Gospel Gazette, Bible Articles

Vol. 1, No. 7 Page 14 July 1999

Gospel Gazette, Bible Articles

Miracles, Providence and Randomness

By Darrell Conley

[Published in Matters of the Faith, Vol. 4, No. 4, January-March 1999 and lately in LemmonsAid e-mail newsletter, produced by David Lemmons -- dlemmons@usa.net -- preacher for the North Marshall church of Christ, Calvert City, KY.]

It is the contention of this article that these three ways are the ways in which God has operated or operates in the world. It is all important in discussing these matters that we define, as much as we can, our terms so we will know what we are talking about. This is often neglected in our biblical discussions and as a result our statements are not on point.

As it is being used in this article, miracle means a sign or confirmation from God that he has spoken through a particular person or group of persons. Providence, so far as I am able to determine, is the same act of God, but hidden behind his natural law, so that we cannot know when or even if he has acted. We say, as Mordecai said to Esther, "Who knoweth whether thou art not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?" (Esther 4:14). We pray in faith and leave the answer of our prayer to God. We should always pray, "Thy will be done." This prayer he will always answer. Randomness is sheer chance, the sheer accident of natural law. This surely is how God deals with all men most of the time and the very reason for his natural law. It is objective and impartial toward all.

As an illustration let me use a quotation of an article from an incident that is now some years in the past. Some of us remember the tragedy that struck one of the congregations in Garland, Texas. During the Sunday morning worship service, the roof collapsed from the accumulated snow, killing a little girl and injuring several other people. One of the elders of that congregation was quoted in the paper as saying, "It was a miracle more were not killed. God was with us." While sympathizing with those who were suffering and realizing that many people are prone to overstatements, there are several things I find disturbing about that remark.

Was it really a miracle? The disaster, like most disasters, could have been worse. Does this make it a miracle? I can find no place in the Bible where a limited disaster is called a miracle. Was it a miracle when the Sanhedrin didn't stone Philip to death as well as Stephen? All miracles were wonderful and extraordinary occurrences, but not all wonderful and extraordinary occurrences are miracles. If many great and wonderful events are not miracles, how much less this disaster in Garland?

In examining the miracles described in the Bible, we discover that the miracle (as opposed to providence or coincidence) was the DIRECT and OBVIOUS intervention of God into the chain of cause and effect we call natural law. Notice that the words DIRECT and OBVIOUS are in all caps.

In a miracle God makes it obvious that he is the One who has done the thing. As Trench said, "The unresting activity of God, which at other times hides and conceals itself behind the veil of what we term natural laws, does in the miracle unveil itself, it steps out from its concealment, and the hand which works is laid bare" [Richard Trench, Notes on the Miracles of Our Lord, p. 13]. If in the tragedy at Garland, God obviously intervened, where is the evidence? Why was not the building spared? Why was not the life of the little girl spared? To ascribe such a lame "miracle" to God is strange indeed.

I understand the relief and gratitude at escaping from such disaster and the desire to express one's gratitude to God, but "miracle" is an overstatement. God works much of the time by allowing his natural law to run its course. Is there no such thing in the life of some people as the natural or coincidental? Must we attribute everything either to the providential or to the miraculous activity of God?

We live in a fallen and cursed world--a world of pain and sorrow and death. A world which is designed by God to allow us to make a free choice to serve him or reject him. It is a perfect place for soul growth. But it is not a perfect place. Unless we wish to ascribe to the deliberate and direct action of God all of the evil and suffering in the world, we must acknowledge that randomness exists. There are random sufferings and there are random causes for pleasures and lack of suffering. The wicked suffer, but the righteous suffer, too. The righteous sometimes prosper, but the wicked do so as well. We must also recognize that God's Will for this world allows for the free will of man with all of its possibilities for good and evil.

The expression, "God with us," in the context of the tragedy in Garland, is fraught with difficulties. Such a statement can be true in only one of three ways:

ONE: It could be true in the sense that God is the ultimate source of everything and thus allows everything that exists to exist, and everything that happens to happen. But we cannot conclude that we should therefore attribute everything that happens to the purposeful action of God. God through his natural law sends sunshine and rain on the just and unjust. However, such is not a sign either to the just or to the unjust that God is with them. Every false religion in the world attributes the random good things its adherents receive as proof that God favors them. The true Christian has no need or excuse to fall into such nonsense. "And hereby we know that we know him, if we keep his commandments" (1 John 2:3).

TWO: Or it could be true in the sense that what happened was a MIRACLE. But the miracles of the Bible were signs. They were confirmation that certain ones were God's spokesmen. A miracle was therefore the PURPOSEFUL, DIRECT and OBVIOUS intervention of God into the chain of cause and effect he put into place when he created this world. We call that chain of cause and effect natural law. The miracles of the Bible were the result of extraordinary gifts from God. They were for the purpose of revealing and confirming God's will. "And they went forth, and preached everywhere, the Lord working with them, and confirming the word by the signs that followed" (Mark 16:20). "How shall we escape, if we neglect so great a salvation? which having at the first been spoken through the Lord, was confirmed unto us by them that heard; God also bearing witness with them, both by signs and wonders, and by manifold powers, and by gifts of the Holy Spirit, according to his own will" (Hebrews 2:3-4). They were to cease when God's Word had been completely revealed and confirmed (1 Corinthians 13:8-13). To use the word "miracle" carelessly is to confuse ourselves and others and to compromise the integrity and authority of the Scriptures.

THREE: It could be true in the sense of PROVIDENCE. This, like the miracle, is the purposeful intervention of God into the chain of natural law, but unlike the miracle it is not DIRECT or OBVIOUS and, thus, is not a sign. Providence is hidden behind the veil of cause and effect. When God acts providentially, we cannot know at what point in the chain of cause and effect God has intervened, or in any particular instance if God has intervened. If we could know these things, it would not be providence, but a miracle--a sign.

There are those in this 20th and 21st century, when science is almost universally worshiped, where man is ridiculously proud of his knowledge and his puny control of the material world, and where he is so ignorant of his own ignorance, who claim that they cannot believe in the miracles of the Bible, because they were contrary to the laws of nature. But the miracle was not anti-natural. It was super-natural. It was the intervention of a higher law and a higher power, perhaps the same power that is hidden in the exercise of the providence of God today. We today believe in God, his Word and his power. It is "alive and active," (Hebrews 4:12).


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