How Does God Work Today? Miracles and Providence
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As Christmas approaches, I find myself preaching on the miraculous events surrounding Christ’s birth in the gospels of Matthew and of Luke. Though our culture is loath to admit it, there’s no good reason to think that miracles cannot happen, as I’ve argued here. Our culture is not the only one at fault when it comes to miracles, however; Christians also have an unhealthy love of the miraculous sometimes. I am convinced that God almost never does a miracle for three reasons:
2. God’s miracles almost always have a significant theological point.
My second reason for thinking that God rarely does miracles is that working through providence instead of miracles is God’s modus operandi (MO) that we see in scripture. Think about where the miraculous events are in the Bible, and you will see that they are clustered together. After the miraculous events surrounding creation, God doesn’t do very many miracles for a long time. In fact, the book of Genesis has few, if any, explicit miracles in it; not until Moses comes on the scene in the book of Exodus do we have clear, explicit, undeniable miracles. God did miracles around Moses’s time because he was working through Moses to establish not only the nation of Israel but also the religion of Judaism.
After Moses, the Old Testament has very few miracles if it has any at all. There’s simply nothing on the level of turning the Nile into blood (Exodus 7) for thousands of years. That’s not to say that God wasn’t working; he was definitely very active. It is simply God’s MO to work through providence except at times of special theological importance.
Once the Old Testament rolls into the New Testament, Jesus comes on the scene. Jesus doesn’t do any miracles for about thirty years until he begins his ministry. Once he begins his ministry, Jesus does many miracles such as walking on water, feeding 5,000 people with the equivalent of a happy meal, and, sorry Baptists, turning water into wine. The reason for the sudden burst of miraculous activity is that Jesus wanted to make extremely clear that he was not just some good teacher or Pharisee.
God then does the ultimate miracle: He raises Jesus from the dead. God didn’t do this just for fun. Instead, the resurrection of Christ is God’s seal of approval upon the life and teachings of Jesus. In other words, God does the miracles that surround Jesus’s life with the purpose of authenticating Jesus’s message. God’s MO is to do miracles at times of great theological significance, such as the founding of Judaism or the authentication of Christ’s ministry.
The final group of miracles in the Bible follows closely upon Christ’s post-resurrection ascension into heaven. According to the book of Acts, when the Christians receive the Holy Spirit, they begin doing miracles such as speaking in tongues, healing the lame, and escaping from prison in ways that would make Houdini jealous. The reason for all the miraculous activity in the book of Acts is that God was doing something very special: God used the miraculous events in the books of Acts to establish his Church. After the Church is established, the New Testament doesn’t mention many miracles.
Here’s the important point: God does miracles primarily at times of great theological importance. God doesn’t waste miracles; when God performs a miracle, he almost always has some exceedingly important purpose in mind. In the Bible, the miracles are grouped around the founding of Judaism by Moses, the life and times of Jesus of Nazareth, the God-man, and the founding of the Church. God doesn’t do miracles very often because it is rare that some event takes place that is so momentous that it requires a miracle.
I firmly believe that God is active in the world and that he can do anything logically possible; however, I also firmly believe that the primary way God works is through providence instead of through miracles: God prefers to work through his creation instead of going over his creation. In doing so, however, he shows just how wise he truly is. After all, it takes a lot more wisdom and creativity to work through the natural order than it does to bend the natural order to your will.
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