Ready for a Miracle

February 15th, 2012

The movie Big Miracle, which opened last weekend, tells the story of the effort to rescue three gray whales trapped in polar ice off the coast of a small Inuit village in Alaska. The film is inspired by events that unfolded in 1988 after an Inuit hunter saw a whale spout and initiated the rescue effort by trying to cut through the ice with a chain saw. Soon the entire community was involved. It finally took two icebreaker ships from the Soviet Union to cut through the ice and save two of the three whales. (The third died.)

The film refers to the rescue as a miracle, both because of what rescuers overcame to free the whales and because it involved cooperation between the United States and Soviet Union. The year 1988 was near the end of the Cold War, and relations between the two nations were tense. The film, like most films inspired by a true story, takes plenty of liberties, playing up the themes of hope, courage, and teamwork. Regardless of whether what happened off the north coast of Alaska more than twenty years ago was truly miraculous, the movie’s title opens the door to questions about miracles: What is a miracle? Do miracles exist? Are there different types of miracles? Does God perform miracles alone or through people? Why does God intervene in some situations but not others? Why do miracles seem so rare? Can miracles be explained by science?

A Theological Standard

Thomas Aquinas was an Italian-born monk and theologian who wrote and taught extensively about all matters of faith in the mid-thirteenth century. He argued that God could intervene from outside of or from within the world and the laws of nature.

While some people today believe that every baby born is a miracle, or that every life saved through medicine is a miracle, or that every recovery from illness is a miracle, others have more strict standards. The Roman Catholic Church, for example, requires evidence and witness testimonies before legitimizing an event as a miracle.

In some sense the amazing things that happen every day are miracles; and we should celebrate these miracles and God’s role in them. But, as God’s people, we believe that God is capable of doing things that wouldn’t otherwise be possible. We encounter such miracles so frequently in Scripture that we forget that these things didn’t happen every day, not even during Bible times. When they did occur, they revealed God’s power and God’s priorities, inviting people to worship God and to participate in what God was doing.

Magic and Miracle

From the beginning God made a distinction between God’s holy and miraculous acts and the acts of magicians. In Pharaoh’s Egyptian court, while Israel was still enslaved, Moses and Aaron were pitted against Pharaoh’s magicians. “Each one threw down his rod, and they turned into cobras. But then Aaron’s rod swallowed up each of their rods” (Exodus 7:12). God’s prophet Elijah was given the opportunity to show God’s miraculous power in a stunning way when he publicly went up against the prophets of Baal. Two identical altars were built to determine which god was real. Baal never appeared. But when Elijah prayed that the God of Israel be revealed, God reigned down fi re to consume the altar Elijah had built according to God’s will (see 1 Kings 18). So convincing was God’s supernatural power to cure people through the apostle Paul in Ephesus (see Acts 19), that those who were practicing magic turned away from their spell books, burned them publicly, and became believers in Jesus. We have the same opportunity to believe in God’s holy and miraculous power; to draw close to God through worship and prayer; and to experience how the Holy Spirit is at work in and through God’s people.

This article is also published as part of LinC, a weekly digital resource for youth small groups and Sunday school classes. The complete study guide can be purchased and downloaded here.

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