposeless coincidences, or fate, or luck. Little miracles are directed by the Lord and have a redemptive purpose.
Maybe a miracle is a historical event or physical phenomena which appears to violate known laws of nature but in reality, are simply less common types of divine activity that we have yet to fully understand or explain. Timing, the unique coming together of resources, and other aspects of an event can be orchestrated by God in an unusual manner and thus constitute a miracle. This definition aligns more closely than the other definitions with what we read in the Bible as signs, wonders, or miracles.
Furthermore, just because we might eventually logically explain why something happens doesn’t make it any less of a miracle. This is especially true as it relates to medical miracles. The human body is so complex that medical professionals don’t fully understand why some people respond to treatments and others don’t. They can’t fully explain how a body responds to diseases or why some individuals react outside the norms. As medical research progresses, new cures and an understanding as to why the body heals are discovered. None the less, God remains the primary cause for all healing.
Jesus Worked Miracles
Jesus was a miracle worker. He began and ended his public ministry with miracles. His ministry was filled with countless miracles (Jn 21:25). At the inauguration of his ministry God’s promised messianic redemptive plan had arrived. His first miracle was turning water into wine at a wedding (Jn 2:9). An examination of this miracle will help us define what is a miracle and tell us why they happen.
Miracles affect us in many ways. Some think they are amusements—spiritual amusements. They are God’s technological extravaganza like movie computer-generated imagery (CGI). The only difference is that God’s CGIs are supernatural. Disney World has its three-dimensional theater. Sea World has trained killer whales, and God has miracles. There must be more to genuine miracles than this.
Miracles are not divine special effects designed to break up the mundane. They’re not intended to attract attention and provide a thrill. There are a few pastors who claim to use supernatural phenomena as a means to attract to themselves large groups of people. Unfortunately, after an investigation, the so-called “miracles” of today are nothing more than medical psychosomatic, staged, or temporary relief phenomena. They’re rarely divine events.
Biblical miracles are divine solutions to human needs. They are confirmed by multiple eye-witnesses while defying human understanding. A true miracle is an act of God out of the ordinary and often supersedes known physical laws. C. S. Lewis defined a miracle as “an interference with Nature by supernatural power.”
Miracles are not tricks or illusions. Given the unusual circumstances surrounding a miracle, only God could have caused it to happen. Being out of the ordinary, miracles are interventions from a personal God who is always engaged with his creation. God establishes the universe upon his decrees (laws and principles) and maintains his universe by constantly being involved with it. Miracles are unusual events. They’re out of the ordinary. But they’re not impossible or unrepeatable.
Miracles are Uncommon Divine Events
The universe is held together and sustained by divine decrees or laws, many of which we have discovered. But God is not bound by them neither can all of his actions be understood or predicted based on human logic or understanding. Our finite minds are incapable of fully understand God or how he operates. Isaiah spoke on behalf of God and wrote, “‘For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,’ declares the LORD. ‘As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts’” (Isa 55:8-9 NIV). We shouldn’t be surprised when a miracle occurs or that we were unable to predict it.
There are common examples of wonders where physical laws are superseded by other physical laws. If I suspend a tennis ball in my hand it defies the law of gravity. An airplane flies based upon the laws of aerodynamics that overcome friction and gravity. If we can observe common events such as these where physical laws counter one another, it’s not too much of a stretch to extend our logic to God’s activities and believe it’s possible that miracles are simply events that appear to violate natural laws but in reality, are simply less common divine activities based on physical laws yet to be discovered.
Miracles are possible. If your philosophy allows for an open universe where God is part of and engaged with creation then miracles, though uncommon, happen. This assumption allows us to examine the story of Jesus changing water into wine with both faith and reason. Jesus is a miracle worker and the Bible is full of examples of his supernatural activity.