Miracles are news. You go on the internet, you get assaulted with clickbait about miraculous healings, the Shroud of Turin, airplane landings that almost went wrong, and the like. Do Christians really believe in all these things? Are they just gullible? What do they believe about miracles, anyway, and why?
First of all let’s get it straight and say: Christians believe in miracles, but not necessarily THOSE miracles (whatever random stuff you’ve been seeing). There are plenty of liars and cheats around, and we understand that. It would be easy just to dismiss every odd story and say, “God doesn’t do stuff like that.” Except for one problem: He does.
The Miracles in the Bible
Christians start with the Bible when we’re talking about miracles. That’s where you’ll find the classic biggies—Jesus rising from the dead, Jesus healing sick people, Jesus multiplying a little food into enough to feed thousands of people. You’ll also find miracles over nature—God parting the Red Sea, Jesus calming a storm, Jesus turning water into wine.
What was the point of these miracles? Was it just to get everyone’s attention? Was God just showing off?
There are probably a lot of reasons why God does a particular miracle, including simple compassion. The Bible gives that as the reason why Jesus does a lot of healings, especially. But a really big reason for his miracles was so that people would recognize him for who he is.
Jesus’ I.D. Card
The Bible refers to Jesus’ miracles as “signs”—they are one of the main ways people recognize who he is. Let’s face it, Jesus looked kind of ordinary. He didn’t walk around with a halo glowing over his head, and the Bible tells us he didn’t have any particular majesty going on—no “woo woo” charisma to attract people to him (Isaiah 53:2-3). So how was anyone supposed to recognize that this was God himself walking around as a human being?
Well, the miracles helped. They said, basically, “See this guy calming a storm? This is the same God who calms every storm that ever existed, but now he’s doing it up close and personal. See him healing sick people? Yes, he’s the one who set up healing processes in all our bodies, but today he’s speeding it up for you to see. See him raise the dead? This is the God who will raise the whole human race on the Last Day. Recognize him.”
This is why Jesus’ miracles are not stupid or useless miracles—for example, turning a white petunia purple, or causing your iPhone to turn into an iguana. What would be the point of that? But his miracles show who he is, and also show the kind of God he is—one who is kind, compassionate, and wants us to have a good life.
“Okay, what about other miracles?” you might ask. “Do you believe in those too?”
The Bible tells us that certain people at certain times have had the power to do miracles—not from themselves, but because God worked through them. This included some of the people in the early Christian church, as well as some people in the Old Testament. Some of them, too, healed the sick, raised the dead, or foretold the future.
Not Every Time
This wasn’t for all of them, and not all the time—miracles have never been a way of life for anybody, even in the time of Jesus. People still died, including Christians. People got sick, went hungry, or got locked up in jail. Sometimes it’s the exact same person who had a miracle happen before—Paul had a miraculous vision and saw Jesus on the road to Damascus, but only a few years later he was begging God to take away a serious problem (probably something health-related, we don’t know)—and God said, “No. My grace is enough for you, because my power is made perfect in your weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9). James and Peter were both disciples of Jesus, and both got arrested and jailed at the same time. God sent an angel to set one of them free—the chains fell off, the doors miraculously opened, the whole nine yards. And yet his fellow disciple in prison got none of that. He was put to death.
What Miracles Are Not For
Whatever God’s purposes are for miracles, he clearly doesn’t do them just to show off, to reward good people, or to make our lives easier. He won’t even do them to make his own life easier. Plenty of people have asked, “Why doesn’t God just do an outstanding miracle on international TV in front of everybody? Then the whole world would believe.” God won’t. He refuses. Jesus himself refused to do that sort of show. He won’t force anybody to believe, and he won’t do miracles so that people decide to follow him for all the wrong reasons.
Isn’t that an excuse?
“Sure,” some people say. “You’re just saying that because you know miracles aren’t real. Then you won’t have to be embarrassed when you pray and nothing happens.”
Give us some credit. We know perfectly well that most of the time when we ask for miracles, they aren’t going to happen. That was clear even when Jesus was physically walking this earth. He didn’t heal everybody on earth, or even in Palestine. Heck, he didn’t even heal everybody in the pavilion on the day when he picked out one guy and made him able to walk again. Jesus just slipped in, had a short conversation with just one guy, and slipped out again. (John 5:1-17) Why didn’t he heal all the other sick people there that day? We don’t know. But believe us, if we were going to write a fake miracle story, we would have made him heal EVERYBODY. Because this selective healing is just weird. Who does that? (Jesus, apparently…)
Aren’t Christians just gullible people?
Other people will say, “Or maybe you DO think they’re real, because you’re gullible, but modern science proves that miracles can’t happen, and so that’s that.”
The human race can be very gullible, it’s true, but in this case we’re not gullible to that extent. We know the laws of science. For that matter, the ancient Christians and Jews knew the laws of science too—maybe not spelled out in exactly the wording we use today, but they all knew perfectly well that dead people don’t get up again and walk around. Virgins don’t get pregnant. And someone born blind isn’t going to just suddenly regain his sight when he’s forty!
They knew the laws of science—that’s the whole reason they paid attention to the miracles in the first place. They knew these things were not supposed to happen. Take Joseph—the man betrothed to Jesus’ mother Mary—for instance. Why be upset that your fiancée is pregnant if you have no concept of what it takes for a baby to get started? He knew sex was required. That’s why, when Mary became miraculously pregnant with Jesus, Joseph initially planned to divorce her.
Aren’t miracles beneath God’s dignity?
A very basic problem with miracles, for many people, is that they feel they are beneath God’s dignity. “God does not play dice with the universe,” said Einstein, and Christians would agree. He is never capricious or arbitrary. And yet he does occasionally interfere with the universe he created—out of a desire to communicate, out of compassion, because he wants to make himself known. He does this rarely—he’s not going to upset the natural order for insufficient reason—but he’s not completely uninvolved either. He cares about the universe he has made. And he cares about us, too–tiny specks of walking dust that we are.
Do miracles still happen?
“So,” you may be wondering, “do miracles still happen?” There are occasional reports of miracles, mostly healings, that happen, but these tend to come from the frontier of Christianity—from places where there are very few Christians and most people don’t know Jesus. If miracles are mainly signs intended to draw people to Christ, then it makes sense that God would concentrate his miraculous work there and not in countries where there’s a church on every other corner.
That’s not to say that all those stories are true. Liars exist everywhere. And it’s not to say that we shouldn’t pray for miracles in our own lives. God is compassionate, and it never hurts to ask. There are rare reports of miracles occurring in the Christianity-permeated world as well. The author of this article has seen one. (Well, two…)
So we can ask. We should ask—as the proverb goes, “Them as asks, gets.” At least occasionally.
And then it gets personal…
“But why, then, did God not heal my loved one? Why did God refuse to do a miracle for me?”
That is the hardest and most painful question of all, because it goes all the way to the heart, and because at least 90% of the time, we have no answer. God has not told us. Oh, sure, we can come up with rationalizations—“God knew that X would be better off in heaven,” or some such idea. But the truth is, we usually don’t know. We may never know, until we can ask the Lord himself. And so we grieve. And we get angry. And we weep.
A man named Johann von Staupitz gave [the 16th century] Martin Luther an excellent piece of advice for questions like this: “When you think about things like this, look at them through the wounds of Christ.” We don’t know why—but we do know Jesus Christ. We know that Jesus claimed to be God in the flesh—and we see that he behaved with complete and total compassion, love, mercy, empathy… When his friends lost their brother, he wept with them. When he saw children suffering, he healed them. His heart went out to them. That is the God we know.
Jesus is alive, and well, and loves us, and is in control. He is the best place for our hearts to turn when they are crying out, “Why?” Though it may sound mysterious, Christians do genuinely find hope, and comfort, and strength by being connected to him. He himself suffered abandonment on the cross, crying out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” If God himself can feel forsaken, he can understand our grief (see more on “why?” and the question of evil here).