I get lots of email from skeptics. Much of this email is related to miracles. People want to know why Christians are so quick to attribute an event (or healing) to the miraculous intervention of a supernatural God, especially when it appears that a natural force may be offered as an explanation. After all, even Moses reported that a “strong east wind” blew all night prior to the parting of the red sea (Exodus 14:21). Maybe this natural occurrence was simply interpreted as a miracle after the fact. In a similar way, Thallus (the 1st Century Roman historian) attributed the darkness at the crucifixion to “an eclipse of the sun”; another reasonable natural occurrence that may have been misinterpreted as a miracle by those who were inclined toward the miraculous.
Modern day Christians also make claims about the supernatural intervention of God, and to many skeptics, these claims seem unwarranted. When someone claims God healed them from cancer, but admits they underwent a year of chemotherapy and radiation, it’s difficult for non-believers to credit the healing to God. It seems just as likely the “natural” interaction of the treatment was responsible. See the problem? When skeptics find evidence “natural” forces or laws are in play, they quickly dismiss any claim of supernatural activity. But the involvement of “natural” forces does NOT preclude the activity of a “supernatural” God.
Can God Use the “Laws of Nature”?
My dog, Baily, occasionally begs for a chew toy or dog treat. When one of these coveted items is sitting on the dining room table, she is frustrated beyond words (or barks). Bailey’s Corgi stature prohibits her from making the necessary leap to the tabletop. Her incessant whining will usually provoke one of us to come over and knock the treat from the table so it can fall to the ground for her. Without our intervention as a free agent, the natural force of gravity would never deliver the treat to Bailey. Strictly speaking, it could be said the force of gravity provided the treat. But we know our personal intervention was necessary, even though this intervention utilized the force of gravity as a means to an end. God most certainly works in the same way. God often engages the environment He created in a manner employing the physical laws reflecting His nature. Over time, we’ve observed and identified these divine characteristics and given them a title: “The Laws of Nature”. But the laws describing the interaction between material objects don’t preclude the existence or intervention of a Divine Free Agent who intercedes to “knock something from the table.” God’s free agency actively engages the laws reflecting his ordered, unified and consistent nature.
A “Supernatural” God in the “Natural” World?
But how can we, as reasonable Christian observers, tell the difference between a series of “unguided,” “natural” occurrences, and a series of events guided by the hand of God? How can we differentiate between a purely “natural” event and a uniquely “divine” miracle? Well, I think we begin by recognizing all “natural,” physical processes in the universe are sustained by God (Hebrews 1:3, John 5:17). The physics of the universe are simply a reflection of the active participation of God in his creation. It’s easy to separate the “divine” from the “natural” and think of the world in categories and boxes. Yet, this is not how the Christian Scriptures describe God’s creation. When we fail to see the forces of nature as the hand of God, we end up justifying all of God’s divine interaction as some form of “natural” coincidence. If we do this long enough, we’ll eventually fail to recognize those moments when God’s free agency is evident; those times when God clearly had to act dramatically to “knock something from the table.”
All of us, regardless of worldview, acknowledge the existence of at least one “extra-natural” cause. Whatever caused the universe and created all space, time and matter (the very definition of the ‘natural’ realm), must itself be non-spatial, a-temporal and non-material. This first cause is extra-natural by definition. If this extra-natural cause is personal, there is little reason to reject the reasonable possibility such a cause could choose to interact with its creation. So next time your inclined to attribute something miraculous to a “natural” cause, consider the source of all the physical laws governing the universe. The Divine Being responsible for these laws certainly has the power to act “miraculously”.