Defining Miracles

It is always a surprise when someone flips the script on you! When you reach for the expected and are denied. When life takes a left-hand turn from your plan course (recalculating).

This happened to me the other week when I was having coffee with a friend. Karl is a bright and insightful college student and a member of our church plant Core Group. In order to push Karl to think more critically and specifically about his own beliefs and faith, I challenged him to pick a biblical or theological topic (they are not the same thing) and then to write a one paragraph statement about what he thought and believed on the topic. I have untaken this assignment myself and have worked though a number of topics (the Trinity, The Bible, Jesus, etc.). Once Karl had his paragraph in hand, we would compare and contrast own statements. Not in the equivalent of a theological rumble or intellectual throw down, but in mutual growth and development of our faith and beliefs.

With the task before us, I let Karl pick the topic. I figured we would start out with a foundational topic. Maybe even one that we would agree was basic or elementary. I assumed it would be one I had already worked on and written about. But no, Karl flipped the script when he chose miracles.

“Miracles!,” I thought, “I don’t have a codified approach to miracles.” Crap. Now I had to study and probe my own beliefs and those of others before me. With this charge, I had to become the student, the learner and the seeker. I could not sit on my butt and just phone this one in. I was being challenged by my own challenge.

Well played, Karl! Well played, indeed. (I said he was bright).

What follows, is my first attempt to define what a miracle is.  This is not an attempt to deal with the question of the existence of miracles or even their possibility, but simply a definition. If we can’t define something, then there is no way to know if it exists or is possible, since we won’t know what we are talking about. From here I freely admit I am operating within the orthodox biblical worldview where miracles are not only possible but actual. Maybe at a later date I will address the question of whether they are possible or not.

After spending a few hours hearing from Hume (the progenitor of all other philosophical takes on miracles), Augustine and Aquinas, as well has Gounds, Kuyper, Berkhof and Erickson, here is my first attempt (ver. 1.4) at defining a miracle. (*Warning: Latin and theological language ahead.)

A “miracle” is

an observable event or phenomenon,
of God
‘s direct power and influence,
superceeding nature (providentia extraordinaria),
restore order to the disorder inflected on creation by sin,
through humanities exercise of free choice, 
in order to achieve God’s redemptive and soteriological ends
which leads humanity to awe and wonder.



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