June 23, 2024



4th Sunday After Trinity, 23 June
Readings: Job 38. 1-11; 2 Cor. 6. 1-13; Mark 4. 35-end
Theme: Miracles

How should we understand miracles?

Whether we are reading the Old or the New Testaments we are faced by a series of miraculous events that challenge us to form a view of what we are reading. So, how should we understand miracles?

In the case of the specific readings that we are presented with today, it is important to understand them in relation to two central doctrines about God manifest in Jesus, namely, that God is our creator and God is our saviour. In the first reading from the Book of Job, we see how these central themes of creation and salvation are intrinsically connected. In Chapter 38 of the Book of Job, the sufferings and woes of Job are set within an account of the mystery of creation. The depiction of the storm which opens this chapter is frequently used in biblical literature as a sign of the revelation of the Lord. It is a place within which God speaks, when humans are threatened by the forces of nature. The previous chapters of Job had recounted his various misfortunes which had visited him and in these final chapters, the enigma of human suffering is placed within the larger context of the mystery of God’s creative and salvific action, which transcends human wisdom. This leads Job to be reduced to silence in Chapter 40. 4-5.

So, when we are faced in the gospel by the event of Jesus’s calming of the storm on the lake, we are told by the disciples, ‘Even the wind and waves obey him’. These events of Chapter 4 will be continued in Chapter 5 of St Mark, which we will discuss next week, when Jesus heals the Gerasene demoniac, the woman with a haemorrhage, and raises the daughter of the president of the synagogue, Jairus, to life.

The themes of creation and salvation are often thought of as separate events. As if first God creates then he saves, but in reality it is a more coherent way to understand them as different aspects of one process. God’s creative activity flowers in salvation. So, in our approach to understanding miracles it is helpful to situate them in the context of the creative and salvific concern of God for his creation. The very fact that there is human suffering, as we know oh so well, is obviously not something that we can ever fully understand. Like Job, we are presented with a mystery, but it is a mystery which is set within the context that recognizes that the God who created us is the same God who saves us; who liberates us from entropic nature of the creation in the arms of the one who created it in the first place.

The particular difficulty we may sometimes have with miracles is one which has its roots in a modern understanding of the world that we have inherited from Newton. This worldview tended to separate nature from the doctrine of creation as the orderly laws of nature were deciphered and philosophers such as David Hume (1711-76), held that this order was not something that could be broken. Yet, on the other hand, we can also be faced with a view of miracles which rather than being a feature of the creator and redeemer God are merely viewed as ‘show pieces’ or spectacular events which merely thrill and entertain.

A more balanced approach to miracles is neither that of the scepticism of some of the modern philosophers nor the desire for the spectacular of the thrill seekers. They are better appreciated as revealing who God is and what this means for the creation as a whole. This is why in the Book of Job we are presented with the suffering of human nature in the context of the doctrine of the creation. The very fact that we are part of nature means that we, just like the rest of nature, are subject to its laws, one of which is the tendency for it to degenerate in the entropic trajectory towards heat death and disorder. This is what distinguishes us from God who is not a part of creation and so is not subject to the same processes that we are. It is God who creates these. This is the basis of what miracles are. They reveal that nature is the creation of God. In other words, they are one of the ways that ‘the heavens proclaim the glory of God and the skies proclaim the work of his hands’, as Psalm 19. 1 so beautifully puts it. Miracles literally reveal that God is the creator and so rules heaven and earth according to his will.

And if this will of God rules heaven and earth, it is also this same of will of God which desires to rescue us from its tendency towards damage, sickness, and eventual death. In other words, the God who creates us is the same God who saves us. So, the various miracles that we are presented with in the scriptures are not meant to thrill us with the spectacular, but rather to communicate to us who this God we believe in really is. He is the creator and the redeemer, the saviour of the world. It is this God of whom the miracles are evangelical signs.
In Jesus, this creator and redeemer God comes to us in the very form of the creation, in flesh and blood. In that boat on the lake with the disciples, he sleeps because like us he was tired from his activities. The God in Jesus who was tired is also the God who has the power to control the wind and seas, and so he rebukes them to be, “Quiet and Still”. This act of calming the forces of nature is a sign, a symbol of the salvific action of God calming our nature, transforming it into the new creation which shares in the very divine life itself through the resurrection. Yes, in this way, the salvation of God is revealed to be another dimension of God’s creative power. As our mortal bodies are transformed from death into new life, we are recreated in the new creation that has been inaugurated by the resurrection of Jesus.

So, how are we to understand miracles? We should understand them as part and parcel of God’s creative and salvific work that transforms the old creation into the new creation. They are not God’s magic, they are the revelation of God as creator and saviour, transforming the creation into heaven. This transformation is inaugurated by the resurrection of Jesus, and all the signs and wonders of the Old and New Testaments point towards the destiny of the creation to be consummated in the creative and saving power of God for all his creation, which is heaven.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.