Many of today’s materialists would be open to this holistic view of providence in that they could employ the same language without speaking of miracles, which they view as impossible. Yet such a view grossly misunderstands the biblical Creator. As Lewis points out, the problem is not that miracles are irrational, but because we have incorrect views on God. “The popular ‘religion’ [which for most people today functions as a form of deism] excludes miracles because it excludes the ‘living God’ of Christianity and believes instead in a kind of God who obviously would not do miracles, or indeed anything else” (Lewis, Miracles 130). Materialists can’t reconcile what the Bible claims about God and his work with their own materialist ideas, so they reject him.
Einstein is not the only one, then, who can’t seem to grasp what it means for God to be both our Everlasting Creator and our Loving Redeemer, especially in the shadow of the Enlightenment. For example, in 1748 David Hume wrote that, “A miracle is a violation of the laws of nature, and as a firm and unalterable experience has established these laws, the proof against a miracle, from the very nature of the fact, is as entire as any argument from experience can possibly be imagined” (from his Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding and Concerning the Principles of Morals, quoted in Louis 1). In other words, if miracles are defined as violations of natural laws, and natural laws are defined as absolute, then miracles are simply impossible. Many have therefore accepted the evidence for the historical life of Jesus, the beauty and goodness of his teachings, and even the power of his self-sacrifice, but reject his miraculous ministry, and especially his resurrection.
Rudolph Bultmann was another such scholar. In his aptly-titled work, Kerygma and Myth, he claimed that, “It is impossible to use electric light and the wireless and to avail ourselves of modern medical and surgical discoveries, and at the same time to believe in the New Testament world of spirits and miracles” (quoted in Louis 8). But while this reflects well the “historical Jesus” of The Jefferson Bible, Bart Ehrmann, and the ironically-named “Jesus Movement,” it is not the incarnate Christ we find in the Scriptures, “who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead” (Rom 1:3-4 ESV, emphasis added throughout).
But believing in miracles does not mean believing everything said about miracles in the religious world today. In fact, there are two equally problematic strains in Christian thought. The first strain essentially adopts the same view as Hume, viewing miracles as something wholly unnatural; while the second sees a miracle in everything seemingly unexplainable. Both, however, fail to understand the integral connection between nature and super-nature. We’ll proceed with the former strain first, and then work our way to the latter.
First of all (contra Hume), a miracle is not a rejection or violation of natural law. As we have discussed previously, the Bible teaches us that God creates, sustains and directs all creation providentially through natural laws (Psa 19; 104; Col 1:15-17). You cannot therefore believe in the biblical God of miracles and reject the biblical God of nature; he clearly works both ways. In fact, it is only when we accept natural laws that miracles become possible. “Nothing can seem extraordinary until you have discovered what is ordinary. Belief in miracles, far from depending on an ignorance of the laws of nature, is only possible in so far as those laws are known” (Miracles 75).
So while God typically acts through his own natural laws, the Bible clearly claims that he acts miraculously as well—and Christians believe both of these claims are made on the highest authority. If God’s creative providence is the same power as his redeeming love, miracles reveal and fulfill the work he began in creation. As Lewis therefore points out, “miracles must of course interrupt the usual course of Nature; but if they are real they must . . . assert all the more unity and self-consistency of total reality at some deeper level” (Miracles 97).
In fact, the various words for miracles in the Bible point to this unity of effort among God’s activities. Our English word miracle derives from the Latin miraculum, referring to an “object of wonder,” but the Bible uses other terms for these events that tell us just why God acts in these ways. For example, Moses repeatedly reminded the sons of Israel of “the great trials that your eyes saw, the signs, the wonders, the mighty hand, and the outstretched arm, by which the LORD your God brought you out” of Egypt (Deu 7:19). And as Peter preached in the first gospel sermon, God raised Jesus from the dead, “a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know” (Acts 2:22). The context of each of these passages (the Exodus and the Resurrection) points to miracles, not as a remedy for nature (as Hume, Einstein and others seem to assume), but for the redemption of a people. As the Hebrews writer points out, miracles “bear witness” to God as Savior by (1) highlighting his message and messengers (signs) and (2) cultivating a sense of reverent awe (wonders), (3) through demonstrations of his own power (powers or mighty works; Heb 2:4 ASV).
This brings us to another important point: since God alone has the power to create all things “both visible and invisible,” only he has the power to interrupt the usual course of nature by suspending his own laws (Col 1:16 ESV). Though Christ gave some of that power to prophets, apostles, and evangelists before and after his resurrection (Luke 10:1-20), these abilities were always given directly by Christ himself or one of the Twelve (Acts 8:14-17). Paul therefore brings together all three terms again in defense of his own ministry, reminding the church at Corinth that, “The signs of a true apostle were performed among you with utmost patience, with signs and wonders and mighty works” (2Co 12:12). But since Paul considered himself the last and least of the apostles (1Co 15:7-9), and we’re separated from the apostolic age by over 1,900 years, the ability to work miracles is once more limited to the providential prerogative of God himself.
This does not mean, though, that the church today is without miracles—we just have to know where to look: “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (John 20:30-31). The miracles recounted in the Bible are therefore glimpses of God’s grand plan for the cosmos. Miracles “have occurred because they are the very thing this universal story is about. They are not exceptions (however rarely they occur) nor irrelevancies. They are precisely those chapters in this great story on which the plot turns” (Lewis, Miracles 157). Like nature, then, miracles serve as signs or pointers to God, that all might come to know him through the testimony of those whom he sent. And it is by weighing the testimony of these inspired writers that we have access to the mind of God himself (1Co 2:12-16).