[Editor’s note: To participate in our weekly advice column, submit your questions here and watch this space each Wednesday.]
I’ve been doing a study on the miracles of Christ with a group from church, and it’s made me think a lot about how God works. It seems like in the Old Testament and during Jesus’ time on earth, there was a lot of very obvious, direct divine intervention. Why don’t we see those kinds of miracles happening today?
“It’s crazy to think that junk like that really happened back then,” remarked my 10-year-old self to my dad as he flipped through the channels casually pausing to watch a scene from Cecile B. Demille’s The Ten Commandments.
With the Egyptian army at their heels, the Israelites were fearfully racing across the dry floor of the Red Sea as huge walls of water stood erect surrounding them, walls that would soon come crashing down to sweep away Pharaoh’s chariots and soldiers.
Sure, even though I never really read the Bible at that age, I knew I was supposed to believe it and everything it reported—as did virtually everyone I knew growing up in rural East Tennessee. That moment marked the first time the epic and abnormal nature of some of the events in the Bible registered with me. “I mean, this stuff actually took place in real life.”
Twenty years removed from this pre-pubescent memory, I am savvy enough now to realize that plenty of people do not take the Bible’s historical claims at face value. Nevertheless, the 10-year-old me was shrewd enough to pick up on one truth: the miraculous is not what we by today’s standards consider “normal.”
After all, if miracles took place on a regular and predictable basis, they would cease to be special. They’d be normal and not, well, miracles.
But it is important to recognize that just because you and I might not see biblical-type miracles regularly, that doesn’t mean they don’t happen. In fact, missionaries around the world report all kinds of miraculous events happening in the developing world.
Seriously, a simple Google search may open your eyes to purportedly amazing things happening today: like this, and this and this. And of course, popular author and speaker Eric Metaxas published a book just last year that, in part, catalogues modern-day miracles that happen around the world (And RELEVANT talked with him about it).
So in one sense, the answer is simple: In many parts of the world, Christians are claiming to have seen miracles.
The Meaning of Miracles
Still, to answer your question about why it seems like we don’t presently see extravagant spectacles like seas splitting, the lame walking, donkeys talking and axe heads floating, we need to establish the biblical meaning and purpose of miracles.
The Bible is the inspired, preserved record of God’s revelation to His people in history, climaxing in the work of His Son, Jesus: “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son” (Hebrews 1:1-2).
In the same letter, we read that the Gospel message “was declared at first by the Lord, and it was attested to us by those who heard, while God also bore witness by signs and wonders and various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to His will” (Hebrews 2:3-4).
So, miracles, at least in part, are God’s way of standing behind His messengers. This pattern that we see throughout Scripture is what theologians label “word-act revelation,” which basically means that God’s words interpret God’s actions. Without God to tell us what He is up to, we are quite starkly left in the dark apart from the light of God’s Word (Psalm 36:9).
Miracles in Bible Times
Because miraculous events in the Bible appear mere pages or even lines apart, we can get the impression that miracles, signs and wonders occurred all the time in the ancient world. Weren’t reanimated corpses approaching zombie-apocalypse numbers back then?
This might seem to be the case to us until we remember that days, months, years, and, in some instances, decades passed between one recorded event and the next (see Exodus 2:23; Acts 7:23,30).
The Bible, as a unified collection of God’s setting the world to rights over time through a specific covenant people, primarily located in one geo-political area, records only a thin slice of human experience in the grand scheme of things.
And, generally speaking, God tends to perform signs, wonders and miracles to coincide with what He has to say at the onset of a new chapter of His story of bringing about His Kingdom on earth (e.g., creation; flood; the calling of the patriarchs; the exodus from Egypt; the wilderness period; the conquest of Canaan; the prophets’ ministries during the monarchial era; the incarnation, life, death and resurrection of Jesus; the giving of the Spirit at Pentecost; the apostolic proclamation of the Gospel; and the Second Coming).
Miracles Have a Purpose
It’s imperative, too, that we understand that the presence of the supernatural is not sufficient to indicate a message is actually from God (see Deuteronomy 13:1-3; 18:15-22). The content of the message is even more important than the signs that might accompany it.
However impressive the alleged sign or wonder might be, we are not to pay heed to any messenger who leads us toward a different god than the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, or to accept another gospel than the one the Church received from the apostles in the first century. Paul writes in Galatians 1:8-9: “But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed.”
The Gospel itself is our final standard for truth about God, not the sighting of the angelic beings or other astounding phenomena.
Three Miracle Misnomers
Still, your question reveals a few misnomers in how many of us Christians think of miracles and God’s involvement in the world.
1. We shouldn’t think in terms of a strict supernatural-natural divide. According to Scripture, God is just as responsible for the ordinary processes of nature as He is for any miracle (Colossians 1:16; Hebrews 1:3), from how the sparrow flies to how the lion eats (Matthew 10:29; Psalm 104:21). Nature is not the composition of law-like patterns occurring independently of God, and thus, miracles are not cases of when God intervenes, but when He acts differently than usual for His redemptive purposes. The Bible presents a supernaturalist worldview, and we should settle for nothing less in our own thinking.
2. We have seen and experienced the pinnacle, history-dividing miracle in Jesus’ resurrection. In His rising from the dead, the resurrection age has dawned, His past resurrection ensuring our future one (1 Corinthians 15:19). Indeed, by placing our faith in Christ, we are presently united to Him and raised with Him (Ephesians 2:5-6; Colossians 3:1-4). To look for miracles beyond the resurrection—Jesus’ and our own—because of discontentment or boredom is to depreciate God’s chief revelation and grandest act.
3. Regardless of if someone happens to be a cessationist, charismatic or somewhere in between, we cannot suggest that miracles no longer take place, for to do so is to deny the supernaturalist nature of the new birth (John 3:3-8). We’ve all seen a sinner, once dead in trespasses and sin (Ephesians 2:1-3), repent and believe the Gospel. In that, a miracle has taken place.
Thus, we see a lot of miracles today—a multitude, in fact. We have just perhaps become too accustomed to them to see them for what they are: Every Christian we meet is a miracle, a work in progress, a product of God’s abrupt, abnormal and amazing grace. On an everyday basis, the blind receive sight and the dead are raised.
It’s crazy to think “junk” like this happens even today.
Have a question? Good! Send an email to [email protected]. All identifying information will be kept anonymous.
Josh Hayes is an editor for 'The Gospel Project' and a Ph.D. candidate in systematic theology at Westminster Theological Seminary. He lives in the Nashville area with his wife, Sara, and their two children.