Why should we believe in miracles?
People love to look for reasons to believe things. They need the reason to justify their belief.
And Christians are tasked with believing in miracles.
Yet the modern world is materialistic. If an explanation cannot be verified empirically, then it is likely to be rejected.
So Christians try to find empirical reasons for believing in miracles.
And they fail.
Of course they fail. Miracles come from God, and they do not come from the material world. Trying to explain a miracle empirically is like answering math problems with a horoscope.
It is a sort of fallacy, and the name of the fallacy is a category error.
But this does not mean that miracles do not exist. Nor does it mean that belief in miracles is silly.
But we really do need an answer to the question:
Why should we believe in miracles?
Miracles occur because God is a person, He exists outside of the universe, and he sometimes intervenes. His interventions are miracles. He is immaterial, so science cannot explain Him or His deeds. That His acts are inexplicable to men does not refute their existence.
So this is the reason why Christians should believe in miracles. Their existence is a necessary consequence of God’s personhood, His omnipotence, and his active interest in the universe and its happenings.
Moreover, the belief in miracles is not nearly as silly as some people would pretend. Numerous arguments in favor of their being have been put forth over the ages. Of these, St. Augustine’s defense of miracles is among the most famous.
What follows is that argument which he presents in The City of God (Book 21, Chapter 7).
Why Shouldn’t God Be Capable of Miracles?
Why, then, cannot God effect that the bodies of the dead shall rise? And then that the bodies of the damned shall be tormented in everlasting fire?
God, who made the world full of countless miracles in sky, earth, air, and waters. While itself is a miracle unquestionably greater and more admirable than all the marvels it is filled with?
Against the Naturalists
But those with whom or against whom we are arguing, who believe both that there is a God who made the world, and that there are gods created by Him who administer the world’s laws as His viceregents.
Our adversaries, I say, who, so far from denying emphatically, assert that there are powers in the world which effect marvellous results, when we lay before them the wonderful properties of other things which are neither rational animals nor rational spirits, but such material objects as those we have just cited, are in the habit of replying thus:
“This is their natural property, their nature; these are the powers naturally belonging to them.”
Examples of Naturalist Miracles
- Thus the whole reason why Agrigentine salt dissolves in fire and crackles in water is that this is its nature.
- Yet this seems rather contrary to nature. It has given not to fire but to water the power of melting salt. And the power of scorching it not to water but to fire.
But this they say, is the natural property of this salt, to show effects contrary to these.
- The same reason, therefore, is assigned to account for that Garamantian fountain, of which one and the same runlet is chill by day and boiling by night, so that in either extreme it cannot be touched.
- So also of that other fountain which, though it is cold to the touch, and though it, like other fountains, extinguishes a lighted torch, yet, unlike other fountains, and in a surprising manner, kindles an extinguished torch.
- So of the asbestos stone, which, though it has no heat of its own, yet when kindled by fire applied to it, cannot be extinguished.
- And so of the rest, which I am weary of reciting, and in which, though there seems to be an extraordinary property contrary to nature, yet no other reason is given for them than this, that this is their nature, — a brief reason truly, and, I own, a satisfactory reply.
Why Should We Believe in Miracles? – God Is an Acceptable Explanation
But since God is the author of all natures, then how is it that our adversaries refuse to believe what we affirm? Even on the ground that miracles are impossible. They are unwilling to accept a better explanation than their own, that this is the will of Almighty God.
For certainly He is called Almighty only because He is mighty to do all He will.
He who was able to create so many marvels, not only unknown, but very well ascertained, as I have been showing, and which, were they not under our own observation, or reported by recent and credible witnesses, would certainly be pronounced impossible?
For as for those marvels which have no other testimony than the writers in whose books we read them, and who wrote without being divinely instructed, and are therefore liable to human error, we cannot justly blame any one who declines to believe them.
Miracles in St. Augustine’s Life
For my own part, I do not wish all the marvels I have cited to be rashly accepted. I tend not to believe them myself. Although I make an exception for those which have either come under my own observation. I also except those which any one can readily verify.
Examples of such miracles include:
- The ability for lime, which is heated by water, to be cooled by oil.
- The magnet which by its mysterious and insensible suction attracts the iron, but has no affect on a straw.
- And the peacock’s flesh which triumphs over the corruption from which not the flesh of Plato is exempt.
- The chaff so chilling that it prevents snow from melting, so heating that it forces apples to ripen.
- The glowing fire, which, in accordance with its glowing appearance, whitens the stones it bakes. Yet, contrary to its glowing appearance, it begrimes most things it burns. This is like how dirty stains are made by oil, even when it is pure. Meanwhile, the lines drawn by white silver are black.
- The charcoal, too, which by the action of fire is so completely changed from its original, that a finely marked piece of wood becomes hideous, the tough becomes brittle, the decaying incorruptible.
Why Should We Believe in Miracles? – Practical Justification for Believing in Miracles
Some of these things I know in common with many other persons, some of them in common with all men; and there are many others which I have not room to insert in this book.
But of those which I have cited, though I have not myself seen, but only read about them, I have been unable to find trustworthy witnesses from whom I could ascertain whether they are facts, except in the case of that fountain in which burning torches are extinguished and extinguished torches lit, and of the apples of Sodom, which are ripe to appearance, but are filled with dust.
And indeed I have not met with any who said they had seen that fountain in Epirus, but with some who knew there was a similar fountain in Gaul not far from Grenoble.
The fruit of the trees of Sodom, however, is not only spoken of in books worthy of credit. Yet so many persons say that they have seen it that I cannot doubt the fact.
But the rest of the prodigies I receive without definitely affirming or denying them.
And I have cited them because I read them in the authors of our adversaries.
Why Should We Believe in Miracles? – On the Skeptics
I have done so that I might prove the multiplicity of things many among themselves believe. Especially because they are written in works of their own literary men, though no rational explanation of them is given.
Yet they scorn to believe us when we assert that Almighty God will do what is beyond their experience and observation.
And this they do even though we assign a reason for His work.
For what better reason for such things can be given than to say that the Almighty brings them to pass?
And what will bring them to pass, having predicted them in those books in which many other marvels which have already come to pass were predicted?
Those things which are regarded as impossible will be accomplished according to the word.
And they will be done the power of that God who predicted and effected that the incredulous nations should believe incredible wonders.