How to define a miracle for Christians? Like we all know, Jesus revealed his first miracle at the wedding in Cana. For Christians, there’s likely no more visible sign of the power of God in our world than miracles. Throughout both Testaments of Scripture, God uses extraordinary events to reveal the divine power and to bring people to faith. It’s because of this that a belief in miracles is nearly universal across all denominations and faith traditions. It’s an essential part of being a Christian. And yet, trying to define what a miracle is, has caused no small amount of theological problems and inadequate explanations. This is Catholicism in focus.
So, How to Define a Miracle?
When trying to define something, it’s never a bad thing to start with the dictionary. It’s its job. According to the New Oxford American Dictionary, a miracle is defined as:
Commonly known as the God of the gaps. This definition points to those areas of our experience that cannot be explained by rational means as evidence of God’s intervention in the world. When something is so extraordinary that it bears no understanding of its cause, it must be God. The same was with the miracle at the wedding in Cana. And for most people, this definition sufficiently captures the reality of miracles. Then again, that’s the point of a dictionary. Rather than being the authoritative source on the most appropriate of definitions dictating what a word should mean, the dictionary tries to describe the way a word is most popularly used. But as we know, just because something is widespread common knowledge, especially in issues of faith, doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s grounded in the most well-thought-out theology. It just means that a lot of people religious and non-religious are thinking equally.
And unsurprising, then many Christian theologians find this definition lacking. For one, it presents a very extrinsic view of God. One in which God sends outside and against creation rather than within and through it. And it seems that God only interacts with the world by breaking the very laws that He created in the first place. It’s also a very narrow view of God that will continue to narrow further with advancements in science education. The more we know about the world, the smaller the gaps, and the fewer opportunities for us to believe that God is with us. But beyond these two reasons, the mere origin of the concept should be enough to cause us to look deeper.
God Working in All of the Creation
First spoken by the 19th-century evangelical preacher Henry Drummond the purpose of the image was to chastise the narrowness of faith he found in his fellow Christians. It is urging them to see God working in all of creation. And imminent God, which is the god of evolution, is infinitely grander than the occasional wonder-worker who is the god of old theology. In other words, God works through all of the natural world, not just the extraordinary moments that can’t be explained. And it’s true. As Christians, we do not believe in ideas to God a watchman who put the world in motion then step back to observe it intervening only to offer adjustments. We believe in a God who is imminently close, always holding everything together.
Could Miracle at the Wedding in Cana Give Us an Answer to the Question “How to Define a Miracle”?
Does that mean that everything is a miracle, then if God is the author of everything? In a way, yes, some would say that. Recognize it that the world is imbued with the spirit of the Living God. Some will argue that those with the eyes of faith will be able to see God’s presence in every situation. Ordinary and extraordinary. But if that’s the case and everything is a miracle, then wouldn’t that make nothing a miracle because everything is the same. This is also a valid point. While this perspective offers a nice counterpoint to the God of the definition of the gap, it ironically limits the power of God as well. I’ll be it in the other direction rather than saying God can only be in the extraordinary, unexplained events this view diminishes God’s ability to work in highly visible uncommon ways as a form of self-revelation. Of course, it stands out the miracle at the wedding in Cana.
First Vatican Council in Response to the Rationalistic Views of Modernism
It also goes slightly against the only real Magisterial statements we have regarding miracles promulgated at the First Vatican Council in response to the rationalistic views of modernism regarding the issue of how to define a miracle.
This is precisely what we see all throughout scripture. On many occasions, when God performs a miracle, the explanation given is so that you may believe. Biblically speaking, even if God is present in all, there would seem to be certain events in which God is more visibly present than others. So, where does that leave us at this point? Well, we know that God can and does work through the ordinary everyday events of life and is infinitely imminent to us. God does not have to break God’s laws or intervene from the outside for self-revelation. We also know that for the sake of our faith, God can and has used extraordinary means to offer external proofs of Revelation. Performing acts that went against our collective understanding of the world and remained unexplained. Putting these two points of faith together and avoiding the pitfalls of our two extreme examples, some have come up with a possible third definition. So how to define a miracle in this third definition? A miracle is an extraordinary occurrence of ordinary phenomena. For the sake of bringing favor and grace to God’s people and to reveal God as its source.
In other words, even though the world generally works in a certain way and we can see a relatively ordinary cause-and-effect relationship. Under certain infrequent conditions, we might be presented with an extraordinary. That is an unexpected result, although entirely within reasonable possibilities. Take having a baby, for example. When two infertile people come together to produce a child, the ordinary result would be the lack of conception. This is the case 100 out of 100 times.
But Sometimes Miracle Happen
And yet under certain rare circumstances and at just the right time against the longest odds, couples can and have conceived a child. What’s more, is that this result can be completed within the realm of rationality and explanation. A doctor might even be able to explain the physical reasons why it happened. Since God is the author of all, it mustn’t be a mystery for it to be a miracle from God. It just needs to be extraordinary enough for us to witness it and immediately think of God. And ultimately, that seems to be the point of miracles in the first place. While there have been many definitions over the years, and even this one might have its limitations. The purpose of a miracle is not to explain what it is or how it works. Its to reveal God so that people may have faith. In this way, knowing that God is ultimately the cause of everything in a natural world. The fact, how to define a miracle has less to do with the objective reality before us and rather the internal faith reality of the viewer. Multiple people might see the same thing, but only the person with faith will be able to recognize it as the work of God and be strengthened by it. And what could be more miraculous than seeing God present in our midst? All this also applies to a miracle at the wedding in Cana.