Today let us consider the question, What is a miracle?
Maybe you’re like Colin Blunstone and you don’t believe in miracles:
But first we should define our terms. A miracle, I’ve decided, is something that, according to all the laws of nature or society as they are observed, ought not to happen.
So: let us consider the crossing of the Red Sea. According to what we now know, it was a combination of low tide and shallow water that enabled the Israelites to cross and escape their enemies. The waters ‘parted’ – which, according to what they knew at the time, it ought to have been impossible. As we now know, the phenomenon was caused by a combination of low tide and high underlying rock. But maybe this misses the point. There’s always an ‘explanation’ – if you think about it, how could there not be? But the miracle in this case was that it happened at exactly the right moment for them to escape.
Miracles happen all the time. As God said to Bruce in ‘Bruce Almighty’, ‘a single mom who’s working two jobs and still finds time to take her child to soccer practice, that’s a miracle. A teenager who says no to drugs and yes to an education, that’s a miracle.’
Now I go along with this to a large extent, I really do. The trouble with some new-agey positive-thinking-type philosophies is that they miss out the very important element of work. They seem to think you only have to wish for it, or pray for it – and it’s yours. I once knew someone who actually believed that if you think the right thoughts you can literally grab money out of the air: I have to report that this person ended up living in a horse-box in a field. What I’ve concluded is that if you want something you’ve got to work for it, and that’s as true in the world of miracles as it is in the everyday sphere. You’ve got to put the work in – and sometimes it’s a hell of a lot of work. It’s like the guy who kept praying to win the lottery: God, please let me win the lottery; God please let me win the lottery! Eventually God gets fed up and says, ‘look – will you do something for me? Will you at least buy a ticket?’
Now buying a ticket isn’t much, but it’s something. You’re making an effort. It’s like people who beg for money: I don’t usually give them anything because according to an informed source, they’re not usually homeless. Still the argument that you’re giving them money for doing nothing doesn’t hold up. They’re not doing nothing – they’re begging. It’s not useful work – it’s not even work as usually defined – and yet they are sitting on a cold and damp street and asking strangers for money. I can’t begin to imagine how hard I’d find that. Is it work? It’s more effort than buying a lottery ticket, that’s for sure.
So where was I? Yes, what is a miracle? It’s something that by all the laws of nature or society, as we understand them, ought not to happen. Some of the miracles reported of Jesus can be explained – not explained away – because of what we now understand about medicine and what we know about touch and healing. For example, the bleeding woman who touched the hem of Jesus’ garment probably had endometriosis and may have been outcast because of her problem. Part of the cure for her, as for lepers, may have been just to feel accepted and included. We are now much more aware of the connection between physical and mental/emotional health than we have been.
There are more things in heaven and earth, definitely, than we understand. We still don’t know how bees fly…
And I don’t know how we survive. But we do.