A recent Slate article reflects on the problem of how to understand Biblical miracles in our modern world. One possible solution, taken to extreme by Thomas Jefferson some 200 years ago, is to simply ignore any mention of miracles. The third president of the United States actually excised from his Bible anything he considered too mysterious to be truth, resulting in what's known as the Jefferson Bible. At least he was paying attention to the text. Today, many of us skim over spectacular passages about walking on water, shrug our shoulders uncomfortably and move on to spiritual truths we can more easily apply to our lives.
Another tactic for dealing with miracles is to try to explain them away. Even if there is a miraculous component to the explanation, we like being able to figure out how God did it. There are many examples in the Slate article, but my favorite is the computer simulation suggesting that parting the Red Sea would require only a 63-mph wind. As a believer with years of training in science, I know that I have used this second technique with difficult passages. I think in some cases the text actually lends itself to this sort of interpretation. Acts 9:18 offers an intriguing biological detail when it reports, “Immediately, something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he could see again. He got up and was baptized.” We modern readers smile knowingly while thinking about cataracts. Of course, this ignores the fact that cataracts involve a clouding of the lens of the eye, which is under the cornea; if Paul’s lens had fallen out it would have left him completely blind.
Reported miracles in Scripture remind us of a desperately needed truth: there is no natural world.
Both of these strategies for addressing miracles make a terrible mistake. Reported miracles in Scripture are critically important passages that remind us of a desperately needed truth: there is no natural world. This world is made and sustained by the Creator God. Sometimes God blesses us with breathtaking miracles that we can attempt to explain. Anyone who has held a one-minute-old baby knows they hold the miraculous work of God in their arms, even if we have a pretty good idea of what happens between conception and birth. Anyone who has watched a thunderstorm sweep its way into town along a cold front has seen the miraculous power of God at work, even if He is never mentioned on The Weather Channel. If God can make life and thunderstorms, we should not be surprised to learn he can make wine from water.
A defining characteristic of a Christian is to believe that a man named Jesus was hung on a cross until He died, and even though He was dead, He came back to life. This is a miracle. To be a Christian is to believe that sometimes God chooses to work in ways that have no natural explanation. This is good news! This is our hope! Our lives, our relationships and our world often seem so broken that we cannot imagine any way to fix them. But our God can work miracles. He does things we cannot explain. He does things that make us uncomfortable. He can leave us saying, “I have no idea how God did this, but I praise Him for work He has done.” May we say the same when our children ask about the Red Sea, sight for the blind and a feast for thousands from only a few loaves and fishes.