Miracles and the Christian Faith
For good or ill, the Christian faith embraces miracles. A miracle is not easy to define because it’s one of those big rich words which, if you define it loosely—it’s too loose to be useful. If you try to define it rigidly, to crowd it into a circle of words, there are aspects of it left sticking out. Even those philosophers that deny that a miracle can be defined presume they know (without definition) what it is that can’t be defined. But these are issues that must be dealt with in other literature and there’s a mass of it.
By a miracle I mean an act of God, an act which by its timing, context, nature and character leaves us in no doubt that supernatural power is at work and that that supernatural power comes from the God revealed in the biblical witness.
But here we’re dealing with actual and biblical miracles rather than discussing their “possibility” on philosophical and theoretical grounds. This means I’m taking the biblical texts at their face value. Whatever the theological purposes of the narratives, I’m following countless thousands of intelligent, competent and trusting people down the centuries in accepting that the writers recorded miraculous happenings in and connected with the life of Jesus of Nazareth.
Some of the miracles are not as startling as others are. You know what I mean, there are some events in Scripture that get our attention and then there are others that make our eyes go big and round.
Christ’s healing Peter’s mother-in-law (Matthew 8), just by touching her calls for attention but Lazarus’ coming from the tomb makes your jaw sag (John 11).
The raising of Lazarus helps us (because it is so starkly miraculous) to get a hold on what miracle means. He’s been dead long enough to be in a state of decay, Jesus looks to heaven and addresses someone he calls “Father,” asking him to raise Lazarus. A mere man, one like the rest of us, couldn’t have done what was done to Lazarus so someone heard the words of Jesus, someone invisible, and that someone instantaneously brought life and health back to Lazarus.
Now, not all the miracles are as stark and clear as this one. This event bore its own indisputable witness to the existence, presence and working of the God and Father of the Lord Jesus Christ. Some events could be debated if they were looked at as independent events. But when they’re allowed their place in the whole Story, in the development and context of the life of this Jesus of Nazareth, something is added to them and makes them more than acceptable as miracles—makes them, in some ways, fully expected.
Whatever else is true, the Christian faith has miracles at its heart.
It isn’t the Christian Faith as the NT presents it if we strip it of all its supernatural elements and offer Jesus as a fine man and the NT scriptures as a source of some outstanding ethical teaching.
It isn’t uncommon to hear people say it would be easier to believe in the Jesus of the NT if it didn’t speak of miracles. I don’t believe that. I believe if we’re fair with the NT record we cannot believe in a non-miraculous Jesus. Nor could we make sense of the NT record itself for so much of the speech in the mouth of Jesus would be inexplicable—it depends on his having worked miracles (see, for example, John 6, the whole chapter).
But maybe, just maybe, if we doctored the text, it would be easier to believe; but would it be worth believing?