Saturday, November 22, 2014

What is a miracle? Irregular Events that are possible in this world

Exodus 34:10 "Then God said, “Behold, I am going to make a covenant. Before all your people I will perform miracles which have not been produced in all the earth nor among any of the nations; and all the people among whom you live will see the working of the Lord, for it is a fearful thing that I am going to perform with you."

How do we define the word "miracle"? This will be the aim of today's blog as we explore some of the major scriptures that speak on the subject of the miraculous. Below I will put forth some of the key scriptures that mention the miraculous and then propose headings that will aid in arriving at answering the question: What is a miracle? 

Miracles are irregular events
In the opening verse of today's post, God indicates that He is going to "perform miracles that have not been produced in all the earth nor among all the nations." The Hebrew word translated "miracle" is found over 70 times in the Old Testament and is defined by various Hebrew dictionaries as referring to something that is difficult to do, beyond one's ability or treated as a distinguished and separate activity. We could summarize this idea of "miracle" by noting that it is an extremely irregular event. This of course is only one facet of attempting to arrive at a Biblical definition of a miracle. Apologist Dr. Norman Geisler notes in his "Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics", page 472: "In addition to its dimensions, a true miracle has distinguishing marks. The most basic is that a true miracle is an exception to natural law. Natural laws are regular, predictable events, but miracles are special, unpredictable events." Geisler goes on in noting additional attributes of the miraculous that can be helpful in answering our question regarding the definition of a miracle: "a true miracle also produces results; always bring glory to God, bring good to the natural world" and "true miracles never fail." 

An example of how the reality of the miraculous can demonstrate God's existence
Another Christian apologist, Dr. William Lane Craig, refers to miracles as "naturally impossible events", meaning that no natural processes can bring about what is otherwise a miracle. Although I'll be using the phrase: "irregular event", Dr. Craig's idea communicates essentially the same idea as mine. In using Dr. William Lane Craig's discussions on miracles and their place in the course of naturally occuring events, we can propose a sample argument for God's existence. 

Take for example Jesus' resurrection from the dead. Known physical laws and processes describe for us a physical reality in which we should not expect dead men to rise from the dead. Yet Jesus' resurrection from the dead is among the most established events in all of human history. Thus in noting the historical reality of Jesus' resurrection, we can only conclude that it is a miracle, and that in being a miracle, a non-natural, albeit a "Supernatural" cause is behind Jesus' resurrection- namely God Himself. The logic for this line of thinking may go something like this:

#1 Miracles are non-natural events that are naturally impossible events. Only natural events that are naturally possible can occur if in fact the God of the Bible does not exist

#2 History's task is to recount all events that occur, including naturally possible & naturally impossible events

#3 The Gospel records document Jesus' physical resurrection and have been shown under close scrutiny to be reliable documents

#4 Jesus resurrection was a miraculous event that could be classified as occuring as a result of non-natural causes

#5 Jesus resurrection from the dead is a miracle that did occur in history

Therefore, since non-natural events, as well as natural events do occur in our world, and being that non-natural events (such as Jesus resurrection) has been shown to occur, then it only stands to reason that the God of the Bible exists. 

Some further thoughts on "irregular events" and why miracles can be legitimately considered as part of our world This point about irregularity is important because so many skeptics will say that miracles are impossible, being that in the normal course of human experience, no such event can happen? However, if there are irregular events that can occur in history, which may not be experienced regularly by human beings, then does that rule out the miraculous?  

For instance, when I lived in central Florida, there was one year where the storm paths of three hurricanes in once season criss-crossed over the very neghborhood where we lived. For even one hurricane to make it that far inland into central Florida had not occurred in 40 years. Imagine the less liklihood of three hurricanes and their storm paths all criss-crossing one another in one season? 

Are we saying that this highly irregular pattern of hurricanes constitutes a definite miracle. Hardly. There are obviously other traits that need to be considered before saying something is a definite miracle. Consider the following logical statement:

#1 We see the possibility of irregular events occuring in the world; 

#2 and miracles are by definition irregular events 

Therefore it can be rightly concluded that miracles can occur in this world. 

Closing thoughts for now
In beginning to answer the question: what is a miracle? We have proposed thus far that miracles by their essence are events that occur irregularly. This point establishes the possibility of miracles. Tomorrow's post will discuss a second trait that can be used in answering the question: what is a miracle?

More tomorrow....