"My humanity is bound up in yours, for we can only be human together." “When I hear people say politics and religion don't mix, I wonder what Bible they are reading.” (Archbishop Desmond Tutu)

"And what does the Lord require of you but to do justly, and to love kindness and mercy, and to humble yourself and walk humbly with your God?" Micah 6.8

"Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable--if anything is excellent or praiseworthy--think about such things." Philippians 4.19

"Work out your salvation with fear and trembling." Philippians 2.12

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Continuing with miracles again

So, when we said that miracles were signposts which point to God, what does that mean? What are miracles for?

"Well it's God doing stuff, isn't it?"


"Because he can?"

Our text book offers us a number of possibilities. Miracles are:
* To reveal the power and knowledge of God
* To reveal God's immanence
* To reveal his love and care for his creation.

Personally, I don't find these categories particularly helpful: I think they are making a complex idea unnecessarily more so but we have to go with them because the exam board might make them the basis of a question.

There is some conversation about the nature of God's immanence.

Why is it so hard to accept the idea that if God exists he is active and busy in the world? (This doesn't seem the time - or possibly the age group - to bring up the Holy Spirit. I suspect several of their circuits would overload and burn out and I'd have to fill forms in.)

"But why some people and not others?" So we pick up more or less where we'd left off. The teenager has an innate sense of justice issues and I'm not surprised by this line of questioning - for which I have no answer.

That's why the topic is fraught for believers.

"But if God is active and busy in the world why doesn't he stop wars and earthquakes and all the suffering?"

Now we have covered suffering and evil as a topic and it does seem to be a significant stumbling block to belief. We add miracles into the mix and they are full of indignation.

"So you're saying he could, but he doesn't. He has the power but he doesn't use it."

We quickly revise the concept of free will and the role of human responsibility but that doesn't particularly help the discussion that miracles show God's control over, or concern for, world events.

Remind me about the omnis.

"I know this. I know this. Ask me."

Well, as you're the only one who does Chloe, go for it.

"Omnipotent means God is all powerful, Omniscient means that God knows everything, Omnipresent means that God is in all places at the same time and Omnibenevolent means that God is all loving."

(A* target grade, that one.)


"Well if God is all powerful he can do anything."

Omnibenevolent anyone? Tom?

"If he's all loving as well then when he does a miracle it's for our benefit."

Omniscient? Hassan?

"Does it mean he knows what we need?"

Go on.

"Well, he loves us and he can do anything so if he knows what we need then he can act."

Does knowing what we don't need come into it?

There is animated conversation about miracles as answers to prayer and selfish prayers but I am conscious that I don't want them to lose sight of the definition we are working towards, so we revisit the definition.

A dramatic and unusual event that goes against the laws of nature and is caused by God or one of his agents. I remind them.

"It's the laws of nature bit that I don't get."

Why Chloe?

"If God has set the natural laws any intervention that disturbs them would be dead dramatic wouldn't it? Wouldn't we all notice if, like, gravity was suspended?"

"Why couldn't it be localised? If God's doing a miracle for someone in Africa, we wouldn't need to know would we?"

Then how does that show God's power?

"But it'd be all over the news, right? That would show God's power."

"But Sir said the media don't know how to report religious stuff, so they wouldn't cover it."

Or they'd find a way to explain it away in natural terms. Just think back to Simon Teece. The doctors get the credit.

"Then God can't win."


O.K. How about breaking the laws of nature by doing something nature can do but not in that order?

"What do you mean?"

Well think about it. The natural order is life then death. How about living after death. Would that be a miracle?

"Yes but that doesn't happen."

It does according to Christianity.

"Oh the Jesus thing."

The Jesus thing? Is that what we're calling the resurrection now?

Or the sun orbiting the earth?

"I think we might notice that. So what you're saying is that apart from the miracles of the Bible there haven't been miracles that break the laws of nature and the alleged miracles from more recent times are questionable because they don't break the laws of nature?"

That's about it I guess.

"So there aren't miracles any more?"

It depends on your definition of miracles.

"But you said there was only one."

No. I said that's our working definition. What about miracles that are happy coincidences?

I find a story on the INTERNET about a woman skydiver whose parachute failed to open but she landed in a tree and survived with superficial cuts and grazes.

She was a believer and put her survival down to God but it doesn't meet the original definition. Why?

"Because people can survive falling out of the sky."

"No they can't."

Well this lady did and I'm sure you can find more examples like that all over the INTERNET.

"But if it was a coincidence God can't be involved."

Why not?

"Because most people will always go for the rational explanation. It was a coincidence and it was always going to turn out that way. If she'd started out another 20 ft to the left she'd have missed the tree completely and gone splat."

"So you don't need God at all."

But you can still have him.

"It doesn't prove God was involved."

"But it doesn't prove he wasn't either."

"This is hard."

Well the good news is that we don't have to come up with an answer. All we need to be able to do is argument and counter-argument.

How about Every Day Miracles?

Blank looks.

Don't people call childbirth a miracle?

"Well yes but it's not a miracle is it, even though its wonderful and everything?"

So God's not involved?



"He could be. We don't know."

He could be. We don't know.

There are loads of Every Day Miracles. Give me some more examples.


"No, because that's not every day."

"Yes it is, only it's so slow we don't notice."

That would do for me.

Miracles that show God's power?

"Don't they all?"

Yes but these are overt.

"How is that different from the original definition?"

Because although they are dramatic and unusual, they don't break the laws of nature but they unquestionably point to God's activity.

"Give us an example."

No. You give me one.

This is a struggle, but we come up with Jesus' healing miracles on the basis that although they appear to be happy coincidences, they were performed by one of God's agents to make a religious point.

"Hang on. How many definitions have we got now?"

Er ..miracles which show God's power; miracles which break the laws of nature; miracles which are happy coincidences and miracles which are everyday events.

"And the exam board could ask us about them?"

Yup. No pressure, then.


You may say that. I couldn't possibly comment.


  1. How I envy your ability to lead a Socratic dialogue - especially with that particular age group. You're good, buddy.

  2. Cheers Russ.

    Actually that's the easy bit. It's getting them to write anything down that's the problem. They hate writing.

  3. I hear you. But at least you get them thinking, and that's a start.

  4. OMG - if only there was this sort of in-depth struggling with the faith in the pews. The questions are there but rarely get expressed by adults. Except when tragedy strikes and there's the usual "Why did God allow this" response.

    And you could have thrown into the mix the story of the sun standing still (Joshua?) so that the Israelites could win the battle. Fit that one into the "natural law" bracket!

  5. I've really enjoyed reading this series of posts. Makes you think eh?

  6. Saintly,
    present company excepted, do you think the average sermon encourages this level of deep thinking and constructive engagement?
    It's open ended, many clergy are quite nervous about that.

  7. Since I don't really hear any preaching except that done with my own voice I can't really answer that. I only hope that throughout my years of standing in the pulpit I've conveyed a sense of unknowing and question and exploration rather than dogma. Otherwise we don't walk a path of faith but tread the tarmac road of evidence.

  8. Saintly, I know whay I said "present company excepted"!