Category Archives: Miracles

Understanding Miracles: The Sovereignty of God

God works sovereignly, whether through ordinary or extraordinary means. While reading some material on the topic of hermeneutics, I came across the following paragraphs which I found helpfully clarifying on the topic of God’s miraculous providence.

Sidney Greidanus, The Modern Preacher and the Ancient Text, 39-40:

“The Bible, however does not set God and nature over against each other as two autonomous entities. On the contrary, nature is God’s handiwork which responds obediently to his bidding: ‘He sends forth his command to the earth; his word runs swiftly,’ and God’s creation responds with snow, ice, or rain–whatever God’s word calls for (Ps. 147:15-18; cf. 148:8). Hence the regular patterns we observe in creation are not immutable laws of autonomous nature but rather creation’s regular responses to the constancy of God’s words or laws (see Gen. 8:22). The sovereign God is not locked into these regular patterns, however; he is free, naturally, to vary his word, and then creation responds in unique ways.

“It must also be recognized that according to the Bible God performs many of his miracles by ‘natural’ means. For example, the miraculous conception of Samuel to the barren Hannah came about by quite natural means: ‘Elkanah knew Hannah his wife, and the Lord remembered her’ (1 Sam 1:19). Similarly, the miracle of Israel crossing the Sea of Reeds on dry ground was accomplished by natural means: ‘The Lord drove the sea back by a strong east wind all night, and made the sea dry land’ (Exod 14:21). Later, the crossing of the Jordan may well have been made possible by a landslide at Adam blocking the water of the Jordan, thus drying up the riverbed opposite Jericho (Josh 3:16). Should we deny that these were miracles because the Bible points to so-called natural causes? But then we may overlook that God works in regular, natural ways as well as unique ways, mediately as well as immediately. It is clear, moreover, that Israel celebrated these events as miracles not because they ‘violated natural law’ but because they were unexpected and therefore surprising; the timing of these events clearly revealed God at work. Hence these miracles were perceived as fulfillment of God’s prior promises or his answer to prayer. As Goldingay notes with respect to the Exodus, ‘The marvel was not essentially something quite inexplicable, but something quite unexpected. It intervened to break the bounds of what could have been envisaged in the situation, and Israel responded with wonder.

“Another problem with defining miracles as ‘violations of natural law’ is that this definition overlooks that fact that we now live in a fallen creation where, for example, enslavement, sickness, and death appear to be natural. Is it indeed the case that liberation, healing, and resurrection from the dead are contrary to the ‘laws of nature’? They may be contrary to what we have come to expect in this world, but from the perspective of God’s good creation and his coming kingdom, enslavement, sickness, and death are unnatural, and liberation, healing, and eternal life are natural (Gen 2-3; Rev 21:4). From that perspective, then, miracles are not to be seen as ‘unnatural’ but as signs of God’s kingdom breaking into our fallen world, provisional indications of the restoration of God’s creation to its original goodness.

“Accordingly, miracles should be thought of not as ‘violations of natural law’ but as outstanding, exceptional acts of God, signs which point to God’s power and faithfulness (cf. Ps 107:20), events which create a sense of wonder. In agreement with biblical teaching, miracles have been defined as occasional evidences of direct divine power in actions striking and unusual, yet by their ‘beneficence pointing to the goodness of God.’ Miracles, in short, are signs of God’s kingdom.”[1]

I think Greidanus makes a convincing case for using more precise language when speaking of God’s activity in our world. Instead of speaking of miracles as being God’s intervention (or reversal of our normal circumstances), it would be better to distinguish between the ordinary (normative, expected) and extraordinary (unusual, unexpected) activity of God. In both cases, He uses His created means to accomplish His purpose–whether we deem it natural or supernatural, it’s ultimately the activity of God. Many of us have spoken, erroneously, of God intervening in human affairs during miracles–as though He were conspicuously absent from any involvement in the world when “miracles” are not taking place. The reality is that He is always actively engaged in the created order, but He generally goes unnoticed (except for those who look at His meticulous providence with the eyes of faith) since His activity works through “natural order” where God resides “behind the scenes.”

However, in the case of “miracles” God works “front and center” rather than “behind the scenes,” and performs unexpected outcomes through various means (weather patterns, human body’s healing capacity, or even the unexplained ‘supernatural’ means, etc) that appear natural but are always supernatural in the sense that God ordains them. It’s just a matter of how much we recognize God in His hidden providence of ordinary activity (natural order) and His visible providence of extraordinary activity (miracles). After all, God created everything, and He holds all things together (Gen 1; Col 1), whether He chooses to work in expected, ordinary means or unexpected extraordinary ones..

May God give us the eyes of faith to see His mighty actions in everything around us from the breath we draw to the snow that falls to the unexpected healing of someone stricken with terminal cancer!! And may we worship Him as completely good and sovereign even when He chooses not to display His power in such wondrous and extraordinary ways.

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[1] Sidney Greidanus, The Modern Preacher and the Ancient Text: Interpreting and Preaching Biblical Literature (Grand Rapids: Wm. Eerdmans Publishers, 1988), 39-40. Greidanus aslo has some wonderful stuff on the topic of preaching Christ from the Old Testament: Preaching Christ from the Old Testament, Preaching Christ from Genesis, Preaching Christ from Ecclesiastes.

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