Miracles And The Laws Of Nature
Genesis 1:1 In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.
Exodus Chapters 7–12 God sent ten plagues to Egypt to show His power to all the earth.
Exodus 14:21–22 . . . the LORD drove the sea back with a strong east wind . . . and the Israelites went through the sea on dry ground, with a wall of water on their right and on their left.
Deuteronomy 4:34–35 . . . miraculous signs and wonders . . . great and awesome deeds . . . You were shown these things so that you might know that the LORD is God . . .
1 Kings 17:21–22 "O LORD my God, let this boy’s life return to him!" The LORD heard Elijah’s cry, and the boy’s life returned to him, and he lived.
1 Kings 18:36–38 Elijah . . . prayed . . . Then the fire of the LORD fell and burned up the sacrifice, the wood, the stones and the soil, and also licked up the water . . .
2 Kings 5:14 Naaman went down and dipped himself in the Jordan seven times, as the man of God (Elisha) had told him, and his flesh was restored and became clean . . .
1 Chronicles 29:11–12 Yours, O LORD, is the greatness and the power . . . for everything in heaven and earth is yours . . . you are the ruler of all things.
Jeremiah 32:17 Ah, Sovereign LORD, you have made the heavens and the earth by your great power and outstretched arm. Nothing is too hard for you.
Matthew 1:20,23 . . . take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit . . . The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son . . .
Matthew 11:5 The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor.
Luke 8:24 "Master, Master, we’re going to drown!" He got up and rebuked the wind and the raging waters; the storm subsided, and all was calm.
John 20:31 Jesus did many other miraculous signs . . . that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.
The Purpose of Miracles
Miracles are commonly defined as events that could not have happened on their own in the world of nature. That is, some power above nature or some cause from outside nature has interfered, and changed the outcome from what we normally would expect. We say that something supernatural has happened. This is the usual definition of miracle, accepted both by those who believe in miracles and by those who do not. Christians, of course, do believe in miracles—not only that miracles are possible, but also that the miracles recorded in the Bible were accomplished by God Himself or through His power.
Why does God do miracles? Why interfere with the world of nature at all? For Christians, the answer arises from the fact that God is the Creator of nature (see Genesis 1:1; General Article: Creation, Evolution, or Both?). Out of His own desire and delight, God created the physical universe. How could the Creator not remain involved in His own creation? We should not be surprised that God loves the world of nature and is still working to keep it running well. God is not only the Creator of the universe. He is its ongoing ruler as well (see 1 Chronicles 29:11–12; General Article: Introduction to Salvation-History). Miracles proclaim this fact, both to God’s own people and to those who are not (Exodus 7:5; Deuteronomy 4:34–35). Through His miracles, God receives the GLORY He deserves as the King of all creation (Exodus 14:18; Matthew 15:30–31; Acts 4:21). They reveal who God really is.
One of the main reasons God does miracles is to show His great love for His people. God continually watches over His people, and many times God provides for their needs in supernatural ways. The Old Testament frequently reminds us of God’s “supernatural provision” of food and water to the ISRAELITES wandering in the wilderness (Exodus Chapters 16–17). The quail were natural birds, but God provided them at the time of the Israelites need, right after He had promised it. It was more than coincidence. And even if the manna was some kind of natural food, it was not natural for the manna to stop on the Sabbath day. Clearly God arranged something supernatural. God’s hand is recognizable in the food brought by ravens to Elijah, and in the continuous supply of flour and oil to the widow (1 Kings 17:2–16). And Elisha experienced God’s supernatural provision in a similar way (2 Kings Chapter 4).
Other kinds of miracles show God’s love as well. Many can be grouped together as “supernatural deliverances”. God frequently delivered the Israelites from their enemies, at times without their having to fight in battle at all (Exodus 14:14). One of the greatest examples of this kind of deliverance was the Israelites dry crossing of the Red Sea (Exodus 14:19–28). God intervened supernaturally to deliver individuals (2 Kings 6:14–20; Daniel 6:20–23) and entire cities (2 Kings 7:1–7). God also showed His love with “supernatural healings.” Many books of the Old Testament record God’s willingness to heal the sick (for example, Numbers 21:4–9; 2 Kings 5:1–19; Isaiah 38:1–8), and even to restore life to those who had already died (1 Kings 17:7–24; 2 Kings 4:8–36). Some scholars include the incredibly old ages of Adam’s descendants in this category as well (see Genesis 5:3–32; panel: Miraculous numbers?).
Although God frequently used humans to punish the wicked (Genesis 15:16; Joshua 11:20), He often provided a miracle to do this (Numbers 11:31–33; 16:31–35). The Old Testament is filled with examples of “supernatural judgment”—from the ten plagues of EGYPT (Exodus Chapters 7–12), to the slaying of 185,000 Assyrians encamped against Jerusalem (2 Kings 19:35–36). God often intervened supernaturally when He wanted to show His power to those who were not His chosen people. God told Pharaoh that Egypt had been spared from total destruction, so that “I might show you my power and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth” (Exodus 9:15–16). And God warned the king of Assyria that his arrogance would be punished with humiliation (2 Kings 19:21–28). To prove His universal power to the Aramean king, who mistakenly thought that God was only a god of the hills and not a god of the valleys, God helped the much smaller Israelite army to massacre 100,000 Aramean soldiers on the plains (see 1 Kings 20:23–29; panel: Miraculous numbers?).
Miracles have always been an important part of God’s plan to bring SALVATION to men and women. Throughout Old Testament history, God revealed Himself to His PROPHETS. His revelations interfered in the natural course of events as much as any other miracle, whether God was predicting the future or just giving encouragement to His people. But such revelations, or “supernatural knowledge”, were only part of God’s redemptive miracles. God also used signs and wonders. In one sense, any miracle is a sign of God’s activity. But “supernatural signs” are not just examples of supernatural provision, deliverance, healing or judgment—all of which are primarily directed towards men and women. Supernatural signs may have no other purpose than to reveal God Himself. Other signs confirm His messengers or call attention to His redemptive plans (2 Kings 20:9; Acts 14:3; Hebrews 2:3–4).
The Old Testament records many such supernatural signs—for example, the burning bush to call MOSES to God’s mission (Exodus Chapter 3), the budding of Aaron’s rod to confirm his leadership (Numbers 17:1–11), and the fire falling on Mount Carmel to bring the people back to God (1 Kings 18:20–39). God often used signs and wonders to reveal who His messengers were.1 This was true for Moses (Deuteronomy 34:10–12), and for many Old Testament prophets (1 Kings 18:3–39; 2 Kings 5:1–19). It was also true for the New Testament apostles (Acts 2:42–43; 2 Corinthians 12:12) and other church leaders (Acts 6:8; 8:6–8). Jesus also claimed that His miracles showed He was doing the Father’s work (John 10:37–38; 11:41–45; Acts 2:22).
God’s redemptive plans centered on Jesus Christ, and we would expect His life to be filled with miracles. And the Gospels do record many miracles of provision and healing. In Matthew 11:5, Jesus Himself gives a nice summary of His healing miracles. The Gospels also record many supernatural signs, which revealed His divine power and authority. For example, Jesus turned water into wine, calmed the storm, and even walked on water—showing in different ways His true lordship over nature (Matthew 14:33; Luke 8:25; John 2:11). One of the signs at Jesus death took place in the temple. The thick curtain between the Holy Place and the Most Holy Place was torn in two from top to bottom (Mark 15:38), dramatically revealing that everyone now had access to God’s presence (Hebrews 10:19–20). But in Jesus we find far more than supernatural healing and signs. We see God Himself entering history to redeem us. The incarnation of God began the greatest redemptive miracle of all. Through Jesus birth, death, and resurrection from the dead, God fulfilled His promise to save his people from their sins (Matthew 1:21). Salvation in Christ is the biggest miracle God has done for believers.
The Bible is full of God’s miracles. For most of them, we know God’s purpose—sometimes to help His people or punish the wicked, often to show His glory and fulfill His redemptive plans. Many people today have no problem understanding the purpose or goal of miracles. But they have trouble accepting the possibility of miracles in the first place. Since this is a major problem for non-Christians, we need to know how Christian scholars try to understand miracles.
Do Miracles Break the Laws of Nature?
Some people do not believe in God, or in any other kind of supernatural spirit, whether ANGEL or devil. They believe that physical matter is the only reality, that there is no spiritual reality independent of physical nature. According to them, nothing exists outside the world of nature, so no outside interference can come into nature and change things. Within nature, of course, physical things are able to cause changes or effects on other physical things. Because they do so in ways that are fixed and repeatable, scientists can discover the principles involved, and describe the so-called “laws of nature.” According to those who deny any spiritual reality, everything in the world of nature is locked into one unbroken chain of cause and effect. That is, every event we see has a physical cause, and that physical cause itself had another physical cause, and on back to the beginning of the universe. Of course, such atheists cannot explain the very first cause in this unbreakable chain. Nor can they explain how nature came into being in the first place (see General Article: Creation, Evolution, or Both?). They believe in the laws of nature, but deny the existence of a Lawgiver (God). And since they believe that miracles would have to break the laws of nature, they deny the very possibility of miracles.
Christians, on the other hand, teach that a spiritual reality does exist, one that is free and independent from the physical chain of cause and effect. This is a basic teaching of most religions of the world. Christians believe in one God, who not only created the physical universe but also created other spirits—angels, for example, and the spirits of men and women (see General Article: In the Image of God). Although human beings have a physical body, our minds show some freedom from the chain of cause and effect in physical nature. For example, logical reason allows us to change the natural course of events when we light our houses with electricity, cure diseases with medicines, or even when we wash dirt from our bodies by simply taking a bath. Our minds interfere with physical nature, not by breaking the laws of nature, but by producing new causes in the physical world around us. When we catch a ball rolling off a table with our hand, we are not breaking the law of gravity, but introducing a new cause into the natural situation. Of course, we can only interfere with nature in a limited way, and from within nature itself. As the original Creator of the universe, God does not have our human limitations. He is always able to introduce new causes into physical nature, and from outside that nature itself.
Christians agree with atheists that physical nature works in fixed ways. The laws of nature are not simply descriptions of the way things usually work in nature, as if they might be different tomorrow. Science would not be possible without the certainty that what is true today will also be true tomorrow. If not, technology could not develop electric lights or safe medicines. The laws of nature are the way things must work in nature. Otherwise, nature would not remain the kind that God created. It is true that within nature every effect must have a cause, and every cause must follow the laws of nature. However, they are laws of nature, not laws that govern the God who invented them. God is totally free of nature’s control. He can reach into nature and interfere with it, just as we can reach into a clock we have made and set the time differently.
Therefore, it is a mistake to think that miracles can only happen if God breaks one of the laws of nature. Yes, God is able to break any of the laws that He invented, but many Christians don’t believe He does that. Just as a clockmaker is outside the clock he made, God is outside the world of nature He created. We don’t change the way the clock works when we change the time. Just so, God does not change the laws of nature when He introduces a new cause into nature. New causes, once introduced by God, will follow the laws of nature. He uses those laws to produce the effect He wants.
A true miracle, then, is an event in the world for which there is no previous cause in nature itself. But there is a cause from outside nature: God Himself. Of course, God may introduce His new cause many steps back in the chain of cause and effect. For example, God may answer our prayer for finances on the very day we run out of money by asking someone to mail us a check many days beforehand. But whenever or wherever God does it, He produces His miraculous effects by supernaturally placing new causes inside nature.
Sometimes people try to explain away biblical miracles by claiming that uneducated people in the past just didn’t know the laws of nature. They claim that only those who are ignorant of the rules of science can believe in miracles. But the truth is actually the opposite. Only those who know the rules of a game can point out the player who is not following the rules. Similarly, only those who know the way things happen naturally can recognize when a super-natural miracle has taken place. In fact, only those who believe in a given law of nature can ever truly believe in a miracle that does not follow that law. And it is not just modern scientists who know the laws of nature. Even an uneducated villager like Joseph knew that women do not become pregnant without contact with a man. Joseph was so certain that Mary must have committed adultery, that he was going to break their engagement to be married (Matthew 1:18–19). He was certainly not ignorant of that particular law of nature. He was able to recognize the virgin birth as a miracle only because he knew that law very well.
Of course, Joseph knew more than just some laws of nature. Joseph also knew the Lawgiver (Matthew 1:20–25). The laws of nature did not develop just by accident or chance. There really was, and still is, a Lawgiver. God created nature; He created the laws of nature. And He remains active in human history—not only to answer our prayers, but more importantly, to fulfill His own plans for the REDEMPTION of the world.
Miracles Using Nature and Miracles of New Creation
If we start with a correct view of God and nature, we can better understand specific miracles in the Bible, especially the bigger ones that many find hard to accept. In one sense, it is not the size of the miracle that really matters. Any miracle, however small, is unacceptable to those who believe that nature is the only reality, and that nothing can interfere with nature’s chain of cause and effect. The opposite is also true. Any miracle, however great, is clearly possible if we believe that God created nature and, while nature usually runs on its own, God can introduce new causes into nature.
For many of His biblical miracles, God caused natural events to happen in a non-natural way; that is, He used nature in a supernatural way. The ten plagues sent to Egypt are very good examples of this (Exodus Chapters 7–12). Clearly the frogs, gnats, flies, animal plague, boils, hail, and locusts were natural things. God’s supernatural power increased them, brought them just when He wanted them, spared the Israelite lands, and then ended them exactly when He wanted them to end. Some Christians suggest that the first and ninth plagues were also natural events used by God in a miraculous way (compare 2 Kings 3:22). Even the crossing of the Red Sea, though clearly miraculous, involved a strong east wind blowing all night (Exodus 14:21). If the water was deep, the dry crossing was the main miracle. If the water was shallow, the drowning of the Egyptian army was the bigger miracle. Most Christians believe both the dry crossing and the drowning were miracles.
Some scholars propose that most of God’s miracles are like this—using nature in a supernatural way. Rather than a new creation, God introduces a new direction into nature. The many supernatural healings in Scripture, including those Jesus performed, can help us understand this. According to this view, God placed natural healing processes in our bodies at creation, but after the Fall, those processes stopped working as they should have (see General Article: The Fall into Sin). We became susceptible to disease. When Jesus healed people, He super-naturally began, and speeded up, those healing processes that could no longer work naturally. Recognizing that God often uses nature does not deny the super-natural. God’s power to introduce new causes into nature produces a real supernatural effect.
Many Christians believe that the incarnation of Jesus was an exception—that the virgin birth was produced by a new creation, not by giving nature a new direction. Jesus was God’s greatest intervention in human history. Two of the Gospels describe the birth of Jesus, and both claim that He was conceived by the power of the HOLY SPIRIT in the womb of a virgin (Matthew 1:20; Luke 1:34–35). According to the laws of nature, Mary could supply half the genetic material needed for a human being, but could never supply the genes for maleness. So Jesus conception and birth could only have been the result of God’s supernatural power. However God did it, the Savior was not produced by human effort, but by God’s GRACE alone.
Most Christians also believe that Jesus resurrection from the dead involved a new creation. His resurrection was not the same as those recorded in the Old Testament (1 Kings 17:17–24; 2 Kings 4:8–36); nor was it the same as the resurrections that Jesus Himself performed during His earthly ministry (Luke 7:11–15; 8:49–56; John 11:38–44). Those were merely restorations to a mortal life. All who were raised up would have to die again. The resurrection of Jesus was very different, involving a new kind of body. Unlike previous restorations, Jesus was the first person to receive a true resurrection body—still physical, but yet immortal (Matthew 28:9; Luke 24:30,39–43). Therefore Jesus can be truly called the firstborn from among the dead (Colossians 1:18). Jesus resurrection was the first sign of the still future new creation, when God will create a new heaven and a new earth (2 Peter 3:13; Revelation 21:1–5). And we too will share in that new creation. Jesus resurrection was only the firstfruits; we will receive imperishable bodies, just like His glorious one (1 Corinthians 15:20,49–54; Philippians 3:21).
A Final Word
The mythologies of the world are filled with stories of magic, talking trees, or men turning into animals. Many seem silly and few are part of any greater purpose. Turning to the Bible, we find an entirely different kind of literature. First of all, magic is not the same as miracle. Magic is only an attempt to force the universe to do what we want. It is not prayer; it is not asking God for help. God’s miracles are always personal and full of purpose. Nothing is silly or pointless. God’s miracles reveal His character as the Creator of the world. They reveal a God who cares for His people and has a plan to redeem them from their sin.
Throughout the Old and New Testaments, miracles strengthened the faith of those witnessing them, bringing them to a deeper trust in God Almighty (Exodus 14:31; John 20:30–31). God’s miracles should strengthen our faith as well. Ah, Sovereign LORD, you have made the heavens and the earth by your great power and outstretched arm. Nothing is too hard for you (Jeremiah 32:17).
1 But miracles alone were not enough. Even false prophets may be able to do real miracles. For further discussion, see General Article: Prophecy and Predictive Words.