Miracles, what are they?
We may say that in common usage, a miracle is a surprising and welcome event that is not expected.
About a underdog team winning a game, we might enthuse, “It’s miracle!”
When it comes to philosophy or theology, the concept deepens. Here we think of a miracle as a surprising and welcome event that is not explicable by natural or scientific laws and is therefore considered to be the work of a divine agency.
Posed this way, the belief in miracles or not becomes centered in a world view that believes in God or not.
In his book miracles, C. S. Lewis gives technical definitions to the two different world views, the naturalistic view and the supernatural or theistic world view.
Naturalists, under his definition, believe that the Universe is a vast process in which all events which ever happen find their causes solely in the events that happened before them within the system.
Supernaturalists, on the other hand, believe that interruptions or interferences can take place in this system of our universe from some other system outside it. A supernatural event would be one that is not traceable, even in principle, solely to materially determined causes within our universe.
So when it comes to a belief in miracles or not, it might be noted that we may tend to end up where we start out. If we don’t believe in God, then we may quickly discount miracles, If we do, then we have a way to explain them.
C.S. Lewis puts it this way, “If you have hitherto disbelieved in miracles, it is worth pausing a moment to consider whether this is not chiefly because you thought you had discovered what the story was really about?—that atoms, and time and space and economics and politics were the main plot? And is it certain you were right? It is easy to make mistakes in such matters.”
Lewis helps us to see that if we come at the question of miracles with the presupposition that there is only the natural world, the material world, then we are set up to discount anything we observe that might be supernatural with our bias.
Lewis goes on and explains how essential this issue is to the discussion. “For this reason, the question whether miracles occur can never be answered simply by experience. Every event which might claim to be a miracle is, in the last resort, something presented to our senses, something seen, heard, touched, smelled or tasted. And our senses are not infallible. If anything extraordinary seems to have happened, we can always say that we have been the victims of an illusion. If we hold a philosophy which excludes the supernatural, this is what we always shall say. What we learn from experience depends on the kind of philosophy we bring to experience. It is therefore useless to appeal to experience before we have settled, as well as we can, the philosophical question.”
This brings up the key issue. Is there a spiritual world, and if so are the spiritual and the natural worlds two different worlds, two different kinds of things?
Christianity believe in the spiritual, in God, and it believes that the supernatural world and the natural world aren’t entirely separate. For Christians there is no clear line, wall or chasm existing between the natural world and the supernatural world. Therefore it is a mistake if we think of miracles as weird, as foreign, as paranormal.
The Christian idea of miracles is what one would expect from a God who is the author of nature. Miracle fit within the realities of what God has already done. He who made it, rules it and empowers it as he wills. For example, grapes, left to ferment, turn to wine. So when Jesus, as the Bible claims, turned water to wine, he was simply enabling and speeding up a process that occurs in nature. And when he turned bread into more bread, he was simply doing what take place in a grain field everyday. When God acts supernaturally, it is within the natural that he has created, and yet it goes beyond it in the direction that it was already going. Here is Lewis’s summary argument on this.
“The fitness of the Christian miracles, and their difference from … mythological miracles, lies in the fact that they show invasion by a Power which is not alien. They are what might be expected to happen when she is invaded not simply by a god, but by the God of Nature: by a Power which is outside her jurisdiction not as a foreigner but as a sovereign. They proclaim that He who has come is not merely a king, but the King, her King and ours.”
For many Christians, the issue of miracles comes down one of the great miracles of Christianity, the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. Did it happen? Is it bizarre? Again, for the Christian, we need not put this in the category of the paranormal, of the completely unimaginable. If God is God, that is he is the author of life, then he can surely also be the author of new life. This is not outside what he can do or what we have seen him do even in the natural world. Life from death — we see this every day in nature, as the dying plant leaves behind new seed for new life.
Jesus coming as God in the flesh, to give new life through his death, this is perhaps the greatest miracle the Christian must come to terms with. If this is possible, then anything is possible.
C.S. Lewis called the incarnation “the Grand Miracle.” He writes: “The central miracle asserted by Christians is the Incarnation…. Every other miracle prepares for this, or exhibits this, or results from this…. It was the central event in the history of the Earth—the very thing that the whole story has been about”
By a miracle that passes human comprehension, the Creator entered his creation, the Eternal entered time, God became human—in order to die and rise again for the salvation of all people. As Lewis says, “He comes down; down from the heights of absolute being into time and space, down into humanity; down further still … (to) the womb … down to the very roots and sea-bed of the Nature He has created. But He goes down to come up again and bring the whole ruined world up with Him”
Writes Lewis, Jesus is the ‘first fruits,’ the pioneer of life,’ He has forced open a door that has been locked since the death of the first man. He has met, fought, and beaten the King of Death. Everything is different because He has done so.”
This is credible, and it is rational, and it makes sense and it makes sense out of and explains everything else. The universe exists for and within God, and everywhere evidence his entering into his creation to give it life and to renew it’s life.
Being a Christian isn’t so much just believing in miracles, it is believing in God, and it is living out a miracle and living within a miracle. The everyday experience of those who know God is an experience of living with God, God incarnate in us and all around us. Every day is a renewal in Christ, every other person, a beautiful miracle, the very work of God himself.