I suppose first I should define what a miracle is.
When miracles are mentioned in scripture, they are events that defied the natural order. When a man is healed of leprosy or water is turned into wine it is a God who created nature directly intervening within it. He is bending or breaking the rules he created within nature. Miracles are not just unlikely events, they are impossible events. That is why the cross is so amazing, it is not unlikely that a man would rise from the dead, it is impossible. There is no natural explanation for it.
But when I define what a miracle is, I am also defining what a miracle is not. It is not an unlikely event. When a child is born, it is not a miracle. God has created a process and a natural order that makes birth possible. It is amazing, even breathtaking, but it is not outside the natural order. Modern medical treatments with antibiotics, chemotherapy, and medicines are not miraculous. Again, the way God made penicillin in that fungus was designed to kill bacteria. It is amazing, but not a miracle.
So if miracles are simply unlikely, positive events then yes, miracles happen all the time. But if you take the supernatural out of the word miracle, we are left with yet another meaningless positive word. English already has plenty of those.
Now I’m sure this comes off as extremely cynical. Why would I poke holes in other people’s enjoyment of a positive event? God ought to be praised when good things happen. Why would I be such a stick in the mud?
First, I am afraid that the abuse of the word miracle has, in fact, diminished when actual miracles occur. My wife suffers from serious back pain in the not too distant past. She had strained muscles in her back from compensating for the pain. A friend came and prayed for her and her pain went away immediately. It went away and it stayed away. She is not prone to exaggeration and I have no explanation for how she felt better.
I think she was healed miraculously.
So when people abuse the word miracle it cheapens the work God actually did for us that day. My wife’s back problems did not all go away, but the muscle damage she experience did go away. I’m sure that there is a natural process that would explain her healing, but none that would explain how she recovered within a single day. God was very kind to us that day. It is difficult to describe this as a miracle and be heard because so many people are presenting so many events as miracles that simply are not.
Second, we are in a habit of ascribing to God every unlikely happy event but not every unlikely sad one. When a loved one is struck by lightning are dies of a rare disease, we are very reluctant to ascribe these unlikely events to God. Many times, this comes from a commendable desire to not blame God for evil, but it rings very hollow to me to credit God for every good in the world and not have an answer for every evil.
As it is, I believe scripture is clear that he is wholly in control of every good and evil in the world. When Job’s wife told him to curse God and die, Job did not respond by telling her that she had a poor theology and that God would never have done all of these terrible things to him. He said,
“You speak as one of the foolish women would speak. Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?”In all this Job did not sin with his lips. Job 2:10
I think we lose a lot of credibility in a scary world when we are ready to call anything a miracle that is good and then sit silently with no response to evil.
Finally, a clarification. When some of you read this, you will think I am saying that every good should not be ascribed to God. Quite the opposite. God has provided food, clothing, heat, beauty, and a host of other goods to us. All of these goods come through a couple of extraordinary miracles. The act of creation, making something from nothing, is an astonishing miracle. The act of changing my foolish heart into someone who loves Jesus is compared to raising the dead in scripture. It is a miracle.
We should be grateful to God for all of these things. But let’s not abuse the term miracle by using it to mean unlikely. God certainly controls whether a coin lands on heads or tails and within that choice, it happens 50% heads and 50% tails. We need not list coin tosses as miracles and neither should we list events that have a one in a million chance either. Someone will win the lottery, but it is not a miracle if it is you.
So point out God’s goodness when you see it, miracles when you see them, but please don’t mix the two up.
Photo is by Matt Gibson and is used with his permission