On February 22, 1980, sportscaster Al Michaels uttered the greatest phrase in the history of sportscasting: “Do you believe in miracles? Yes!” The occasion, of course, was at the end of one of the biggest upsets (if not the biggest) in all of sports–the US men’s hockey team defeated the heavily favored Soviet team 4-3. This was a group of amateur American hockey players–mostly teenagers–competing against probably the best professional team in the world at the time. You may have at least seen or heard of the movie they made about it.
I am a big hockey fan, and this was undoubtedly one of the brightest moments in USA Hockey history. It was certainly a significant and unexpected upset.
But it was not a miracle. Sorry.
To say something like that, though, I suppose I’d better make it clear what constitutes an actual miracle.
In my research for this “episode”, I hadn’t been able to find a satisfying definition of what a miracle really is. The closest definition I had found in a secular source was this:
An extraordinary event manifesting divine intervention in human affairsMerriam-Webster Dictionary
That comes pretty close, but in timing that only God can orchestrate, the pastor at my church (Brady Boyd at New Life Church) spoke briefly while introducing a guest preacher on Sunday. In his comments, he gave this outstanding definition:
“A miracle is when the divine God comes into our natural world and changes something that only he can.”Brady Boyd, October 3, 2021
Based on both of these definitions, then, it would seem that the “Miracle on Ice” was really just a remarkable, unexpected, and unusual occurrence, but not a miracle.
Miracles as Signposts
The Bible, of course, is full of descriptions of actual miracles. Here I will reiterate an acknowledgement that I am using the Bible as a source text to demonstrate that the claims of Christianity are true, which may seem to be circular logic. I will address the truth and veracity of the Bible in an upcoming post.
So what is the point of recording miracles in the Bible? In John 14, Jesus explains why it was important for the miracles he performed to be remembered:
“Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the works themselves.”Jesus, as recorded in John 14:11 (NIV)
In other words, even if you don’t believe what I say, you should believe in the miracles I have performed, which you have seen with your own eyes (i.e., “evidence“).
Earlier in my faith journey, I asked an associate pastor friend of mine why Jesus didn’t do more miracles to remove all doubt from everyone alive in his time in his little corner of the world. Wouldn’t that have made Christianity spread faster, and make it easier for people to believe in him today? I don’t remember what his answer was, but I do remember that it was unsatisfying.
Here’s how I would answer my own question, many years further along in studying the Bible and growing deeper in relationship with its Author: For one thing, John said at the end of his Gospel that Jesus did quite a number of other things as well, but there simply wasn’t enough room to record them all (John 20:30 and 21:25). For another thing, there were people who witnessed Jesus’ miracles first-hand, yet their hearts remained hardened–so seeing miracles would not guarantee belief. Incidentally, the group of people whom this happened to the most were the religious people, who thought they already had God figured out, and Jesus didn’t fit into their neat little box.
I also believe there’s an element of faith involved here as well. Whether you observe a miracle or read about it in the Bible, you have to be willing to accept that the divine God will come into our natural world to change something that only he can. If you refuse to believe that, you will try to devise and/or accept other (supposedly) “scientific” explanations, no matter how implausible or how impossible it is to achieve the same outcome if you repeat the steps leading up to the event, which is a requirement to prove something using the scientific method (i.e., repeatability).
To summarize this section, the purpose of miracles is to point to Jesus/God by substantiating the power and the work of Jesus/God.
Wait a Minute–There Were People Who Saw Miracles But Didn’t Believe Them??
It’s true. An even better example of this than the ones I alluded to above is documented in Matthew 28, after Jesus’ resurrection:
Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted.Matthew 28:16-17 (NIV, emphasis added)
It doesn’t say who it was that doubted, but at least one of Jesus’ 11 remaining disciples doubted that he had really risen from the dead! Granted, this would be a difficult thing to accept when you have no lens through which to view it (What do you mean he rose from the dead? Dead is dead!), but on the other hand, these people had traveled with Jesus for 3 years and had seen him perform all kinds of miracles, including raising Lazarus from the dead.
So what does this mean?
For one thing, it’s OK to doubt miracles. God can take it. He will find other ways to reach you.
For another thing, since each of these disciples went on to do great things to further God’s kingdom on earth, presumably they came around and realized that Jesus really had risen from the dead. Meaning, be patient with God and he will be patient with you. Again, he will find other ways to reach you if miracles are unconvincing to you at first.
Also, in the end, it would seem that miracles cannot create faith; they can only support and nourish a faith that already exists.
If God Can Perform Miracles, Why Don’t We See More of Them?
Usually the context of a question like this is something along the lines of, Why didn’t God answer my prayer? or, perhaps even more specifically and poignantly, Why didn’t God heal my loved one? I’m afraid there aren’t satisfying answers to these questions. I have some theories that I’ll cover some other time, but ultimately we will need to add them to the list of questions we want to ask God when we meet him face-to-face.
In terms of the frequency of miracles, the question might go something like this: If God performed so many miracles during Biblical times, why doesn’t he perform any (or as many) nowadays? To that I would say, He is performing miracles all the time–we just may not have eyes to see them. For example, our culture has a tendency to explain away something as coincidence that could just as easily be God’s intervention–orchestrating events in unlikely ways to achieve an outcome. Or answer a prayer.
This is why I say I don’t believe in coincidences.
Also, if we go back to the earlier definitions of a miracle, I would contend that God frequently comes into our natural world and changes things that only he can. There are great examples of this all around us: every time God breaks into the hardened heart of someone and turns that person toward him, that’s a miracle. A selfish person is made to care about others; an impatient, ill-tempered person becomes loving, patient, and kind; an entitled person is awakened to the reality of the blessings that rain down on us from heaven and adopts a posture of gratitude.
These are changes that God is making in me and so many others.
These are miracles, and they are still happening, every day and all around the world.
As a post script, I wanted to include a great quote I found from Tim Keller while I was doing my research for this post. It’s an excellent perspective on miracles, but it’s also a bit long, which is why I wanted to include it here at the end.
We modern people think of miracles as the suspension of the natural order, but Jesus meant them to be the restoration of the natural order. The Bible tells us that God did not originally make the world to have disease, hunger, and death in it. Jesus has come to redeem where it is wrong and heal the world where it is broken. His miracles are not just proofs that he has power but also wonderful foretastes of what he is going to do with that power. Jesus’s miracles are not just a challenge to our minds, but a promise to our hearts, that the world we all want is coming.Keller, Timothy. The Reason for God (pp. 95-96). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition