What Is a Miracle?
In my 10th grade religious studies class, a miracle was defined as “something which seems to break a law of science and makes you think only God could have done it.” There are certainly many miracles throughout the Bible, such as the Ten Plagues against the Pharaoh, or the feeding of the 5,000. Christians have continued to witness miracles after biblical times, like the appearance of La Virgen De Guadalupe. However, there is a conception that there is a dearth of miracles in our modern age. Where is the Jesus of Nazareth who made the lame walk and the blind see? Nietzsche argues that “God is dead”, implying that there was a God, but God no longer acts. In light of the Holocaust, Jewish theologians such as Elie Wiesel see God as stepping away from Creation. Many Christians share this view that miracles are the preserve of ages past.
Alternatively, there are Christians, like my mother, who believe in the abundance of miracles. “I prayed and found my keys, it’s a miracle” she will tell me. Really Mom, you finding your keys breaks a law of science and only God could have done it? Evangelical communities, like the one I grew up in, pray their requests of all kinds boldly. This includes smaller scale supernatural key-finding to instances of significant supernatural healing. They experience a high number of miracles, but do these truly count within the definition? Does the supposed recent dearth of miracles directly correlate with us understanding more science? Is my skepticism with my mother’s miracle claim justified?
Science is the pursuit for empirical truth; it is proven, seen, tested. However, our faith is “being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” (Hebrews 11:1 NIV). There is a fundamental difference between faith and science. One could listen to every apologetic talk and read every theodicy yet still reject God. We will not find God in determining what counts as a miracle or not.
The question of miracles becomes fundamentally, to what extent does God work in the world? To what extent does God care about and intervene within Creation? We only label a miracle as such if it is for good and the glory of God: when we prayed and God had compassion on us. But isn’t this a form of testing God? When we claim there is a dearth of miracles, we are claiming that, to our perception, God has stopped working in the world. My first definition of miracles assumes that God and science are independent entities. It implies that God set the laws of science in motion, and occasionally, when he is feeling nice, he breaks them to bring about a miracle. This quasi William Paley analogy is not satisfactory for two reasons. Firstly, it assumes that God operates within the realm of time. As the world runs its course according to the laws of science, God breaks in at set points and is absent during others. But this is incorrect because God works outside time. Secondly, it simplifies the separation of God and Creation. Yes, God existed before the world (or indeed universe) and is therefore separate from it, but isn’t God working continuously in Creation? God works even in the ways we can’t tangibly see, and the fact that the world continues to turn at all is only by the grace of God.
Answered prayers don’t always break a law of science, but maybe they are all miracles. As we come to know more about science, we could become increasingly obsessed with verifying miracles, or we could instead praise God for all of his works, regardless of them being in or out of the bounds of science. God took the formless expanse and carved good out of it. Is that not a miracle? Whether finding your keys breaks a law of science or not, my Mom sees all of God’s good works in her life as miracles, and praises God with thankfulness.
Angela Eichhorst ’22 is a freshman living in Canaday.Tags: Elie Wiesel, miracle, Nietszsche, science