Sunday, March 20, 2011

Miracle or Providence?

There are several definitions of the word miracle, but it usually brings to mind a supernatural, inexplicable occurrence that is divine in nature. We all want a miracle to make up for our human shortfalls or perhaps to show we have special favour with God. The word is often over-used to describe what are really natural events.

It was a miracle that our team won the game
We keep in touch through the miracle of the internet.
Conception and life are miracles.

Miracle drugs, vitamins, foods and lotions are supposed to erase the effects of age and disease. It doesn’t matter if you have smoked for 50 years or if you have a lifestyle related illness. People will rush out to buy a “miracle” ingredient to compensate for the abuse of their body. Those in need may be quick to ask others to pray for a miracle on their behalf. Hardly a day goes by that I don’t receive a request like that online or from people I am in contact with each day.

For a long time I have observed that miracles are very rare events. While I believe they can occur, I cannot say I have ever seen one even though I have heard many people claim them. Within my faith background it is pretty much a heresy to say that. A miracle is an event that cannot be explained by the laws of nature. It is a visible demonstration of supernatural power that reveals or confirms God’s will. The Bible records many miracles in the Old and New Testaments and believers are told that if they have faith as a grain of mustard seed, they can move mountains.

Working in a hospital I see disease at work every day. People get sick, some get better and others die. We all experience age related decline. Some cancers grow quickly, others respond well to treatment or go into spontaneous remission. Other diseases such as multiple sclerosis are characterized by relapses and remissions. Disease follows a natural course and has the same effect on those with faith or those without faith. The laws of nature explain earthquakes and other natural disasters which have claimed many lives in recorded history. 

While I may not observe miracles around me, I am aware of the providence of God on a daily basis. Divine providence is defined as "the divine intervention in the affairs of man within the confines of natural law," or "the foreseeing and guardianship of God which shows itself in a manifestation of His divine care or direction." What we may consider a coincidence, beating the odds or a lucky break, may be seen in retrospect to be God’s provision and guidance in our lives. There are many scriptures which speak of this such as Proverbs 3:5-6.

 Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
And lean not on your own understanding;
 In all your ways acknowledge Him,
And He shall direct your paths.

Psalm 23 also conveys this same idea. Our path in life will inevitably lead us through difficult, trying experiences. There may not be a divine miracle no matter how much faith we have. Our goal should not be deliverance, but acceptance of God’s work and direction through natural events in our lives. He does not dole out miracles as a reward for good behaviour and that kind of thinking can lead to spiritual pride. But he is God, the provider of all that we need. Often he uses people around us to meet our need and we in turn can bless others in the same way.

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? 
Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?  
As it is written:
“For Your sake we are killed all day long;
We are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.”
Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. 
For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, 
nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come,  
nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, 
shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Romans 8: 35-39 

The words of Fanny Crosby's hymn All the Way My Saviour Leads Me come to my mind as expressing the truth of what I believe..."For I know, whate’er befall me, Jesus doeth all things well."