Monday, October 13, 2008

The Miracle of the Ordinary

(Comment on message board):

"God is beautiful and His creation shows it. A new born baby is truely(sic) a miracle of God."

To the parents, the intense emotions they experience at the birth of their child can understandably transform what is often a painful, bloody, and sometimes deadly process into a life-changing event. But by other measures, childbirth is a routine, almost ordinary happenstance in the grand scheme of things. After all, a baby is born every second of every day in our world.

  Much depends upon the definition of ‘miracle.’ When Jesus or other holy figures are said to have performed miracles, everyone assumes that they are doing something that is *not* ordinary. It wouldn’t be useful to say Jesus was a miracle worker if all we meant was he could digest food, or see visible light, or exhale carbon dioxide.

  Miracles are typically defined as an occurrence that transcends or violates the ordinary laws of nature. To walk around on a boat is routine; to walk on the water is a miracle.

  Given that, then how can we describe something that is routine and occurring every day all around the world as a miracle, attributed to God’s direct intervention? If sunlight shines through water vapor, the visible light is scattered into its spectrum to make a rainbow. Rainbows happen everywhere, and we can even make miniature ones with a garden hose in the backyard. So would it be useful to say that a rainbow is a miracle of God? Rainbows can be breathtaking, to be sure, but they are by no means a suspension of the laws of nature. In fact, they are a confirmation of the laws that we experience. Rainbows, the effects of gravity, the shaping of the land into mountains and seas, and yes, even the birth of a baby are all common occurrences of natural laws that need no supernatural intervention.

  To insist that ordinary events really do require God’s constant attention and micro-managing is to denigrate the fascinating workings of the laws of the universe. It also devalues the meaning of the word “miracle” into nonsense.

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