The God Christians believe in is the Lord of all. He is the Creator of the world, and also its Sustainer. What he once made he now controls and continuously renews.

People who believe in this God are not much troubled about miracles, for they see the effects of supernatural power in everything around them. They see each thing, not as a mere part or product of some greater thing called nature, which God once fashioned and then left to run “on its own” according to its immanent constitution; they see each thing as God’s present work, reflecting his uninterrupted agency (Job 26:7–14). Everything is for them a “sign” of God, one of his “mighty deeds.” Each is marvelous in their eyes, a “wonder,” fit to evoke astonishment and praise.

What we call miracles are in the New Testament called “signs” (semeia), “mighty works” (dunameis), and “wonders” (terata). But what we call non-miraculous or natural events are in the Bible also viewed as signs and mighty works and wonders. In the biblical view, God is behind everything, the usual and the unusual, the common and the strange; and he is behind them equally. According to the Psalmists and the Prophets, the rain is God’s doing, and also the drought. So too are the movements of the planets and the tides. God “performs” all these, and more. Nothing is outside his jurisdiction; nothing moves except at his command. In everything that has being he witnesses to himself and to his power. Each is a “sign” he leaves of his presence and concern. All indicate that he “doeth great things and unsearchable …” (Job 5:9).

The Sovereignty of God. It would be premature to conclude from this that in the Christian view “all is miracle,” but it would be right to say that in this view nature is no stranger to God’s hand. Nature feels God’s impulses constantly. It is always suffering his “invasions.” Its processes but trace the contours of his will. Nature is pliable in his hands.

The reason is, of course, that God is Sovereign. He is Lord, and he is free—also in relation to nature. He traces his own paths through all that he has made; indeed these tracings constitute what we call nature’s “rule.” The “laws of nature” which we formulate are nothing but our transcripts of God’s “customary ways.” They are not prior to, but after, God; they record his habits. They “hold” because God is wont to travel the same way; but they do not bind him. God is free to plant his steps precisely where he will, and sometimes he plants them on unaccustomed ways. He does this, we may be sure, to serve some holy purpose. Perhaps he does it on occasion just to testify that he is free, and so “reveal his glory.”

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However this may be, he traces his own path always. Sometimes these paths seem very strange to us, as when he causes iron to float, or a virgin to give birth, or bread to multiply. With all our science we could never have predicted he would take these courses; and after he took them we can find no sufficient reason in the preceding causal nexus for his doing so. Strange events of this sort are beyond our science; they are miracles. Yet in another sense they are not so strange. In them God merely celebrates the freedom which is always his but which in “ordinary” events is obscured by their scientific comprehensibility, that is, by their amenableness to the explanatory techniques we have developed precisely in response to events of like ordinariness.

Science builds itself up on observed constancies. In terms of our discussion this is but to say that it grows by observing and recording the general pattern of divine behavior, by noting God’s “custom.” This custom gives science its stability and worth, and its predictive usefulness. It is quite unwarranted to suppose, however, that science can now turn about and demand that things behave in certain ways, that God keep to the accustomed paths and act according to the scientist’s prescription. Science has no authority to prescribe. It does its work well only when it remains descriptive, when it follows after God as a reporter. Empiricism in science is therefore eminently Christian, if for no other reason than that it leaves God free, free to do great things which transcend our little systems and transgress the limits of our proud “a priories.”

Rejection of Monism. Because Christianity both allows and professes miracles, it repudiates all rationalistic naturalisms which, denying God, think that nature is “the all” and that miracle is impossible. But it also repudiates the more religious forms of monism: primitivism and pantheism—in both the miraculous seems to be given prominence.

In primitive religion or animism there are many gods or spirits, and they have power (mana) which they exercise in unpredictable ways. The animistic world is therefore full of mystery and apparent miracle; almost anything can happen at any moment. There is, of course, no real affinity between this view of things and that of Christianity. Animism is basically a monistic naturalism; the gods are nature spirits. Nature suffers no control here from outside itself; it is “on its own.” There is no supernatural, hence there is no miracle but only chaos. There is no nonnatural principle of order, hence there is no science but only magic. This inter-connection is worth observing. Miracles are possible only in a determinate universe, the kind of universe that makes science possible. Conversely, science is possible only in a universe that is under the control of an intelligent Creator, the kind of universe in which miracle is possible.

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Extremes always meet, and that is why when “everything is God,” as in pantheism, we have a universe quite like that in which “everything is nature.” There is no real supernatural in either case. It is not surprising, therefore, that sophisticated pantheism exhibits the same ambiguity in respect of miracles that primitive animism does. On the one hand, there can be no miracles, for, since everything is God, there is no nature in which the miracle can occur; without nature miracle simply cannot be domiciled. On the other hand, there can be nothing but miracle, for, since everything is God, all agency is, not merely ultimately but immediately and pervasively, divine; all is miracle. Here miracle is either nonexistent or only “the religious name for event,” and thus all-encompassing. But if miracles are everywhere, they have lost all meaning. The two assertions of pantheism reduce therefore to the same thing: there are no miracles. In the grey twilight of this, and of every other monism, all real distinctions have evaporated, including the one at the very heart of Christianity: the distinction between the Creator and the creation. In consequence of this, all talk of miracles becomes meaningless.

Rejection of Extreme Dualism. The emphasis in all of the foregoing has been on God—on the true God of biblical revelation and on the spurious gods of primitivism and pantheism. But the universe contains more than God. There is beside him another thing called nature, and no account of miracle can be acceptable which does not give this second thing its due.

On the existence of nature the scientist quite understandably insists. A wise scientist will acknowledge God, and if he is also Christian he will acknowledge miracle, but he will not therefore part with nature; it is for him a datum, the very precondition of his vocation. He will, moreover, want to keep a certain kind of nature, the kind that is consonant with the scientific methods his success has vindicated. He will demand an impersonal, objectively existing nature with stable characteristics, open to observation, amenable to analysis, and operating in ways susceptible of mathematical formulation.

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Because deism, without denying a transcendent God, supplies just such a nature, some Christians have been tempted to embrace this metaphysic. In its highest forms it seems to satisfy both the religious and the scientific needs of man. On the one hand there is God, eternal and all-wise, who is the Maker and Sustainer of a world which by its order and design points unceasingly to its intelligent Creator. On the other hand there is nature, possessing a fixed constitution and operating according to immanent and unalterable laws open to discovery and utilization. It would appear that within this scheme the worshiper and the investigator can both find room. It is not so, however. Here, as in monism, what is lacking is precisely miracle. It is excluded by an excess of dualism. Except at the point of origin, nature is isolated from God. Even when divine sustenance is acknowledged, it is conceived as merely general and external; providence never penetrates the world. Nature is constitutionally invulnerable; it can suffer no invasion. All that happens in it is exhaustively interpretable in terms of its own fixed properties.

Because of its intolerance of miracles, deism has not been able to win the allegiance of biblically-informed Christians. Yet some Christians, when they posited miracles, thought of them as modifications of a nature deistically conceived. They conceived of nature as a vast interlocked system of things and events ruled by increated laws. Into this nature God sometimes entered to do miracles, but he did so only by “breaking” the laws he had once posited and by “disrupting” the order he had once established. This semi-deistic view of things is hardly Christian.

Of this even its advocates seem to be vaguely aware, for when Heisenberg enunciated the principle of indeterminacy many of them hailed the discovery with relief. It appears that before this time they were ill at ease with their implied suggestion that God sometimes repented of the cosmic arrangements he had made; they did not like to think that God by miracles disrupted the natural order he had once deliberately fixed. Now, however, there seemed to open up an avenue of escape from their distress. With Heisenberg a new “looseness,” a kind of “lawlessness,” was discovered in micro-nature, and this seemed to provide God with unobstructed access to macro-nature. A “god of the gaps” was accordingly conceived, a God whose miraculous power could be ushered into the world through the interstices of the atom. Passing through the lawless regions between sub-atomic particles, God’s power became available for the performance of “mighty deeds,” and yet it left every law unbroken, and his original arrangements quite intact.

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Apart from the question whether Heisenberg’s principle really posits “objective lawlessness” within the atom, it is highly precarious to base a Christian apologetic upon an isolated, even if important, “scientific” discovery. What is required is a view of God and nature framed in positive dependence on the Bible and elaborated in organic relation to the total scientific enterprise as this appears in the perspective of Christian theism.

Nature as Dynamic Process. Nature is often likened to a book, even in Christian creeds. The figure is not meaningless, but it is misleading. Nature is hardly a completed manuscript in which each word is statically interlocked with every other, a manuscript to which the scientist goes simply in order to parse unalterable sentences. Nature is rather a dynamic process resembling a discourse now being spoken, and revealing at every turn the meanings and intentions of a living Speaker. What the Speaker says is not dictated by some necessity from outside; he speaks freely. No doubt his discourse is self-consistent, on which account nature may be contemplated as a harmonious whole. But the concept of the whole is not some lever man can manipulate to exclude supposedly inconsistent things like miracles. Miracles, in the Christian view, are in the whole called nature, and they help to constitute it. They are parts of the total discourse. They do not rupture nature; they complete and perfect it.

This becomes very evident when it is observed that nature is but a part of a still larger whole—the grand divine plan for all the cosmos. It pleased God to effect in nature some deeds which are crucial in this plan—the miracles of the Incarnation and the Resurrection, which all other miracles only anticipate or reflect. To suppose that these “destroy” nature is utterly to misconceive them. They “save” nature because they redeem the whole of which nature is a part. They are not illusory events; nor are they real by accident only; they are the very clues to nature as to all else; they state the theme of the grand discourse of which nature is a chapter otherwise unintelligible.

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So far as natural things go, there is no disposition in Christianity to deny that they are there, that they have recognizable qualities, and that a record of their behavior can be set down and utilized for prediction. Christianity insists only that these things were made by God, that they are still available to him, and that all they are and do reflect his sovereign purposes. As Calvin says: “… respecting things inanimate … though they are naturally endued with their peculiar properties, yet they exert not their power any further than as they are directed by the present hand of God. They are, therefore, no other than instruments into which God infuses as much efficacy as he pleases, bending and turning them to any action, according to his will” (Institutes, I.xvi.2).

Conclusion. To acknowledge miracle, and to appreciate science, nothing is required but to profess the God of Scripture and to accept the nature He has made and ceaselessly controls.

Bibliography: J. Calvin, Institutes, I.xvi; R. Hooykaas, Natural Law and Divine Miracle; J. Kallas, The Significance of the Synoptic Miracles; C. S. Lewis, Miracles; A. Richardson, The Miracle Stories of the Gospels.

Professor of Apologetics and Ethics

Calvin Theological Seminary

Grand Rapids, Michigan

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