What Is a Miracle?

What is it? Do they happen today? Can you experience one?

Let’s get started with a definition.

Theological Definition

Theologically, a miracle may be defined as God’s (or his agent’s) intervention, introduction, or insertion of a new condition or factor that would otherwise be impossible naturally. (Cf. Craig, Reasonable Faith, p. 144)

A more specific definition reads:

A miracle is a less common kind of God’s activity in which he arouses people’s awe and wonder and bears witness to himself. (Grudem, Systematic Theology, p. 355)

The words “less common” implies that God sustains and governs the universe, but specific miracles such as those found in Scripture or healings today do not happen as often or are “less common” than his constant governance.

Their Context

As noted, such miracles take place in a religious context, so they are not bizarre anomalies. Such miracles often take place after prayer—even a one-word prayer of “help!” Miracles of healing, for example, eliminate abnormalities attacking human health.

Some theologians have called the abnormalities parasites attached to the good (health). These destructive conditions describe evil perfectly. Healing miracles purge out or destroy or correct debilitating conditions, such as shrinking tumors to nothing, repairing bent and dislocated bones, and restoring sight and hearing, to cite only these examples.

It is true that modern medical treatments like chemo-therapy can destroy cancer cells, for example (and there is nothing wrong with seeking medical attention), but miracles of divine healing take on a new dimension of God’s intervention coinciding with prayer, as we have seen in the examples listed above. As Dr. Lewis rightly concludes from his observations (see below), many miracles he witnessed and researched cannot be attributed to natural processes alone or at all.

Does a Miracle Violate Nature?

Theologically speaking, a miracle is not a violation or transgression of the laws of nature, even if it destroys a metastasized tumor or cancer cells, which are abnormalities in human health. It does not violate or transgress God’s laws even if Jesus turns water into wine or walks on water. Instead, it inserts new material conditions to which the laws of nature apply (See Larmer, Water into Wine? pp. 3-30, though he may not agree entirely with my own conclusions).

More importantly, the words “violation” and transgression” have a negative, even criminal connotation. Therefore, nor is a miracle an intrusion or in-breaking in the sense of capriciousness or burglary even, but in the positive sense of rescuing. God as hero saves us, perhaps at the last minute. He is not capricious, for his character is good, and he acts with purpose, even if we do not or cannot come to know it; we have a limited epistemic point of view. Nonetheless, he is free to walk onto his own property (the universe), so to speak, without violating or transgressing any of his own laws—the very laws he created.

Therefore, God’s actions in the world are positive and redemptive. They show his love for people without violating or transgressing any of his own laws, as if he were a home invader or a rapist of Mother Nature.

For example, if a prison warden allows a concert in chapel, then he commits no violation or transgression of the rules. He calls for them within the limits of his own authority. But if a lone guard does this for his own purposes and without permission, then this would be a violation or transgression because he does not act as a rightful authority.

The existence of God lifts the analogy beyond the human level. More than a warden, God does not violate or transgress anything of his creation when miracles occur, because he is the final authority over it. God inserts a new factor (miracle) and then nature accommodates it. As C. S. Lewis says (see the previous link), miraculous wine still intoxicates, miraculous bread is still digested and nourishing, and a miraculous conception still has to go through nine months of pregnancy and then a painful birth. Normal, natural processes say, “If A, then B.” A miracle says, “If A2, then B2.”

In fact, Christians who understand the Bible believe that the universe will not last forever because God will exercise his right even to destroy part of his creation and make another one or to renew parts of the first (Matt. 24:35; Heb. 12:27; 2 Pet. 3:10). So if he destroys cells that are abnormal to human health, then this action is minor, when contrasted with his rights over his entire creation in the Last Days. God owns it, so he gives himself permission to renovate it, to improve—redeem—it.

Thankfully, he gives himself permission to renew the human body at times by eliminating abnormalities, such as diseases, and by restoring normality to such impairments as dislocated bones, dysfunctional limbs, and non-functioning eyes and ears—all working normally after miracles are effectuated. But the laws of nature will have their way, as he ordains them. Even a person completely healed of cancer will die eventually.

Testimonies of Miracles Today

This passage, representing other summaries, encapsulates in a few words the healing ministry of Jesus in Israel, several decades prior to the Roman destruction of the Temple in AD 70:

30 Great crowds came to him, bringing the lame, the blind, the crippled, the mute and many others, and laid them at his feet; and he healed them. 31 The people were amazed when they saw the mute speaking, the crippled made well, the lame walking and the blind seeing. And they praised the God of Israel. (Matt. 15:30-31)

That passage assumes that the power of God (Luke 6:19) is real and heals the infirm. “And they praised the God of Israel.”

A small, representative sample of miracles today follows:

1. Robert A. Larmer, professor of philosophy at University of New Brunswick, offers this testimony: . . . “For example, my minister [of a charismatic church], whom I know to be of good character and judgment, tells me that his father experienced an overnight recovery from the last stages of cancer that has been diagnosed as terminal by a number of doctors, and . . . his report is confirmed by a large number of people acquainted with his father” . . . (“Miracles and Testimony,” p. 130)

2. A woman in my own church tells a similar story. The CT scan showed that she had cancer, but in the early stages. After prayer, the next CT scan showed the cancer disappeared. A misdiagnosis? The oncologist would disagree.

3. The senior pastor of my church was a businessman before he went into ministry. One of his employees injured her leg. He asked permission to pray for it, and she allowed him. Immediately, she could walk normally. This was done in private without cameras or a charged up atmosphere, though an exciting atmosphere of a large conference on healing is perfectly legitimate.

4. An associate pastor of my church tells a similar story. As he was going out of a restaurant, a man walking with crutches was coming into the restaurant. The pastor, though not knowing the man, asked permission to pray for him, and the injured man, somewhat surprised, allowed it. After praying for him and exchanging pleasantries, the pastor left, walking toward his car. As he was driving away, he noticed the man outside the restaurant, carrying his crutches, waving them triumphantly and indicating that he no longer needed them. Evidently, the man was healed. This happened without cameras or a charged up atmosphere, though an exciting atmosphere of a large conference on healing is legitimate.

The following miracles are found in D. C. Lewis’s book Healing: Fiction, Fantasy or Fact? Lewis has a Ph.D. in Social Anthropology. He is a Fellow of the Royal Anthropological Institute. He conducted research on the Harrogate Conference (England) in the autumn of 1986, led by John Wimber, founder of the Vineyard Churches. Some 2,470 people attended, and 1,890 returned a questionnaire. One hundred were chosen at random, and they were followed up for a period of six months to over a year. The scientific method in the social sciences was carefully followed throughout Lewis’ investigation (pp. 15-16; and see Appendix A).

5. In investigating the claimed healings during the follow-ups, someone (an “informant”) reports after receiving prayer: “My left hip was alright for some months, when I felt pain coming again . . . So I asked some brothers to pray for me for a second time. Since then I do not feel any more pain in my left hip” (p. 25).

6. In another follow-up, an “informant” wrote regarding his or her total healing of a hernia after prayer: “I have never had any trouble with the hernia whatsoever” (p. 25).

7. One man wrote on the questionnaire about his twisted ankle. “After prayer, the pain was gone! I tried to make it come back by twisting to what would have been uncomfortable but it was OK . . . Talk about stunned.” Fifteen months later he wrote: “I’ve had no problems with the ankle since the healing. I’ve tested this out with various sports like squash, badminton and some running without any reaction” (p. 26).

8. A nurse reports that “the physical healing I received for my old prolapsed disc injury was complete for about seven months. I was totally pain free and unrestricted in movement and/or exercise and stress related activities.” However, she reinjured it after an overweight patient shifted her weight onto the nurse when she was lifting the patient (p. 26).

9. It is difficult to measure a leg lengthening when it grows out by a half an inch, even if God works a miracle. It could be attributed to natural processes. However, this report says that someone’s leg was lengthened by an inch-and-a-half, during the process of prayer. “We prayed for my leg: I watched the leg come level with my right leg and even heard it grow—like breaking wood. I could not walk right for twenty years . . . I didn’t wear a built-up shoe, just limped . . . They prayed for my hip to come back to the position it should be—I feel it has. For the first time in twenty-one years I can walk without discomfort or pain, it seems level to me” (p. 38).

10. A woman complained of extra-sensitive teeth. Cold air or hot tea caused a lot of pain. Her written report on her healing is lengthy, but in the end, her dentist wrote on August 18, 1987: “Routine dental check up. Patient no longer complains of sensitive teeth” (p. 40).

11. In a case outside of the Wimber conference, Lewis reports total blindness being healed. An article in the November / December 1988 issue of Prophecy Today says that “twenty-three-year old Christine Newton from Durham who was born blind but after receiving prayer for healing ‘felt her eyeballs grow and when she opened her eyes she could see—for the first time in her life! . . . At first her sight was dim, but it has become gradually clearer each day. Now she is learning to read and write’” (p. 288, Appendix C).

12. In an earlier conference at Sheffield, England, led by John Wimber, a man was healed of acute insomnia and his wife was healed of deafness. These cases lie outside of Lewis’ study of the Harrogate conference, so he includes them in Appendix C. He writes: “However, because they were written at least a year after the events described they do provide some further evidence of the persistence of physical healings . . . it seems difficult to attribute the healings to known medical processes” (p. 289). The patient reports on his prayer session with two American youths, who irritated him with their casual attitude and gum chewing. He slept well that night, but attributed it to a “real tiredness.” Then he reports:

…The next day my wife was prayed for, for deafness. She was instantly healed! That night, having gone to bed, she awoke me at approximately 1:30 a.m. I was rather irritated, as from past experience the chances of returning to sleep for me were rather slim. “What’s wrong with you?” I asked. She said that she couldn’t sleep because she could hear the alarm clock ticking!! She then reminded me I was healed. I resumed sleep, and have had only one night in the past year when I have not slept well. PS: My wife still has problems with hearing too much at night! (pp. 289-90, Appendix C)


God loves you.

We can experience miracles today. They really do happen. Someone with completely non-functioning eyes can see after prayer in Jesus’ name. Just because modern men and women do not witness such miracles does not mean that they do not happen. Modernists need to investigate before passing negative judgment. The age of science does not slam the door shut on miracles; in fact, technology can be used to verify them to the satisfaction of reasonable observers, not hyper-skeptical ones who are too eager to discredit them as miniature Bermuda triangles or as images of Jesus appearing in tortillas.

Since the Gospel miracles happened, the Gospel worldview is confirmed. It is the (bodily) resurrected Jesus Christ whom I encounter in my human existence, through the Spirit of the living God. He shapes and gives my existence purpose—a divine, existential act that is missing in people today, who drift around like icebergs, cold and isolated.


What Are Signs and Wonders and Miracles?

This series of articles has been posted at americanthinker.com between December 2006 and January 2007.

1. Miracles: Introduction
2. Hume’s Miracle Prison: How They Got Out Alive
3. Fortifying Hume’s Miracle Prison: Miracles and Historical Testimony
4. Miracles and the Laws of Nature
5. Do Miracles Happen Today?
6. Miracles: Conclusion
7. Bibliography on Miracles

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