At church, we are currently working through a sermon series centered on God’s ability to accomplish the impossible.
Naturally, this has me thinking about miracles. It also has me thinking about a lot of the reading and research by Christian authors, scholars, and theologians who have noticed that in our modern age, there has been a profound reduction in miracles experienced by the Western church. In other words, compared to what the Israelites experienced in the Old Testament, or what occurred during Christ’s time on earth, miracles in our modern Western world seem pretty hard to come by.
There is a lot of speculation as to why this might be. Some have posited that miracles were so plentiful during Christ’s time on earth to testify His nature as the Messiah and the Chosen One; since He did what He set out to do, and we know Him by His sacrifice and resurrection, those miracles are no longer “required.” Others wonder if we see fewer miracles in the West because we have less faith on the whole, citing evidence that miraculous events are actually on the rise in cultures and regions where the (often oppressed) Christian faith is fierce and marginalized, but growing. And others wonder about the flip side of that coin: perhaps God performs more miraculous shows of His power in places to encourage and strengthen believers where the faith is marginalized and endangered, and where the believing community is small and tenuous.
I don’t know how many, if any, of the aforementioned theories are true – though many of them make sense to me. But I do have a theory of my own to add to the pile, and it’s this: I think we see fewer miracles because we’re miracle-blind. We’ve forgotten what a miracle is. It’s not that they aren’t there: we just diminish them.
A member of my congregation recently prayed, along with many others, that she would get a job. She is a single mother; she needs to work to raise her two daughters. She recently applied for a job that would have been perfect in terms of pay and location, but she did not have all the qualifications required. 700 other applicants nationally also applied for the position. She got the job. A 1-in-700 shot for a perfect position whose qualifications she admitted she did not entirely match.
When I applied for college, the academic scholarship I desperately wanted (and which was the only way I could attend school) required an ACT score two points higher than the one I had received. Brokenhearted, my family and I prayed about it. A week later, we received revised guidelines in the mail, with the ACT score dropped down by 2 points. I applied and received the scholarship. The scholarship committee was as bewildered by the change in ACT score as we were, and never could explain it.
A horrible car accident results in no injuries. The right job “just happens” to open up at the right place at the right time. A risky surgery with a high fatality rate occurs with no incident. A baby, not breathing at birth, ends up going home with his parents just as expected. The money we need for the car or the washing machine or the house payment shows up, strangely, in a way we weren’t expecting.
We call these blessings. We call these things God working in our lives. But I wonder if we haven’t grown to expect them, or if we haven’t grown jaded to what it means for God to intervene. What is a miracle? Jesus makes water into wine. He feeds five thousand. God parts the sea and calls down city walls. In many ways, what we experience is no different. Our sick are healed. Walls are torn down. Circumstances are rearranged and opportunities created. And yet we’ve lost our sense of wonder.
That doesn’t even begin to touch what I call “the miracle of didn’t happen.” Somehow you were able to swerve out of the way when that car cut into your lane – and a horrible, life-altering accident never was. You left the company before the layoffs hit. Your child stopped going to the gymnastics class before the abusive teacher came in. That woman in your church broke up with the guy who later ended up engaging in infidelity and ruining three successive marriages. What we’re spared from, when we realize it, is miraculous, too.
Even the basic facts of your salvation are a miracle. How is it that you – you, in your particular life, in the cradle of your particular experiences, in your city, your country, your continent – were found by Jesus, met Him, and desired to know Him? How remarkable is it that God fostered the church over centuries and it grew and grew and grew despite opposition so that one day the word of who Jesus was would come to you all the way from when the disciples first met Him by the Sea of Galilee?
If we’re not seeing as many miracles in our modern era, I’m sure there are reasons. But I think it’s also possible that we are miracle-blind, and in our assumptions and expectations about God sometimes forget the marvel of what it is He is actually doing for us. If we’re going to remember that God can accomplish the impossible, it’s imperative to realize that He still is: right here, right now, all around us.
We just have to pay attention.