In an unbelieving world, people still desire miracles to take place. They want an outcome of a given situation to be positive, even when all the indications are negative.
Often such emotional expressions come to the fore when someone in the family is gravely ill, especially a child. What they would like is the medic’s prognosis to turn out to be incorrect. Then, when further analysis does not alter the situation, they despair for something extraordinary to happen. It is a ‘miracle on demand’.
There are parts of Christendom where individuals claim to have special power to heal people of their ailments. I have seen the publicity of those claiming to be miracle-workers. It is ‘miracles on supply’.
The word ‘miracle’ is widely used in our English language. The Oxford dictionary, reflecting colloquial usage, does allow a ‘miracle’ to be an amazing product or achievement. Its adjective, ‘miraculous’, is adapted to describe incredible individual sporting feats, when all seems impossible.
However, the word’s main definition relates to something that cannot be explained by natural or scientific laws and is often attributed to a divine agency.
Do miracles really take place in our scientific and technological age? As I ponder this question, I find myself — in a world full of scamming, cheating and self-promotion — more a sceptic than an advocate.
My travels in Africa have witnessed the proclamation of miracles ‘big time’. Has contact with such an environment clouded my judgment so I consequently miss what is genuine?
The important question one first has to determine is what is meant by a miracle. To me a miracle takes place when God suspends his own laws of creation. It involves a supernatural act that defies all science.
That narrows things down to a very thin line. I say a thin line, because I cannot rule out the possibility of miracles. Who am I to dictate to an almighty, sovereign God what he can and cannot do? It would be foolish of me to be so dogmatic as to pronounce that God would never do a miracle.
Yet God does set out for us in Scripture a pattern of his use of supernatural powers. The Bible is not littered throughout with miracles, but there are concentrated periods when miracles are recorded. An obvious era is when Jesus was on earth as a man.
His miracles then were for one purpose, to authenticate his deity. They had many side benefits, especially for those healed of disease, given sight or raised from the dead. But these were only short-term gains; in the end their earthly lives came to an end.
The real significance was that these miracles pointed to the One who could give eternal help. That to me seems to be the key and primary reason for God acting this way. But what the world (and many in the church) too often concentrate on, are the secondary issues that only bring temporary solutions.
I can hear a responding barrage of criticism, comments and anecdotes. I accept that there are many circumstances when remarkable things have occurred and there is no natural explanation. Doctors are as mystified as the patient when tumours disappear. The persecuting authorities are somehow blinded and miss the hiding believer. A zealous anti-Christian religious movement fails in its endeavours to have gospel activity outlawed. The list goes on.
Yes, the term ‘miracle’ is often ascribed to such events, but is that really correct? Has God suspended his own laws for these to take place?
To me, these events fall under the providence of God, who controls all events of this world and universe to fit into his will and purpose for the fulfilment of his eternal plan. Human disobedience messed up God’s perfect creation, but it will not thwart God’s restoration of what he first created.
God’s providence is closely intertwined with his marvellous creation. It may be in God’s purpose to extend a life beyond a serious illness, and the complexity of the human body comes into play — God uses what he created.
Our bodies contain incredible healing properties, where the skin eventually grows over the wound and broken bones knit together. Man has been given the ability and skill to explore, discover and understand sicknesses and diseases, and how nature assists in fighting these intrusions.
Overarching all that, God is able to intervene and inexplicably overrule sicknesses and varying situations. This still demonstrates the power and glory of God.
But there is one area where God truly does work miracles. So far, I have been writing about the physical world, but within the spiritual world God acts for eternal purposes: those who are spiritually dead are raised to eternal life.
The spiritual death that immediately came upon Adam and Eve is overcome and people are raised to have an eternal relationship with the living God. Their opposition, rebellion and self-centredness is reversed and replaced by new desires to worship and love God.
Also, the great miracle of Jesus being raised from the grave with a glorified body will one day be repeated for all those who have trusted in Christ as the Son of God, who died in their place and took the punishment for their sin.
From the dust in the ground will arise new bodies that will last forever, that will no longer be ‘corruptible’ or know pain. Now that is what I call a miracle!
Maciek Stolarski was born in the UK of Polish parentage and was converted at university. He worked in local government as a town planner, before joining Grace Baptist Mission in 1998, as their literature coordinator. Since retirement, Maciek continues to travel, teaching in Africa and SE Asia.