Thursday, January 21, 2010


1. An event that appears inexplicable by the laws of nature and so is held to be supernatural in origin or an act of God.

That’s the definition of ‘miracle’ according to The Free Dictionary. But the definitions of miracles we have in our mind can be quite different. To some people, a miracle is ‘an impossible event’ or ‘something that always has a rational explanation’ or ‘a coincidence’ or ‘pure luck’. To others, it may be ‘any occurrence where God intervenes’ or ‘something that can only be explained by supernatural means’. Miracles might happen never, everyday or only occasionally, depending on who you talk to.

Ena Zizi believes she received a miracle. She is the 69-year-old woman who was rescued after being trapped under rubble in Haiti for a week. She says she spent the week praying to God. On a much lesser scale, my son believes he received a miracle. He was looking for a toy and could not find it anywhere. He prayed before going to sleep at night and the next morning it was on top of his toybox.

Now these may be miracles or they may not be. Ena Zizi may have just been lucky. My son might have moved his toy to the top of the toybox without noticing. If they are miracles, they are the sort of miracles where another possible explanation can be found.

For those who do not believe in miracles, the other explanation is the only possible explanation. If God does not supernaturally intervene, then there must be some other reason for what happened. But for those who do believe in miracles, sometimes the intervention of God is the most likely explanation.

To illustrate this, let’s imagine I have paid a visit to my neighbour and mentioned in passing that I like carrot cake. The next day, there is a carrot cake by my front door. Now the most likely explanation for this is that my neighbour left me the carrot cake. But then imagine a friend comes over and says, ‘Well I have never seen your neighbour. I’m not even sure that she exists. And there are any number of other explanations for how you came to receive that carrot cake. Some other friend may have put it there. Perhaps someone dropped it off at your house by mistake. Maybe someone was given a carrot cake that they didn’t like and instead of throwing it out, they put it at the front door of the nearest house they could find.’

Now all these are possibilities. They might have happened. But the best explanation is still that my neighbour gave me the carrot cake.

To simply point out that there are other possible explanations for something is not to prove that a miracle did not happen. And sometimes those other explanations seem a lot less likely than the possibility that God actually intervened.

And then there are the miracles where there is no other possible explanation. To those who do not believe in miracles, these are simply impossible and could not have happened. So you end up with a whole lot of books that promise to tell you about the real Jesus – which ends up being nothing but the Jesus of the Gospels, with all miracles removed. In other words, it ends up being a Jesus that is nothing like the Jesus of the Gospels at all.

Some of them try to take the ‘other explanation’ approach to Jesus’ miracles. I have seen it suggested that with the feeding of the 5000, Jesus did not really multiply the loaves and fishes. Instead, when people saw he was feeding the crowd with such a small amount, they felt guilty and brought out their own food. Some of these authors take a semi-miraculous view and suggest that maybe God could have prompted their sudden guilt-induced generosity.

They can accept things like the feeding of the 5000, because that has another possible explanation. But as for things like Jesus bringing Lazarus back to life, they come to conclusion that it did not happen because it could not have happened. People do not get brought back to life after they have died.

And so they claim to demythologise Jesus by stating that some of his miracles have rational explanations and the rest of his miracles did not really happen because they do not have rational explanations. And what we are left with is a man, who we can accept, because he did nothing out of the ordinary. He didn’t rise from the dead. He wasn’t born of a virgin. He performed no miracles. He only did the type of things that normally happen.

Sounds like a pretty ordinary man to me. But it doesn’t sound much like the Son of God. Why would God send his Son to earth, just to do the same kind of stuff that can be found at any shopping mall or suburban street?

I like how N. T. Wright puts it. He says that ‘what happened to Jesus is not what normally happens’.

And so, for those who accept that Jesus really was the Son of God, what seems more likely? That he came to earth and acted as an ordinary man? Or that he came to earth and performed miracles?

And if Jesus did perform miracles during his earthly life, doesn’t it also seem possible that God may still be performing miracles now?

I believe in miracles. I believe they happen all the time. Sometimes they’re so extraordinary that no other explanation can be found. Sometimes they’re little miracles, mini miracles as I like to call them, where God just intervenes a little bit to answer a prayer or help someone. There will always be people who seek to find other explanations for these miracles. And no doubt, they will find them. But there will also always be people who recognise that sometimes the supernatural intervention of God is the best possible explanation.

(Image details: Raising of Lazarus by Jesus by Carl Heinrich Bloch)


  1. Hi Liz,

    I remember reading Bl. Dom Marmion (the Benedictine Abbott), and he was writing about the Godhead/Trinity before the creation of the world. It remains the best explanation of the Holy Trinity I've read.

    The point I want to make is in relation to this. If people believe in God, and that He created the world (which is miraculous, when you consider He created it out of nothing), then those same people will believe in miracles of another nature, even those performed by saints, in God's name, via His power.

    People who don't believe in God's existence or nature, won't believe in miracles.

    I forget which saint said this, but he was talking about Christ's Transfiguration on Mt Thabor. And he said, the biggest miracle in Christ's life was not that he was transfigured into a glorious state, but that He hid his divinity for 33 years.

    Ah, what the eyes of faith see, that non-believers don't. I couldn't imagine life without faith. It would be shallow, hollow, empty, and devoid of all meaning. I guess if I was like that, I'd be out there putting all my energy into making money and keeping it all for myself, and not giving God a second thought.

    David ...

  2. Hi David,

    It makes sense to me that if you believe God created the world then you will believe in miracles. But a lot of the people who have tried to demythologise Jesus are actually Christians, who say they believe in in God.

    But maybe that comes down to what sort of God or what sort of Jesus do you believe in? The God they believe in might be some distant being who never interfered in the world. The Jesus they believe in might be just a good man, who had some pretty interesting things to say. And perhaps people who believe in that sort of God or that sort of Jesus do find it hard to believe in miracles.

    But then there's the people who say they believe in the Christ of Faith, but they say that he is completely different from the Jesus of history. Kind of like I believe Jesus was the Son of God, I believe he rose from the dead. But I don't believe it actually happened. Very confusing.

    And I've also had a conversation with someone who believed in God, believed God created the world, believed Jesus rose from the dead, believed all the miracles in the bible really happened - but also believed that miracles do not happen today because it is impossible.

    As I was initially writing this comment, I started to say that you could have faith in God without believing in miracles. But then I thought maybe there is a difference between between belief and faith. And maybe people can believe in God without believing he performs miracles. But to have faith in God is to believe something different.

    Anyway, I have gotten slightly confused while writing this comment. So I will finish it here before I confuse myself any further.




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