What are Miracles and Are They Real?
Jesus turned and saw her. “Take heart, daughter,” he said, “your faith has healed you.” And the woman was healed at that moment.
One of the things I wonder and get questions about is; what are miracles and are they real? I have thought long and hard about this question many times. And sure I have seen my share, but always something so deeply personal, I am not sure my experiences are easily explained in words. Which is in effect part of my answer to those who ask. Miracles are deeply intimate and emotional experiences, something which can’t be explained fully in human terms.
Underlying each miracle is a private conversation with God through Jesus. Maybe by many people who pray together or perhaps just the individual. Each miracle is unique, easily recognizable by the person or persons affected, and always hard to explain to someone else.
As I recently studied miracles I started with, what is the practical definition? The Biblical definition of miracles in my research stated, Occurrences not explainable solely by natural processes, but which require the direct agency of God. Pretty practical answer, miracles are those things which cannot be explained by our human knowledge and involve God.
From ancient times we can get the voice of Augustine, who said; There is no impropriety in saying that God does something against nature when it is contrary to what we know of nature. For we give the name ‘nature’ to the usual and known course of nature; and whatever God does contrary to this, we call ‘prodigies’ or ‘miracles. Augustine is expanding the description by adding that we as humans have defined normal and how God works in our lives isn’t always normal and certainly not easily explainable in human terms.
So this creates another depth to explaining miracles, Augustine is stating; that what we define as miracles may not be that extraordinary in God’s eyes. Or in fact not that far out of the normal for God. When we are in deep distress, God’s intervention in relieving our stress is viewed in our eyes as a miracle. From God’s eyes, Augustine is implying that for God, what we call miracles, is a normal activity. I am very attracted to this explanation because we have a loving God and not a condemning God. And are we any different as parents towards our own children?
Another one of my favorite theologians is Karl Barth. You should know some consider him a radical liberal and others consider him a radical conservative. Just where I like my favorite theologians to be; in the middle. Barth says about miracles; We have one of two options: Either we believe them, or reject them; just don’t try to explain them. A very brief explanation from someone who is usually very long in explanation! And remarkably similar to Augustine in that as humans we will always struggle to define why and what are miracles.
Barth is implying those with strong faith, rely on the fact that miracles are from God. Those who don’t have faith will view the events around a miracle as circumstantial. Barth is also implying, that our human experiences can never explain them. They can only be explained with a strong faith that says, God was involved.
All this points to; miracles are things that we can’t explain through our own natural experiences and understanding. They are beyond our scope of comprehension and defy nature.
Some will say, there is no such thing as a miracle because they can’t be explained. Others will say that they are just superstitious or coincidental events.
I strongly disagree with these arguments. Because we can’t explain miracles, it doesn’t mean we can’t feel or have them. Here is what I mean. We will notice that unusually great joy occurs after a miracle. When a difficult moment has passed a lightness appears, and the dark tension is dissolved. Colors are brighter, music is sweeter, and the world is cheerier. This emotion can not be explained either, but it is real. A visit from God will do that. This intimate reminder that God is real will touch all human hearts that are open to God.
While we can’t completely explain miracles scientifically. I have found that I can get close through math. Here is what I do; I add up the odds of the circumstances of each event and each part of the miracle. Not to get to scientific, but this process is similar to a Venn diagram. As you keep laying the odds out and then multiplying the percentages from event to event. You end up with infinitesimally small odds of it being a natural occurrence. Leaving the scientific response to be none other than it more likely than not that it was a miracle. Do the math on your next miracle and you will see what I mean.
Miracles are always very personal and intimate. In those dark moments of life, when you are bare and hopelessly lost, you have conversations with God. Conversations pleading for help. Starkly real moments when you are physically frozen. In quiet desperation, you yield your inner thoughts to God. God hears and responds. Only we will know about the depths of this conversation.
Then we watch and slowly the veil of darkness is lifted. When we were alone in complete darkness, God responded. For me, this once occurred on a dark night, under a street lamp. A moment so memorable that it’s realness is as sweet today as it was back then. An answer from God, that didn’t make life better but made me know God was with me, which was what I needed. The events that followed created a cascading set of events; whose improbability assured me that it could be none other than God.
Only we know about the depths of these conversations. And when the stress is resolved, we can and should go back to these conversations. We will see how we were answered.
I suppose I should take Augustine’s and Barth’s advice, stop trying to explain miracles through natural terms. Give my faith the opportunity to believe when I see miracles that it was God. To allow the joy of knowing God’s involvement and God’s response to be more important than the explanation.
Our faith makes miracles real and our faith will let us know God was involved.
Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman