The central point of my sermon yesterday was that God’s work in our world–divine miracles–are in fact all around us. We also have the opportunity to “join in” with God’s work by enacting the love of Christ all around us. Here are a few thoughts and perspectives on the issue of miracles and faith…
Some folks may be curious about a brief point I made yesterday concerning God’s “fingerprint” on the world. Simply put, there is quite a lot of evidence that creation points towards a creator. One popular view of “miracles” is how God is evident in the world itself. Christian thinkers have often used the term fine-tuning to describe our universe. When we examine creation, it is akin to a complicated, well-crafted watch operating smoothly. Everything from our own bodies to the galaxies in the sky, appears as though they are well-designed and finely-tuned.
For instance, if our earth were any closer to the sun, that would put the atmosphere all out of whack. And if we were any further away, we would freeze to death. Various weights and charges of subatomic particles are so finely-tuned, that even the slightest “adjustments” would prevent organic chemicals like carbon or oxygen from forming at all. Our sun in the perfect size. The list goes on and on.
I think too many Christians struggle with not valuing God’s creation enough. According to the Genesis account, God entrusted the world to us so that we might act as stewards of it. And tragically, we often fail to see God’s handiwork all around us. God has placed a unique, divine fingerprint across creation. Our universe, world, and even our own bodies reveal the beautiful truth that there is indeed a creator.
One debate theologians often have has to do with whether so-called “conventional” miraculous acts can still occur today. This has to do with things like gifts of the Holy Spirit. As you are probably aware, some denominations teach things like speaking in tongues and future-oriented prophecy. Other churches may be more nuanced in their believes, arguing that those things don’t happen nowadays as much or often as they used to. Is every “Jesus-type” miracle still a possibility today? Or did something change after the years of the early church?
The fancy theological terms for this debate are continuationism and cessationism (try saying those five times fast!). Continuationism, as the root implies, is the belief that miracle-working akin to healing to healing stories in Jesus’ time continue on for today. This belief is quite common among pentecostal or charismatic churches.
Cessationism, rooted in the word cease, is the opposing belief that shortly after the time of Jesus, miracle-working began to stop. The presence of the Holy Spirit kind of “wears off” the further we historically get away from Jesus.
(As you can probably guess, these are some very complicated issues to dive into for another time, blog post, sermon, or bible study!)
And one last personal note on miracles…
As I noted on Sunday, I think we often have tunnel vision in regards to this issue. We yearn for a mystical magic-type miracle, yet remain totally unaware to how God can move among our life in other ways.
One thing to keep in mind with all these various views and theological debates is this: The most important thing to our faith is Jesus Christ. The experience of a miracle, regardless of whether it is a “burning bush” or feeling God’s presence, is secondary to this primary purpose of our faith. God’s love ought to be central to our existence. Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 13:1-3 apply to this closing thought:
If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.