Miracle or make-believe?

"Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written." John 21.25


Theologians identify three purpose for miracles in the Bible. The first is signification: they point to an important feature of a person or an event. The word translated "miracle" in the Gospel of John means simply "sign" because it points to some aspect of the divinity of Jesus. A second purpose is for authentication: in the ancient world, while Greeks looked for wisdom, Jews expected miracles as a means of authenticating the claims of a teacher or leader. Thirdly miracles are a source or identification of God's hand in a particular event or person's life.


So much for their purpose but how to define the miracle itself? The trouble is that many of us might know a miracle when it hits us but would struggle to describe what it is! Claiming that a miracle is whatever breaks the laws of nature is problematic because what appears beyond the bounds of possibility in one generation might be commonplace in the next. For instance, gathering for worship on Zoom every Sunday would have seemed utterly miraculous 20 or 200, let alone 2000, years ago (ri linn Ìosa). In fact, the laws of nature have always allowed for Zoom-ing it's just that we hadn't discovered how to harness them until recently.


A more satisfactory explanation takes the pressure off the mechanics of miracles in favour of focusing on their significance. American scholar Meredith Kline (1922-2007) is credited with coining the phrase "intrusional ethics" to describe those moments when God "intrudes" into the current era judgments and blessings belonging to the future New Creation. Why he does that is bound up with another, particularly acute conundrum, which is the problem of evil - but that's for another day...

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