In this episode of The Christian Philosopher we discuss the topic of miracles and cover:
- What a miracle is
- How miracles are possible
- The four conditions required for a true miracle
- Why Christ worked miracles
- The primary Christian miracle of the resurrection of Jesus from the dead.
The Definition Of Miracle
St. Thomas Aquinas defines a miracle generally as “Miracles are works done by God outside the order usually observed in things.” (S.C.G.
“A work done by God” – not something we can do.
“Outside the order usually observed in things” - This is important because, by definition, miracles must be RARE. If water always turned into wine, we wouldn’t recognize it as a miracle.
In other words, there needs to be a background of the ways things usually work, laws of nature, and the ordinary behavior of things already in place in order for us to know that something “outside the order usually observed in things” is even happening.
You can’t know that something is “extraordinary” if you don’t know what the ordinary is.
So miracles can’t happen all the time. If they did, we wouldn’t recognize them as miracles.
The Four Conditions Required For A True Miracle
Traditionally understood, there are four conditions needed to be met in order to have a true miracle:
- That it be perceived by the senses – if we can’t sense it we can’t know it happened. A miracle is therefore a sensible event and can be observed just like any other fact. And by written or oral testimony, that event can be preserved for later generations.
- That it be something that cannot be done by any natural or created cause – otherwise it wouldn’t show us that God that is acting.
- That it leads us to God – not just some weird event, God doesn’t do weird things for no purpose (like frogs falling from the sky for no reason). In other words, a miracle is an event where God makes a temporary exception to the natural order of things to show that He is acting.
- That it be extraordinary – it should have some “wow” factor, something outside the laws of nature, something highly improbable, something that does not usually happen. That which happens all the time is not that spectacular, nothing to write home about, and so does not really lead us to God like a miracle is supposed to.
The Possibility Of Miracles
Are miracles impossible? Not if God exists. If God exists, then since God, who is outside the world and master of those natural laws He established, can, if He so chooses, intervene and produce an effect independently of that natural order.
In other words, God is not bound to the natural order He created.
Some people want to object to this and say something like “well the laws of nature cannot be violated.”
This is silly.
The most encompassing and greatest law of nature is that the existence of all things is subject to the power of God at all times.
God created the entire natural order, including the physical laws that govern them. That means the behavior of all created things is subject to His will.
A miracle is only a rare and unusual application of this law.
Why Christ Worked Miracles
Jesus, Himself often appealed to miracles as proof of His Divine character.
“After John the Baptist sent messengers to ask Jesus if He were the Christ, Jesus replied: “Go and report to John what you hear and see: the blind receive sight and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have the gospel preached to them” (Matthew 11:2–5).
The Two Main Kinds Of Miracles
- Physical Order – miracles regarding the physical world and natural laws
- Moral Miracles – miracles regarding the free will of human beings, such as the relatively rapid but peaceful spread of Christianity in the ancient world in spite of persecutions against it and the difficulty of its doctrines which curb the pleasures of the flesh.
The Primary Christian Miracle
The Resurrection of Jesus is a central Christian miracle. St. Paul says if the resurrection is false the Christian faith is in vain.
There are many different formulations of arguments for the truth of the Resurrection, one common way goes something like this:
If Christ rose from the dead, the religion He taught is true
Christ rose from the dead
Therefore, the religion He taught is true
The first premise is true since rising from the dead qualifies as a miracle and so given the historical and religious context in which this event took place it is reasonable to think this miracle is a divine confirmation of His teaching.
The reasons for the second premise is true is simply that if Christ did not rise from the dead then the Apostles were either deceivers or deceived in preaching the Resurrection.
But the disciples were not deceivers or deceived
Not reasonable to think they were deceivers since preaching the resurrection came at a high risk and no reward – persecution.
Nor is it reasonable to think they were deceived since the claim that Jesus rose from the dead could have easily been refuted by the enemies of Christ by simply exhuming and presenting His dead body before the people.
Therefore, the religion Jesus taught is true.