Merriam-Webster defines a miracle as “an extraordinary event manifesting divine intervention in human affairs.“
How can a modern, educated Western adult believe in miracles?
More personally, How can a scientist believe in miracles? Isn’t believing scientist something of an oxymoron?
Given that Christianity is a resurrection religion, the miraculous is part of the package. As Paul wrote: If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. …. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied. (1 Cor. 15:17, 19) The resurrection is clearly an example of an extraordinary event requiring divine intervention. But what of the other miracles recorded in the Gospels? What are we to make of these?
Timothy Luke Johnson, in his recent book Miracles: God’s Presence and Power in Creation digs into the wonders, signs, and miracles attributed to Jesus in the Gospels. These are not random acts and they do not serve as apologetic arguments for the Christian faith. As though we can ‘know’ that Jesus was the Son of God because some ancient men wrote of miracles?! Unlike some of the non-canonical writings from the early church, where miracles are sometimes fanciful, ‘just because he can,’ or even capricious, the miracles recorded in the canonical Gospels play an important role in the story. They portray the reality of the coming Kingdom of God. See for example the summary statement in Matt.8:17 This was to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet Isaiah: “He took up our infirmities and bore our diseases.” and in Matt 12:15-21 for a longer quote of Isaiah.
The response Jesus gave to John’s disciples makes the same point as recorded in Luke makes the same point:
At that very time Jesus cured many who had diseases, sicknesses and evil spirits, and gave sight to many who were blind. So he replied to the messengers, “Go back and report to John what you have seen and heard: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor. Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of me.” Luke 7:21- 23
The signs and wonders performed by Jesus are not an apologetic for the faith, they are an enactment of the coming Kingdom. Johnson summarizes:
Christians therefore do not approach the miracles of the Gospels with the eyes of critical historiography, asking which of these reports is accurate and which not, but with the eyes of faith, seeking to understand the meaning of the signs and wonders they narrate: what do they tell us about Jesus, and what do they tell us about life in Christ?” Nor do Christians approach the miracles of the Gospels with a theological anxiety concerning the basis of their faith; they read, rather, to understand more profoundly the one whose obedience to God was vindicated when God “exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Phil. 2:9-11) (p. 171)
The Gospels are sophisticated compositions, compiled and structured to convey the meaning of Jesus’s life, death, and resurrection to Christians some forty to sixty years after his death and preserved for subsequent generations. Jesus didn’t heal to prove he was divine; he provided (temporary) healing because this is a sign of the coming Kingdom.
Johnson takes this a bit further and suggests that the reality of the Resurrection to the early Christians shaped their understanding of Jesus and his life. He is living, not dead, powerful and active even in their day and communities. So too, for us today.
What meaning do you take from the signs and wonders recorded in the Gospels?
What do they teach us about Jesus?
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The link to the book above is a paid link. Go with this one if you prefer: Miracles: God’s Presence and Power in Creation.