February 23, 2010

The More the Miracle

In John 14:12 Jesus told his disciples that they would do greater things than the miracles that He Himself did. This has always been a tough statement to believe, at least for those Christians who aren’t on TV claiming to make diamonds materialize out of thin air. Let’s face it, Jesus’ miracles were more impressive than casting out the demon of restless leg syndrome.

One good explanation is that while Jesus did more impressive works, He was only one person. In contrast, God is able to do a far greater amount of works today through the millions of Christians in the world. These works are greater in the sense of greater quantity, not because they are more obviously supernatural.

Right now I am taking a seminar on Thomas Aquinas and reading from his Summa Theologica. Thomas described miracles as “those things which God does outside those causes which we know” (Ia., Q. 105, A. 7). In other words, a miracle is an effect the cause of which is outside of the natural order. It is something that happens because of a direct supernatural cause, not because of normal cause and effect within this world. Thomas also asked whether some miracles are greater than others. When compared to God’s power, one miracle is as easy for God as any other miracle. But, if we compare them to the amount of natural power—the powers of nature—that the miracle must overcome, then some miracles are indeed greater than others. (ST. I. Q. 105, A. 8)

If a miracle is greater the more it overcomes the powers of the natural order, what does that say about the works that God does through believers today? Consider which is more difficult: to cure a disease or to cause someone to turn to the Lord Jesus as their Savior? If God decided to work through a person to supernaturally cure a disease, that would be a miracle. However, many diseases can be cured by doctors without immediate divine intervention. Perhaps one day all diseases may be cured by medicine and therapy. The same thing could be true about many miracles. Maybe we could even build a machine that could part the Red Sea. But, we can never cause someone to turn to Christ without God’s work in their heart.

When someone turns to Christ in saving faith, it is because God has done a supernatural work in their heart. If left on their own—cause and effect—no one would do anything besides walk away from God forever. The sinful heart of the natural man is hard. There is no one who seeks God. (Romans 3:11)

So what is the greater miracle? Is it greater when God works through a person to do something that man could theoretically do by natural means, or is it greater when He works through a Christian to cause a hardened sinner to be born again? Let me suggest that when God uses a believer to explain the gospel message to an unbeliever, causing him or her to believe, that God is overcoming a greater natural force than if He caused the world to spin backwards.

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Alas, Thomas himself would disagree with this since he holds that "the justification of the ungodly is not miraculous, because the soul is naturally capable of grace" (ST. I-II. Q. 113, A. 10).  And by justification, Thomas means the transmutation of a person from a state of ungodliness to a state of justice, that is, of right order.

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