As far as the miraculous goes, I think it’s best I begin with my own personal experience – though you may THINK that God no longer works miracles, I’ve seen plenty in my time, and many are quite hard to explain within any world-view that isn’t theistic.
In college, one of my friends, a generally all-around bad fellow before he came to Christ, told me that he could sometimes see demons – what he called a very STRONG gift of discernment. On numerous occasions he’d tell me to stop and he’d point to someplace across the street and say, “I see darkness there – something VERY bad is about to happen”, and within minutes a fight would break-out in the exact location he pointed to. Though I never personally experienced such a gift, he was almost always DEAD on, and it happened OFTEN. I’ve talked to him recently, and he claims this gift is still with him to this day.
More than one time in college I heard what I believe was God’s ‘voice’ – not an audible voice, but an overwhelming impression that an idea from outside myself was ringing in my mind. Once, I awoke at 3 in the morning ‘knowing’ that I needed to go to a friend’s apartment, which was almost a mile away. That wouldn’t be so bad, but it was below zero outside, and there was almost a foot of snow on the ground, and I had no car! I went back to sleep, but only for a moment – the idea was still there, and it distressed me severely. I laid in bed for a while and argued with myself, finally giving up, throwing on some boots, a t-shirt, and a thick trench coat (I looked like a flasher, I’m sure), and trudged through the snow to my friend’s apartment. Surprisingly, the lights were still on. As I approached the door, normally locked tight, I noticed it was propped open, so I walked right on in. As I entered the hallway, another friend (one who didn’t live there) busted through a door and nearly knocked me over – his face was red, and his eyes teary. He said, “Thank God! I was praying someone would come!” Turns out several college leaders of the various local ministries were having a HUGE argument – the sort that ends fellowship, and I was the only person that didn’t take a side on their ‘debate’, yet knew all three, and so I became their mediator for the evening. On another occasion, while just passing time between classes, I ‘heard’ that same voice – it simply said “Turn here.” ‘Here’ was a rather nasty, and somewhat dark and creepy, alley between two buildings. But, seeing that I could think of no reason that I would WANT to go down that alley, had no classes, and no place I needed to be, I did it. An acquaintance of mine was behind a dumpster down that alley about to slash his wrists. God used me to stop a suicide and share the gospel with this very friendly Goth guy. Another college experience is when God ‘told’ me who the ‘love of my life’ was going to marry, and I introduced the two (which seemed almost totally out of my control) – it was my first hard lesson about God’s sovereignty – they were married within a year. I only had a few similar experiences while in Athens, GA, but when the ‘voice’ did come I usually attempted to act on it, in a way that was as unobtrusive as possible. For instance, the ‘voice’ usually came while talking to non-believers, and I’d incorporate whatever it told me into the conversation, which usually stopped them in their tracks. I’d be discussing something and say, “So, how was it growing up Presbyterian” or “When did your father leave you”, and it would change the dynamics of the entire conversation because they’d given me no hint whatsoever of those truths.
Since moving to the deep South; One of my friends seemed down one evening, so I asked him what was on his mind. His uncle was in the hospital dying – had been given less that 3 hours to live – and was too far away for him to visit. I just suggested we pray, we prayed, and in a miraculous turn-around that astounded the doctors, he went home healthy and well 2 days later (those 2 days mainly for observation because they were so befuddled by the turn-around. Last I heard, he’s still alive and well.
More recently, just a couple of weeks ago my wife, Cyle, and I went to a conference in Jacksonville. The last day there, while Cyle was getting a few piano tips from a respected musician, I looked over at a young teenager (no older than 15, I’d guess) and a few VERY SPECIFIC phrases popped into my mind. I’d never really seen this girl before, and didn’t know her from eve, and sure as heck wasn’t going to walk up to her and say such things. I prayed over those words for about 15 minutes, then pulled out my journal and wrote them down. Tearing the page from my journal, I folded it and laid it on the (VERY LARGE) stage about 20 feet from the girl (who was looking the other way) and simple prayed “God, if these words are for someone in this room, you are able to lead that person to read them.” I left the room and went to another training session in the other end of the church (and this church is HUGE – it has it’s own TV show and such). An hour or so later as Cyle and I were leaving the church that young woman shout out “Sir” – she had clearly been crying. She asked me if I had written the words that were on the stage, and I nodded – she then asked if they were for her, and I said, “I thought they might be, but just asked that God would lead you to them if they were“, and she said, “They were exactly what I need to hear.”
Now, I’m not some raging ‘Pentecostal’ looking for a miracle under every coincidence – in fact, I’m well read in quantum physics theory, biology, and the philosophy of science, and worked for 4 years at a science research library – meaning I lean towards skepticism in each individual case, and I also note: life is not one big series of miracles (at least, not if understood according to their usual definition – whether or not that understanding of things is correct is certainly up for grabs). But, of course, it wasn’t in the Bible either – it’s just that, like what I wrote above (not mentioning how many days passed between each occurrence, and the ‘normal’ events that took place in them), the Bible mainly engages the more miraculous events – the more profound aspects of God’s revelation in history.
From the church I attended in Athens, GA, for many years I became friends with an older Reformed Presbyterian missionary who had founded multiple seminaries, and published a few books, and ‘hung-out’ with friends like J. I. Packer and John R.W. Stott. That is just to say that he’s not only ‘Presbyterian’, he wrote the book on it (well – one of them: an almost 3, 000 page official history of the Reformed Presbyterian Church in the USA) – this guy was a full-on cessationist: i.e. – he believed that all of the spiritual gifts (including miracles) ended with the apostles and were for the sole purpose to giving credence to, and evidence for, the truth of the Gospel which led to the authoring of the Scriptures – he believed, in essence, that we no longer need miracles because we have God’s written Word in it’s entirety. As much as I respect him, we disagree on this.
Anyway, on one of his missionary journey’s about 4 years ago he traveled to an African tribe who had NEVER heard (there are still many worldwide): in fact, after he could travel no further by car, then had to walk for a day to reach these folks. As soon as they showed up – these ‘white folks’, it began to sprinkle. They were mobbed by the tribe – not violently – but it seemed very strange to these tribes-people that this very strange looking man showed up (they hadn’t seen hardly any Caucasians), and – according to my friend’s interpreter – they’d been in a very serious, multi-year drought – making it even stranger that it began to sprinkle. In the drizzle, he set up his small portable sound system to hold a ‘meeting’ with the tribe…of course the tribe gathered around him, chattering among themselves loudly. When he was ready to begin preaching and teaching the gospel, he grabbed his microphone and said, to his OWN surprise, “God will stop the rain until I am finished speaking, then your drought with be over, and it will rain like you’ve never seen.” I say, ‘to his OWN surprise’ because he had NO IDEA why he had said it, or where the words had come from, and felt quite embarrassed and even worried after saying it – he didn’t believe those sorts of things happened now-a-days. So, he began to preach, and the sprinkling rain immediately ceased – and the tribe was so in awe that they sat and listened for hours. At the end of his teaching time, he bowed his head and prayed, and as soon as he closed, and his interpreter spoke allowed his “amen” the skies just fell – it rained like no rain they, or he, had ever seen! Nearly the whole tribe converted, and he’s been involved in pastoral training there yearly – usually for about a month at a time – since. He’s changed his mind a bit regarding modern day miracles. Yes, I received this first hand from his very mouth – and he was quite humbled by this entire experience, and it had left a clear mark on his life. He was a different person as a result – formerly an academic, and now a man of DEEP passion.
Another story: this one of the twin sister of an old friend, both of whom I am still friends with… She went to Covenant College, which is atop Look-out Mountain in Tennessee, just outside Chattanooga, for any who might not be familiar with the place. This particular day it was raining very hard. If you’ve ever been to visit Covenant college you know that there are far too few guardrails along the route, and far too many steep falls, and the road basically winds it’s way uphill, zigzagging over itself on it’s way upward towards the school. As she was driving home and making her way around one of the many curves she was faced with a car speeding towards her in the wrong lane, and with a prayer and thoughts of her family, she shot off the edge of the cliff anticipating death. Next, not knowing how much time had passed, she awoke suspended upside down, held into her car by her seatbelt. Unbuckling her seatbelt, she fell to the road. Her car was suspended on a large rock at least 10 feet above the road, but as if that wasn’t strange enough, things also just didn’t look quite right. It all became very clear, or all the more confusing, depending on how you look at it, when the cops got there. Now, my friend was hoping to do missionary work in a foreign country later that year, but her parents were afraid of letting her go – they weren’t sure if they could trust God with their daughter’s life, and little did she know, but they had been praying about their decision, whether or not to let her go, the night before. Now, the part I left out before when I was telling the story was the reason she was so confused. You see – there was no road above her from her to have fallen from where she was standing – in fact, judging by the tire-marks on the road, she was standing on the very patch of road she had fallen from; her car had fallen from the right side of the road, up ten feet, and landed on the left side of that same road she had fallen from. The police officer in charge of writing the report, who was an atheist, was chain smoking and yelling at her because he was so frazzled as to what to write; “What am I supposed to write – that a bunch of angels lifted your car to safety and set you on the other side of the road?!!” Afterwards, they pulled her car from the cliff, and towed it to a garage to estimate the damages. Meanwhile her parents had decided, after seeing how God had protected their daughter in what would have definitely otherwise been a fatal accident, that they could indeed trust God with their daughter in a foreign country, in spite of their fears. Unfortunately, if the car needed repairs, money would be very short – she might still not be able to go. The next day they received a phone call from a rather confused mechanic asking them to come to the garage ASAP. Apart from a few small scratches, and one loose wire, her car was unscathed – in perfect running order. While viewing this, it became simply too much for the police officer to bear, and he broke down in tears and prayed and gave his life to Christ. So, in one event God 1.) glorified Himself, 2.) saved one of his children from death, 3.) gave faith to her parents to stand behind her missionary work, 4.) enabled a missionary to spread the gospel with PASSION, 5.) and saved/converted a non-believer. That was a pretty radical event, and I’ve not only seen photo’s the accident site, but know those involved, and was even on the phone with them in the midst of this event.
And, in spite of how all of these OTHER events might seem, that man’s salvation was the greatest miracle that took place that day – you see, for a miracle is where God interrupts the natural course of events. Romans 3:10-12 speaks of our condition accurately I believe; “There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one.” We are so much slaves to our own desires that apart from miraculous regeneration by God’s spirit there is no one who truly seeks the God who IS – we, at best, seek a God of our imagination – a god that we WANT to believe in – not the God of revelation, who is, and is not silent. That’s the most important miracle that there is.
For the sake of getting a comprehensive view of miracles in the Scripture, I’m going to simply list a number of verses about miracles from which we can derive a ‘Big Picture’ of the miraculous, and comment on them each individually. First, miracles reveal God’s nature. John 2:11 states “This, the first of his miraculous signs, Jesus performed at Cana in Galilee. He thus revealed his glory, and his disciples put their faith in him.” Other miracles that Jesus worked to display other aspect of God’s nature. For instance, Jesus’ walking on water and calming of the storm show him to be sovereign over nature, and his healing miracles testified to his identity as the great physician. Secondly, miracles accredit, or give evidence for an individual as a spokesperson for God.
Acts 2:22 makes this clear; “Men of Israel, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know.” Sometimes miracles are used by God to validate the truth of a message, as is mentioned in Hebrews 2:3b-4; “This salvation, which was first announced by the Lord, was confirmed to us by those who heard him. God also testified to it by signs, wonders and various miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will.” Lastly, miracles are also used to bring about faith in God. The greatest example of this was the resurrection, which still stands as one of the greatest apologetics for God’s existence and His work in human history.
I believe there are three main reasons we do not frequently see the sort of spectacular miracles that occurred at the time of Christ. First, it may be, in part, that we lack faith. There seems to be circular relationship between miracles and faith; miracles produce faith, but it take faith to produce miracles. In fact, Mark 6:4-6 implies that there were times when people so lacked faith that he was UNABLE to work miracles among them! That may unnerve me, but it is never the less true.
Secondly, there are many cases where, due to the pervasiveness of a scientific worldview, we often find ourselves explaining away a possible work of God as a mere chance occurrence. We forget that God works in the natural world, and rarely recognize God’s work, even when it’s right before us.
Lastly, however – and this argument is quite unlike the other two — there isn’t as much of a need for them, because we now have the full revelation of God in the Scriptures. We must keep in mind that even in the Bible, astounding miracles were clustered primarily around three limited periods. First was the Mosaic period, as God led his people from slavery to the Promised Land. Second was the prophetic period of later Israel up through the writings of Isaiah. Lastly, the apostolic period of Jesus and His Apostles during the founding of the church and the writing of New Testament scripture. That is not to say that miracles don’t ever happen outside those time periods, because according to Hebrews 13:8 “Jesus Christ is the same today, yesterday, and forever”, but that there are clearly times that God uses miracles as his tool for communicating with us less frequently. Since we have the Scripture, now is one of those times. God’s revelations in the Bible does all that any miracle is to accomplish; the Scripture’s reveal God’s nature, give evidence for the truth or falsity of an individual as a spokesperson for God according to whether or not their message is true to the word of God, the Bible contains a message from God which has been shown reliable over and over again through the centuries, and gives us a huge supply of evidences for God, primarily his work in salvation history. Maybe this is why when we do hear of outrageous miracles taking place, they are often in countries that haven’t yet the incredible availability of the Scriptures – there, they truly need God to make Himself known, to validate the message of those who are bringing the Gospel to them. But to us to have the full revelation of God, 2 Peter 1:3 says, “His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.”
I often personally wonder if our desire to see miracles, in and of itself, doesn’t sometimes verge on sinful. Matthew 12:38-39 says, “Then some of the Pharisees and teachers of the law said to him, “Teacher, we want to see a miraculous sign from you.” He answered, “A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a miraculous sign! But none will be given it except the sign of the prophet Jonah.”” Having given the Pharisees numerous reasons to believe him, Jesus refused to give any miracle but his coming resurrection. The Pharisees were not seeking faith, but only wanted to see a magic trick – to have their fancy tickled. Why do you long to see a miracle? Jesus has never been one for playing along with our games – to paraphrase him, he responded, “If you want to see a miracle, wait till you see what happens after your leaders put me to death.” Is it possible that Jesus is still drawing our eyes away from the temptation of present day miracles to the one that REALLY said it all – the Resurrection? Acts 8:9-24 tells the story of sorcerer named Simon in the city of Samaria. After experiencing a true regeneration of the Spirit he still found the gifts of the Spirit, especially the more miraculous gifts, to be a temptation and a distraction from seeking the one true God. This is the main problem with the miraculous – we all too easily seek the gift rather than the gift-giver.
Also, it appears that miracles are not coercive and can no make someone have faith if their heart is turned against God. In Luke 16:19-31 Jesus tell a parable; “There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day. At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores and longing to eat what fell from the rich man’s table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores. The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried. In hell, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. So he called to him, `Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.’ “But Abraham replied, `Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony. And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.’ “He answered, `Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my father’s house, for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.’ “Abraham replied, `They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.’ “`No, father Abraham, ‘ he said, `but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.’ “He said to him, `If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’” Re-read that last line; “If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.” If your heart is not willing, not even seeing a miracle will convince you, so don’t blame God when you struggle with faith. We do not doubt because of lack of evidence – we doubt in the face of the evidence.
And one final thought:
God was silent for 400 years between the writing of the last book of the Old Testament and the coming of John the Baptist: 400 years of no miracles, no prophecy – nothing: God was silent. If you had lived then, would you be asking the same question – “does God still work miracles?” – with Jesus’ birth right around the corner, unbeknownst to you?
It’s definitely something to consider.