How Can We Believe in the Bible? Part 5 - Miracles
Have you ever seen anyone walk on water? How about healed of their blindness? Or seen the waters of a lake part down the middle? Or cured of leprosy? Or made water flow from a rock? Or made chains fall off all by themselves? Or multiplied your lunch 5000 times?
I haven't. And this is probably one of the biggest criticisms that some people have about the Bible - that its full of miracles and divine interventions that we don't see happening today, so that must mean that the Bible is not true.
And if it were, how could we relate our spiritual lives to the lives of our Biblical heroes? God was obviously very present to them, sometimes even TALKING to them. Does this mean that he is absent to us?
In order to deal with this question effectively, we need to understand a little bit about the world we are reading about when we read the Bible. Miracles had a different meaning to them than they do to us.
When we think "miracle" we automatically presume that it is a SUPERNATURAL event - something that cannot, or would not happen naturally. This is not the way miracles were understood in the Bible.
Biblical heroes would define a miracle as an act of God - ANY act of God - even if that act were a natural one. This includes anything that falls into the supernatural category because, lets face it, bronze age people didn't understand just about EVERYTHING about nature - but they also included everyday things, things we see all the time.
The fact that the sun rose in the morning, EVERY morning, was an act of God. The tree in my front yard growing - that's an act of God. The tides are miracles. Birth is a miracle. Death - is also a miracle. Everything from crops growing, to star patterns remaining fixed in the sky, to the coming of evening and morning every day were seen as signs of the activity of a benevolent creator.
So what does this mean? That the ancients were STUPID? No it doesn't. But it does mean that they will see acts of God as miracles, and will describe them as such, even if they aren't necessarily supernatural.
And I think they aren't wrong about this.
This is not to say that they ALWAYS aren't supernatural - but maybe sometimes.
Here's a good example - I saw a documentary that explained the 10 plagues that hit Egypt, in the Book of Exodus. If you remember the story, Moses told Pharoah to let his people go, Pharoah said "no," Moses said, "Kay fine. Here comes plaque number 1" and so on.
The first plague was that the Nile water turned into the blood. The second was too many frogs. The third was too many flies. Etc. And they seem to be miracles.
But hold on. Epidemics of frogs, flies, locusts, hail, boils, etc., - these are all things that happen naturally. Water doesn't turn into blood mind you - but some archaeologists believe the Nile could have been experiencing one of its mud slides that it happens quite often, in which the water looks red, like blood, and is undrinkable. So that could be natural too.
That kinda takes the punch out of the story doesn't it. It was just a coincidence? And they only thought it was a miracle because they thought EVERYTHING was a miracle? That sounds crappy. What happens to my faith then?
But hold on - maybe there is something TRULY miraculous going on here after all.
Because we need to look at the end result - at first it was that Pharoah kept changing his mind all the time (which by the way doesn't make sense AT ALL unless he figured miracles happen all the time) - but then Pharoah relented and let the slaves go. A LOT of slaves. What would make him do that?
And this is what was interesting about the documentary - it pointed out that a REALLY BAD mud slide could cause all the frogs to jump out of the nile and overrun the country, which would be followed by them all dying and rotting, meaning an epidemic of flies, etc - one plague could have led to another, and another, and another - NATURALLY, but definitely not randomly, and right when Israel needed them to happen too.
As for the last plague - the deaths of the first born Egyptians, well, that could have a natural explanation too - apparently Egyptian first born children got to have a double portion of food; Israelites didn't - so if the food was contaminated by one of the previous plagues, the first born, and ONLY the first born, could have died. Sounds plausible.
And it also sound miraculous. These "natural" events, compounded by the miniscule likeliness of them happened all at the same time, AND right when Israel needed them to happen, when written down in the miraculous language that everyone saw reality with back then, would write the Biblical account EXACTLY as it was written.
And this matches up with the kind of miracles that we see every day. Signs that God is with me - they happen all the time. The way I got my job with Edmonton Catholic Schools; the way I got my dog; the time that lady's car hit me and did NO damage; the beautiful sunrise I saw the other day when I didn't think I had the strength to do to work - MOST of the time, they are not supernatural - and most of time, I could decide to dismiss them as coincidences if I wanted to, just like Pharoah did, and the Israelites did in the desert.
Or I can see them as signs that God is present and active in MY life, just like he was present in the Bible.
Walking on Water
This miracle is a little more on the incredible side. An important difference between this one and that is that this happened to fewer people. Still, it doesn't take the supernatural out of the story.
And note, I didn't say that miracles WEREN'T supernatural. Sometimes they are.
I could also tell you about a few miraculous healings that I've personally witnessed. Weird. And impossible to explain. Available science today says they shouldn't have happened, and yet they did.
So miracles do happen I think - even spectacular ones.
What about walking on water. First off, we have to understand that we aren't talking about just ANYONE walking on water, we're talking about Jesus.
Did it happen? Well, it could have happened; I think Jesus could have walked on water. But notice something very important about the miracles of Jesus - they are never intended to PROVE his divinity - in fact Jesus went to great lengths to ensure that personally- silencing demons, or telling the Apostles to keep what they had witnessed a secret. His miracles were never intended to be proof that he was the Son of God.
Proof that he was the Son of God, well that was his Resurrection - to read all about that click HERE.
In fact, faith is usually not the result of a miracle - faith is a necessary requirement. When Jesus heals people, he often tells them, "Your faith has made you well," and things like that. This means that we often have to have faith FIRST - in order to recognize that God is here, and to recognize what God is doing - spiritual sight.
The miracle accounts ALWAYS had deeper meanings. For example, watery storms, Biblically and mythologically, have commonly symbolized the powers of darkness and chaos - the craziness of life, our stormy times - and Jesus overcoming them - this is clearly a message that no matter how bad things get, Jesus won't be touched by them - and NEITHER WILL WE, so long as we focus on him, just like Peter, who also walked on water, so long as he didn't let himself be discouraged or distracted by the storm around him, but kept his eyes on Jesus.
This is the powerful message we are intended to get from this story - and the admonition to call out to Jesus, like Peter did, when we find ourselves sinking.
So, here are my conclusions:
1 - We need to remember that people in Biblical times saw everything as signs of God's presence - they didn't make the distinction between "natural" and "supernatural" that we do today - everything was a miracle. And they weren't wrong about that.
2 - God is present to us, and acts in our lives all the time - but not always supernaturally. Sometimes its very natural, and could even be dismissed as a coincidence - however for one with the eyes of faith, they will see that its God at work in their lives.
3 - Real healing miracles DO HAPPEN in life - but they aren't documented or on the news often, because they are so unusual, and because I suspect God doesn't want them there. These miracles are often for the sake only of the person they are happening to, not for the whole world.
4 - Biblical stories, including miracle stories, have lessons for us today, and if we consider the story merely as an historical record, we might miss those lessons.