God’s Activity in Miracles

Over the years, the understanding of miracles has changed. A miracle was an unusual event or a ‘wonder’, something out of the ordinary which was also a ‘sign’. Indeed, in several passages in the New Testament, the terms ‘miracles’, ‘wonders’ and ‘signs’ are used together (Acts 2:22, 2 Corinthians 12:12; Hebrews 2:4). In most cases, the miracle was an event which signified God’s accreditation of the person through whom these events occurred. This was the significance not only of the miracles performed by Jesus, but also by the early followers of Jesus. The rejection of the miracles in New Testament times was often a rejection of what the event signified rather than a rejection of the idea that the event  occurred.

In the 17th century, as science developed as a system for explaining the patterns of natural events, the idea emerged that miracles might be in conflict with science. Certainly, miracles had been seen as extraordinary events. But if science was an ‘uncovering’ of the natural laws, miracles indicated a suspension of those laws. A miracle therefore required that God suspend the laws of nature or intervene in the ways that the universe had been deemed to operate.

However, if an observation is made which does not fit previous generalisations, the usual response is to check the observation. Was the observation incorrect? This is what has happened in relation to many so-called miracles: the understanding of science has caused many supposed ‘observations’ to be challenged because they do not fit our general understanding.

The Australian Survey of Social Attitudes conducted by the Australian National University in 2009 included a questions about belief in miracles. It is interesting to note that less than half of the population had a definite opinion about miracles either positive or negative. Around half the population was not sure what to believe, although the majority felt that miracles were unlikely.

Comparing the responses in 1983 and 2009, one finds that the proportion who definitely believe in miracles has remained about the same, but there has been a decline in those who probably do. The most striking change is that a high percentage were not sure whether they believed or not in 1983, but in 2009 a high proportion were quite sure that they did not believe in them. The proportion who probably or definitely did not believe in miracles had risen from 23 per cent in 1983 to 53 per cent in 2009.

The Australians most likely to believe in miracles are those who have strong religious commitments. However, among those who attend church monthly or more often just a little more than half said they definitely believed in miracles. Another 23 per cent said they probably did.

For more information see: Pointers, Volume 22, No. 2, Pages 1-6

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