Do Miracles Happen?

miracles

Invariably, when you practice personal evangelism – when you actively and purposefully share your faith with the lost – you will encounter somebody who askes questions along these lines:

Do you really believe a whale swallowed Jonah?

How in the world could Jesus have fed all those people with five loaves of bread and a couple of fish? That’s just not possible.

People who don’t believe, and even many who do, have real problems with miracles. In our highly secularized age, there is no room for even the possibility of miracles. Our society has become not only a skeptical one, but also a cynical one. The fact that the Bible records miracles automatically delegitimizes it to many. You just can’t take the Bible seriously when it talks about crazy things, like seas that part and suns that don’t move, they say. And that’s really why miracles are so vehemently opposed these days. If an unbelieving society can get away with casting aspersions on the miraculous in Scripture, it won’t be long before it can do the same with the resurrection of our Lord. And , of course, that’s the really the ultimate goal of our modern liberal, secular society.

Before you go straining at a gnat, trying to explain how a blind man was healed in Mark’s Gospel, it’s important to understand that a person who obsesses over a miracle like that one probably has issues with the whole idea of the supernatural, not just that particular miracle. It’s not an exaggeration to say that a person who struggles with miracles struggles with the very idea of an all-powerful God. To them, God is either not real or weak. They likely have issues with prophecy or the inspiration of Scripture.

God and natural law

David Hume, Scottish historian, philosopher, economist, and diplomat was highly skeptical about miracles and the supernatural. Hume defined a miracle as “a transgression of a law of nature by a particular volition of the Deity, or by the interposition of some invisible agent.” I’m a big admirer of Hume, and of natural law, but he’s dead wrong on this point. God transgressing a law?  The much vaunted “natural law” isn’t God’s law and it’s the theology of a closed mind, truth be told. Christians believe in natural law, that is, the idea that things behave in a certain cause-and-effect way most of the time. But this doesn’t restrict the supernatural or God in any way because God exists outside of our natural law. Here is where faith comes into play: God has the right and power to intervene in our natural order of things when and how He chooses because He is not bound by our natural law.  Human beings came up with the notion of natural law, not God and He is not obligated to abide by it.  Natural law doesn’t cause anything, it is our way of describing something we observe. God, not natural law, causes things to happen.

What is a miracle?

This is an important question because, believe it or not, a lot of people get confused over what a miracle and what it isn’t. Our use of the word “miracle,” like so many other words in the English language, has changed over time. Today when you get out of church by 12:15, members call that a miracle. If you’re not handicapped but get a parking spot close to the entrance door at Wal-Mart, that’s a miracle. Today, a miracle is just about any good thing that happens unexpectedly or an unusual thing that happens for no reason. For most people, when those kinds of “miracles” happen, they don’t consider it God’s power at work.

But Biblical miracles are different. A Biblical miracle is an act of God breaking into, changing, or interrupting the ordinary course of things. (Paul Little) That’s a good working definition because it excludes things like what we would call “a bit of good luck.”

Different kinds of miracles

Another way to define a miracle is “an event that has no natural explanation.” To be fair to all the skeptics, the Bible does record miraculous events that in all probability have a natural explanation. For example, the famous parting of the Red Sea was made possible by some wildly crazy winds which literally moved the waters, allowing the Israelites to cross over. Something like that certainly could have happened without God’s intervention, but the miraculous bits are the timing; the winds came up at exactly the right time, and the fact that the sea floor was hard and that no Israelite sunk into the mud and mire up to his chest.

And then there’s Lazarus. It’s hard to come up with a natural explanation for the bringing back to life of a man who was known by everyone in town to be dead. When Jesus Christ raised Lazarus from the dead, He was working far outside the bounds of our natural law.

Again the skeptics often talk about psychosomatic illnesses. This type of physical problem is caused by the mind. When the ill person starts to think differently, their illness disappears. Skeptics claim this explains a lot of Jesus’ physical healings. Jesus wasn’t a divine faith healer, they say, He was more like a mentalist, using nothing more than mental tricks to “heal” a person. Upwards of 80% of illnesses today may be attributed to problems in the mind, not the body.

It’s entirely possible that some of Jesus’ healings were not so much physical in nature but mental. However, Jesus healed many lepers or people with highly contagious skin diseases. These types of illnesses could not have originated in the mind. Our Lord also healed a man born blind. Congenital blindness has nothing to do with mental illness or positive thinking.

Back to those skeptics for a moment. Sometimes they like to point out that ancient man was gullible and highly superstitious. What they regarded as a miracle in their day may not be in ours. A classic example of this is the flashlight. To ancient man, light shining out of a tube would be miraculous, perhaps of either angelic or demonic in origin. To us, we know the light comes from a filaments in a glass bulb and a battery. We know there’s nothing miraculous about a flashlight, except when we find one during a power failure that actually works!

Now this idea may have some merit for some miracles in the Bible, but most Biblical miracles cannot be explained this way. The man born blind, for example, was well-known in his community; everybody knew he was blind his whole life. Same thing with Lazarus. The whole town knew he was dead to the point of decay. And our Lord’s resurrection, with subsequent eye witness accounts of Him doing things a man in a physical body like ours cannot do is not easily explained away as the superstitious twaddle of ignorant people.

We have deified science and technology today to such an extent that those who think anything can happen outside the realm of our natural law must be exaggerations, misinterpretations, or outright lies. Modern man is always seeking to find a “rational explanation” for supernatural, miraculous events. A single sentence written by J.N. Hawthorne in 1960 is very helpful to us today:

Miracles are unusual events caused by God. The laws of nature are generalizations about ordinary events caused by Him.

Yes, modern man sees the works of God all around him yet often refuses to give God credit for what he sees. Or, to put it another way:

You see, but you do not observe. (Sherlock Holmes)

Miracles everywhere?

Every “holy book” of every religion of every culture all over the world is full of miracles. But Biblical miracles are different. The so-called miracles we read about in pagan literature and myths were often very capricious in nature. Biblical miracles, however, were miraculous though not outrageous or fantastic; they served a purpose. In fact, Biblical miracles can be found during three periods of Biblical history: the Exodus, the times of the prophets who led Israel, and the time of Christ and the early church. The overriding purpose of all the miracles during these three epochs was to confirm faith by authenticating the message of God and the messenger from God or to demonstrate God’s love by relieving some kind of suffering.

Miracles in the Bible never had anything to do with money, personal gain or personal prestige. Jesus Himself was tempted by the Devil to perform miracles for all those reasons yet He steadfastly refused. Jesus’ miracles helped people in need, no doubt, but then there’s this:

I have already told you, and you don’t believe me,” Jesus replied. “The proof is in the miracles I do in the name of my Father.” (John 20:25 TLB)

As far as Jesus was concerned, His miracles served to prove who He was and Who had sent Him. In fact, in John 14:11, Jesus went so far as to say this:

Just believe it—that I am in the Father and the Father is in me. Or else believe it because of the mighty miracles you have seen me do. (John 14:11 TLB)

But are miracles enough for people to believe? Sometimes you’ll hear somebody say something like this: “If God would just [fill in the blank with a miracle], then I would believe!” Would a miracle convince that unbeliever? Maybe not.

“But Abraham said, ‘If they won’t listen to Moses and the prophets, they won’t listen even though someone rises from the dead.’ ” (Luke 14:31 TLB)

That was true in Jesus’ day and it’s true today. Some people will never believe.

The verdict is in

All courts count on reliable testimony in word or by writing. Bernard Ramm made this very pertinent observation:

If the arising of Lazarus was actually witnessed by John and recorded faithfully by him when still in soundness of faculties and memory, for purposes of evidence it is the same as if we were there and saw it.

There are five valid reasons to believe that the miracles we read of in the Bible were real and valid:

Many of the miracles in the Bible were done in public in front of many witnesses. They were not performed in secret, witnessed only by one or two people who later recounted with they saw. Often in the case of Jesus’ miracles, all kinds of people saw them and had ample opportunity to investigate them. Sometimes people even went so far as to attribute Jesus’ miracles to the work of the Devil, but they never denied that something supernatural had taken place.

A lot of non-believers witnessed our Lord’s miracles. They didn’t like what He did, but they never disputed what He did.

Jesus’ miracles took place over several years and were diverse. Some involved healing. Others involved workings of knowledge, wisdom, and discernment. Still others involved the very elements of nature itself.

Then there were the people who were directly touched by Jesus’ miraculous power. They went around talking about how Jesus had healed them or cast demons out of them. Their testimony was heard by family members and whole communities.

And lastly, the miracles of Christianity occurred before the Christian faith was established or even founded. The miracles of Jesus served to authenticate His message and the miracles that occurred during the days of the early church served to authenticate the Word of God being preached and taught by the apostles and early church leaders.

The question that many people also have is this: Do miracles happen today? The short answer to this question is: Why not? Has God changed since the days of the Bible? Are you the one who wants to limit His power by saying He can’t work miracles today but He did thousands of years ago? God can do what He wants, to whomever He wants. Why bother praying if miracles aren’t possible today? For that matter, would you even know a miracle if it happened to you?

Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. (James 1:17 NIV)

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