Inspired and Blessed by Bob Acebedo
Inspired & Blessed

What Are Miracles? Are They Really Transgressions Of Nature?

Nov 23, 2021, 10:31 PM
Bob Acebedo

Bob Acebedo

Columnist

No denying indeed, miracles are amazing, awesome, marvelous, astonishing, fascinating, awe-inspiring, and wonderful!

After all, its etymological derivation in Latin is “miraculum” (miracula, miraculi, miraculis, miraculo, miraculorum), which literally means “wonder” or “a sight to behold”.

From the gospel narratives, we learned that Jesus, in his three years of public ministry, performed miracles or “wondrous works” like changing of water into wine, multiplication of loaves, healing the sick, walking on sea water, calming the storm, and even raising the dead.

But that was 2,000 years ago. Those who are sticking it out with “seeing is believing credo” may just find the naive excuse of not believing Jesus’ miracles, having not witnessed them personally.

But, admittedly so, from personal experience I have had firsthand acquaintance with “miracles” like – despite the doctor’s prognosis of a very risky caesarean operation, my wife survived even after having an OBE or “out-of-body” experience; despite the odds of supposedly spending in the incubator for a month or so as pre-assessed by the doctor, my youngest child was miraculously discharged from the incubator only after 8 or 9 hours after his premature caesarean birth.

On reckoning, I would consider such experience(s) as miracles for the following reasons: (1) they defied natural expectations or probabilities; (2) I seriously prayed for them, and God answered thus; (3) it did create a profound and lasting effect in me – particularly reflecting about my life’s meaning and purpose.

But, do these reasons indeed constitute what miracles are? On a lighter note, I’m having a queasy feeling – pardon the silliness – why, despite my constant supplications, I’m not winning yet in the Lotto jackpot prize. Sabi ng ko, paano ako mananalo kung hindi naman ako tumataya?

Howbeit, levity aside, what really are miracles?

From a quite rational perspective, here’s a somehow narrow definition of miracles: “Miracles are purposeful disruptions of the regularities of the physical world whose originating cause is itself not of the physical world.”

Then, from our Catholic Christian view, a miracle is traditionally understood as “a supernatural sign or wonder, brought about by God, signifying his glory and the salvation of mankind.”

On hindsight, perhaps we can deduce some common elements from the above two definitions: (1) a “supernatural sign or wonder” or “purposeful disruptions of the regularities of the physical world”; (2) “the originating cause is NOT of the physical world” or “brought about by God”; and (3) “signifying God’s glory and salvation of mankind.”

Obviously, while the former definition stops short of the “purpose” of disruption, the Church verily ventures further that a miracle is a “sign perceived by the senses and makes present the supernatural order, God’s governance of nature, and his loving plan of salvation”; and that, as its intended effect, “miracles are a call to faith.”

The Church, in no uncertain terms, spurns the impossibility or uncertainty of miracles:

“If anyone says that all miracles are impossible, and that therefore all reports of them, even those contained in Sacred Scriptures, are to be set aside as fables or myths; or that miracles can never be known with certainty, nor can the divine origin of the Christian religion be proved from them: let him be anathema” (Vatican Council I, Dei Filius, no. 3).

But, are miracles really disruptions or transgressions of nature? Or, is something supernatural a violation of the natural?

Let me cite some interesting answers or insights from some contemporary thinkers, philosophers and theologians.

First is Paul Fiddes, professor of systematic theology at the University of Oxford.

Fiddes firstly claims that God relates to the world in partnership. “God calls for cooperation from created beings in his project of creation. So it’s a relationship of participation. God participates in the world and the world participates in God,” Fiddes said.

But, in this participation, does God intervene in the world or does things that are contrary to the laws of nature?

Fiddes quyickly answers: “I don’t find the notion of intervention helpful because it implies a certain coerciveness or sort of breaking in. But what I’m thinking is that it is an engagement which is one of persuasive love rather than coercion.”

If not intervention or transgression of nature, what’s a miracle then?

“A miracle is something which is new, in a sense that it causes wonder and attention just because it doesn’t fit into an established pattern. I don’t think a miracle is a transgression, it is only an extension of nature. God is taking what is there and doing something new with it, and the whole cosmos is able in its own way at different levels to respond to the urging of God’s spirit,” Fiddes explained.

Fiddes, hence, defines miracles as something new that emanates from the cooperative relationship between God and the world. Miracles, for Fiddes, are but extensions of nature, not disruptions of nature, reflecting a deep continuing correlation between creator and creation.

Second, is from Hugh McCann (died in 2016), former professor of philosophy at Texas A & M University.

McCann believes that God, as absolute sovereign, is responsible for the existence of the world and thus simultaneously sees both man’s prayer and its answer.

“As far as prayer is concerned, God in creating the world sees both the prayer (of humans) and the answer in one and the same act of God. Of course, for us, it’s different, as it occurs at different temporal and spatial considerations. But God can see these things and the answer to the prayer from a timeless perspective,” McCann pointed out.

Is God, for McCann, intervening or transgressing nature in making miracles?

“No. God is fully involved, so there’s no space for intervention. God doesn’t need to intervene because God’s creation is already comprehensive. Everything that happens, including what we call normal or natural and those we call miracles are actually the same kind of thing for God,” McCann replied.

Third is British philosopher and Anglican priest, Keith Ward.

For Ward, miracles are acts of God, who is an invisible agent, differing may be from natural processes but are in conformity with God’s purpose and of the whole universe.

“The universe is not like a machine or a set of blind laws operating, but as itself is an intentional action. So, in a sense, the whole universe is an act of God as intended by God to be what it is. (Hence), the plausibility of miracles lies in the fact that it is better that the universe exists ‘differently’ because there is God than it exists ‘not differently’ because there is no God,” Ward explained.

Ah, vis-a-vis these foregoing ruminations, I am tempted to pose the question: If miracles are not transgressions but are simply extensions of nature, or that miracles are not “supernaturally contrary” but encompasses what is natural, can it be said then that, minus the extraordinary or wondrous effects, even our daily life’s ordinary blessings – waking up in the morning (especially these difficult times), having food on the table, being with our family and loved ones, being able to do not only our tasks but also those which we want to do, etc. – be indeed considered miracles?

Yes, I may acknowledge the seeming bifurcation between the natural and supernatural – that is, from the human perspective only the natural is perceivable, but for God they are one and the same. But whatever it is, what is more exigent for me is having a meaningful, purposeful, and satisfying life – and that itself is a miracle.

And lastly, how can we make miracles happen? That would be the subject of my next piece in this column.


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