Leif Enger, in Peace Like a River, writes:
“Let me say something about that word: miracle. For too long it’s been used to characterize things or events that, though pleasant, are entirely normal. Peeping chicks at Easter time, spring generally, a clear sunrise after an overcast week – a miracle, people say, as if they’ve been educated from greeting cards. I’m sorry, but nope. Such things are worth our notice every day of the week, but to call them miracles evaporates the strength of the word.
Real miracles bother people, like strange sudden pains unknown in medical literature. It’s true: They rebut every rule that we good citizens take comfort in. Lazarus obeying orders and climbing out of the grave – now there’s a miracle, and you can bet it upset a lot of folks who were standing around at the time. When a person dies, the earth is generally unwilling to cough him back up. A miracle contradicts the will of earth.”
Maybe it was because I was reading the Philadelphia Trumpet, and The Economist while sitting in the Spartan waiting area for my little car to get its oil changed and some new tires put on. Maybe it was because the day before had been a frustrating one for me. Maybe it was because that ever since Sunday’s sermon on grace I was feeling particularly in the shadow of the darkness of the world and in desperate need of another dose of the Lord’s uncommon and unmerited favor.
But regardless of why, I was left wondering about miracles, the other day. Miracles are very much, in my mind, like what Leif Enger says. I do think that we bandy about the word all too lightly and that we thus degrade the power of true miracles. Is it because we’re not ready to deal with the consequences of our faithlessness? I think the hardest struggle I had in seminary was deciding whether or not I would believe in Jonah’s excursion in the belly of the fish.
What do I mean by that? I think that we’re challenged with miracles. Miracles strain your faith to its limit. Miracles, proper miracles, should leave you hardly any ground upon which to stand other than pure faith. Surely, you might say that you have cause to believe based upon other experiences, but essentially, when faced with the miraculous, you must deal with them as they are. In short, miracles like Jonah’s being swallowed by an enormous fish for three days take faith of a different sort than believing in the existence of George Washington.
I grew up in a world whose fabric was stitched together with threads of miracles. Everything was within God’s power, and everything was within the grasp of the able believer. Over my life I came to question my own faith based upon this premise: if there is enough faith, then miracles will occur. I so desperately wanted to see miracles, and yet, where were they? I decided it must have been because I was insufficient to make the cut.
Or does it have to do with sovereignty? I think that we want control over miracles. Miracles tantalize us because of the sensation that we must therefore have come into contact with grace, but I think they tantalize in a much darker way as well – we long for control. We think that if we had access to some mystical power then we would be able to set our fears and needs and wants to rest. But there is nothing other than the simple truth that Jesus Reigns to do that.
This week I had cause in a conversation to remind someone that grace is the weapon of the Christian. It is by grace that we have been saved, not by truth. Truth, admittedly, has a bit to do with grace. But grace, I think, goes far beyond the limits of simple truth –it interacts with miracles. The DNA of grace and miracles are closely woven together, because in order to accept them both, one must abide deep within the Gospel – don’t you think?
I struggle with the Gospel – that God would call insufficient me to do a task that requires so much more than what I have to offer. I struggle with miracles. I find that on some days I’m much more like Jacob – struggling with God more than seems appropriate. I suppose it’s because I so easily see my need for the Lord, so easily understand that I am not in control, and so fully and readily know that I am not enough for the tasks set before me.
I suppose it’s because of those things that I love miracles, grace and power. Not because I am sovereign over them, but because, through Jesus Christ, they are sovereign over me.
 Leif Enger, Peace Like a River (Grove Press, New York, NY: 2001), 3.