What exactly ARE miracles?

by Daniel Carrington

Are miracles just things that we can’t explain? Are they violations of natural law? Are they figments of our imagination? Are they really acts of God?

The concept of miracles, how to describe what they are (and by extension, what they are not) and how to identify when one has occurred is a very tricky thing, indeed. The very idea of a miracle is difficult to get our minds around. Popular culture and bad rhetoric from non-believers just make it all the more challenging.

For one thing, the term “miracle” is often misused in many people’s every day speech. People will use the term to describe some highly improbably turn of events, like the Cardinals winning the Super Bowl or their 7 year old using their manners and politely declining a second dessert after dinner at their friend’s house.

If a sports team not known for making it to the playoffs and having winning seasons makes it to the championship, that is not a miracle. It is the result of a combination of hard work, determination, good decisions, good timing and executing better than the other teams. All of these things are explainable by normal, ordinary, mundane facts. Yet, many people will mistakenly use the term “miracle” when such things happen.

When it comes to this sort of thing, let’s please agree to be more careful when we use this term as we are guilty of abusing it to the point that it has little meaning any more. But that leads us to the question, when is it appropriate to use it?

Well, perhaps the first thing we should do is define what we mean by a legitimate “miracle.” A miracle is merely an instance of God acting in the world in a less common manner than usual. That certainly doesn’t seem to help much at this point, though, does it?

The reason for defining it this way is to attempt to be careful about how miracles have often been defined for a number of years. It is common for people to think of a miracle as a “violation” of natural laws. This seems to be a poor definition, however, as it puts God in a position of being some sort of rule-breaker. Or, since He is the rule-maker, He may be thought of as acting as though He were “above the Law.” Since God is a God of justice, and since He is the Law, he neither breaks rules nor is immune to them…

What exactly ARE miracles?