Monday, September 11, 2023

Anonymous Asks (266)

“Does God still perform miracles?”

We often hear expressions like “the miracle of birth” or “a miracle of engineering”. Such things may be impressive to the senses or sentiments but they are not, properly speaking, miraculous. Calling something a miracle that occurs naturally every eight seconds or so in the U.S. alone stretches even figurative language to the point of absurdity.

The first step in answering the question “Does God still perform miracles?” is to ensure we are all talking about the same thing.

More Debatable Miracles

The word “miracle” is often bandied about when a person recovers from a disease unexpectedly, or completes a next-to-impossible looking touchdown pass, or when circumstances change so suddenly and unexpectedly as to give one pause. If any of these is truly miraculous in the sense of God having intervened in order to make it come to pass, we would never know with certainty. They are all in the category of “unlikely, but not inconceivable”. If God is doing miracles of this sort, he is deliberately doing them incognito. For every witness who believes God was involved, you will find ten who don’t buy it, many of them Christians. Only the person praying for such an event would ever be sure, and even he might wonder.

The essence of a miracle is that it is an unbelievably rare occurrence. Merriam-Webster defines a miracle as “an extraordinary event manifesting divine intervention in human affairs”. That will do for starters, but we are asking the question from a biblical standpoint, which means we need to know how the Bible defines a miracle rather than merely its English popular usage.

Signs and Wonders

The Greek word translated “miracle” in the New Testament is sÄ“meion, more frequently translated as “sign”. Strong’s defines it as a “mark” or “token”. The basic meaning of the word gives us a hint at God’s purpose in performing miracles. These special interventions were not and are not ends in themselves; rather, the Lord always intends them to point men and women to something more important. Miracles were not merely dollops of divine intervention meant to attract eager eyeballs, dry oceans of tears, or tantalize the taste buds. In fact, the Lord Jesus strongly suggested that the steadily increasing appetite for a fix of the supernatural in his own day was actually an indication of an evil heart.

So then, the miracles of scripture always served a greater purpose than the obvious, and pointed to the need for a greater salvation. The multitudes followed Jesus because of the miracles he did, but only a few grasped the greater significance: that he who could be counted on to heal the sick and raise the dead could be trusted to provide a bottomless well of eternal life to all who sought it.

Precious and Few

For this reason, miracles in scripture are actually few and far between. The history of the human race recorded in the word of God covers a period of 4,000 years or so, and 2,000 more have elapsed since. In that period, God has rarely staged miraculous interventions. This website documents a total of 120 miraculous occurrences described in the Bible, while these researchers found 163. Allowing for the fact that there were actually many more miracles than scripture records, especially during the life of Christ, let’s multiply that number by ten. It still comes out to an average of something less than one miracle every three and a half years throughout human history, almost all of them taking place in a part of the world where you and I would never see them, and concentrated in very specific eras, so that many generations often passed between miracles.

All of that is to say that even if God were still performing miracles today at anything approximating the rate he has in times past, it is exceedingly unlikely you’d ever see one.

Miracles also had limited utility when presented to men and women with hardened hearts, a fact that the Lord recognized all too well. That is to say, if their job was to convince people to repent, they were remarkably unsuccessful at it. Nobody ever did more miracles than the Lord Jesus, and the end result was his crucifixion, not his recognition as Messiah. As Abraham put it in the story of the rich man and Lazarus, “If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.”

Entertained, maybe. Convinced, not so much.

Neither Will They Be Convinced

So my question for today’s questioner is this: Given that miracles always pointed to something more important than food, wine or physical health, what possible reason might God have for doing miracles today? To what might these miracles point? The scripture is already pointing to Christ more adequately and comprehensively than any mere sign. If Abraham was an honest witness, then those who do not believe what the Bible says about him and the free salvation he offers the world would not find even the miracle of resurrection compelling enough to change their ways.

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