“Arthur: If I asked you where the hell we were, would I regret it?
Ford: We’re safe.
Arthur: Oh good.
Ford: We’re in a small galley cabin in one of the spaceships of the Vogon Constructor Fleet.
Arthur: Ah, this is obviously some strange use of the word safe that I wasn’t previously aware of.”
— Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
I was telling someone about an event I considered to be a miracle (in which a man who was given a 0% chance of survival walked out of the hospital perfectly whole shortly after). Her response was, “Sometimes I think we give God too much credit. There is probably an explanation somewhere; we just don’t understand it yet.”
I expect some people to say, “Prove it.” Most of the time that phrase, being interpreted, means, “I have already decided you are either lying or delusional.” Any documentation provided is either then ignored or dismissed. It’s amusing in a sad sort of way when they go on to announce “There is no documentation…” I don’t try to convince them. Not my job. I just thank God and enjoy him. The question, “How can that be?” young Mary’s question (upon being informed that she, a virgin, was about to have a child) asking for understanding, has greater integrity.
Another person said, “Oh, the guy was just healed (as if that wasn’t impressive enough.) A miracle would be if an amputee received a new limb.”
This made me think. Was I giving God credit for a miracle when he only did a speeded-up supernatural version of natural healing?
Researching this made me realize I had accepted a strange use of the word miracle given by someone who, in fact, did not believe in miracles. It was an assumed definition I had absorbed somewhere or other in my education. Then I learned that the Bible itself defined such events quite differently.
The etymology (historic root) of the word miracle comes from the Latin word for wonder.
The New Testament uses these words to describe “miraculous” events: dunameis (displays of power or authority) simeion (signs or portents) teras (a wonder or unusual occurrence) paradoxa (unexpected) and thaunasion (a marvel or astonishing thing.) Or something close to those translations. Many concepts do not cross language barriers easily.
The definition of miracle that I had grown up with was something that could be proven to defy the laws of physics.
The people Jesus walked among would have been puzzled at our strange use of the word. N.T. Wright, as he often does, brought my attention to the need to understand the concept in the culture and times in which the Bible was written.
“These words do not carry, as the English word ‘miracle’ has sometimes done, overtones of invasion from another world, or outer space. They indicate, rather, that something has happened, within what we would call the ‘natural’ world, which is not what would have been anticipated, and which seems to provide evidence for the active presence of an authority, a power, at work, not invading the created order as an alien force, but rather enabling it to be more truly itself.’
‘The word ‘miracle’, by contrast, has come to be associated with two quite different questions, developed not least in the period of the Enlightenment: (a) is there a ‘supernatural’ dimension to our world? (b) Which religion, if any, is the true one? ‘Miracles’ became, for some, a way of answering ‘yes’ to the first and ‘Christianity’ to the second. Jesus’ ‘miracles’ are, in this scheme, a ‘proof’ that there is a god, who has ‘intervened’ in the world in this way. Hume and his followers, as we saw, put it the other way around: granted that ‘miracles’ do not occur, or at least cannot be demonstrated to occur, does this mean that all religions, including Christianity, are false, and the Bible untrue?” (N.T. Wright, ‘Jesus and the Victory of God’, p.186-188)
When I use the word miracle now I mean seeing God at work in unusual, unexpected, marvelous, astonishing displays of power and authority that point to Who He is. A miracle may defy the laws of physics by making the sun stand still or parting a body of water or turning water into wine, but it may also be a series of crazy astonishing coincidences – or a man walking out of the hospital against all expert expectation.
The “supernatural” is no more unnatural than natural to God and to those familiar with His ways, those learning to see with the eyes to see and hearing with the ears to hear that Jesus talked about.
And no. I don’t think we can ever give God too much credit for the unusual, unexpected, marvelous, astonishing things He has done, however He chooses to do them.
To God be the glory!