May 25th, 1997
by Dr. Phil Fernandes
A chapter from his doctoral dissertation
© 1997, Institute of Biblical Defense, All Rights Reserved
A miracle is when God supersedes the laws of nature (the regular and usual way the world operates) by directly intervening in the affairs of mankind. An act of special providence is when God works through natural laws to bring about His will. God here indirectly intervenes.1
The debate concerning whether or not certain spiritual gifts (tongues, prophecy, miracles, healing, etc.) have ceased is irrelevant for our present purposes. Those who believe that miracles no longer occur still believe that God may heal someone or answer a prayer through special providence.
EVIDENCE FROM MIRACLES
The Bible is filled with eyewitness accounts of miracles. These miracles could not be explained away. Unlike many current reports of supposed miracles, the miracles in the Bible were verifiable and could not be explained by other means. Two examples will suffice.
In the ninth chapter of his gospel, the apostle John records the healing of a man born blind. After Jesus healed this man, the Pharisees decided to thoroughly investigate this miracle claim. They questioned the blind man who had his sight restored. Even after talking with him, they were not convinced. They therefore interrogated his parents who confirmed that he had been born blind. Even though the Pharisees were the enemies of Christ, they could not deny that a supernatural event had occurred. Instead, though admitting the healing was genuine, they accused Christ of breaking the Sabbath (the healing took place on a Sabbath day). The point is that the miracle could be verified through investigation. It could not be explained by natural causes alone.
The healed man used this miraculous work of Christ to testify to Christ’s own enemies concerning the power of Jesus. He witnessed that Jesus must be from God (John 9:30-33).
In the eleventh chapter of John’s gospel, another miracle of Christ is discussed. Here, Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead. Lazarus had been dead for four days. Eyewitnesses at his funeral and the stench of his body could attest to this fact. At Jesus’ command, Lazarus rose from the dead and came out of the tomb (John 11:43-44). Because of this great miracle, many people believed in Jesus (John 11:45; 12:17-19). The Jewish religious leaders again could not deny or refute the miracle. Therefore, being envious of Christ, they sought to kill both Jesus and Lazarus (John 11:53; 12:10-11).
Many miracle claims made today would not pass the close scrutiny that these two examples were put through. No one can adequately explain away the restoring of sight to a man born blind. Nor could the raising of a man who was dead for a period of four days be viewed as a natural event. If present-day miracle claims are used as evidence for the Christian faith, they should be well documented. Written statements of eyewitnesses should be used to confirm the truth of the miracle in question. If a healing has occurred, it should be documented with statements from the doctors involved. Evidence must be produced to prove both the initial sickness (blindness, deafness, etc.) and the subsequent healing.
EVIDENCE FROM SPECIAL PROVIDENCE
As mentioned above, cases of special providence do not supersede the laws of nature. Instead, God works through the laws of nature to bring about a result that He desires. An example of special providence is given in the sixteenth chapter of Acts. Paul and Silas had been arrested in Philippi for doing God’s work. At midnight, while they sang hymns of praises to God, a great earthquake occurred which freed the prisoners (Acts 16:23-26). Though the prisoners chose not to escape, the event was used by Paul to lead the Philippian jailer to Christ (Acts 16:27-34). In this case, the earthquake could be explained by the laws of nature alone. However, it stretches the imagination to claim that the loosing of Paul and Silas was merely a coincidence. God had obviously intervened. However, He had chosen to use the laws of nature rather than supersede them.
When documenting episodes of special providence, emphasis should be placed on the role of God. If God’s role is minimized, the event will seem like a mere coincidence. For example, I know of someone who was in desperate need of $5,000. In his despair he called out to God in prayer. Days later, he received a check in the mail from his father who lived on the other side of the country. The amount was for $5,000. The man in need had never informed his father of his need. The father had sold his house and bought a less expensive one. He then decided to divide the profit he had made among his four children. Though he was a man who always provided for his family, the father was not wealthy. He stated that he felt bad he was never able to put his children through college. This was the first time in his life he had given a gift of this amount. The gift he gave was the exact amount his son had prayed for, yet his son had told no one else (except his wife) of his need. God’s role was evident. He had answered the man’s prayer. The man’s wife was also aware of the situation; she confirmed his report. 2
If God had dropped the money out of heaven, it would have been a miracle. Instead, in the case mentioned above, He chose to work through natural means by persuading the heart of the father to give a gift of that size. It was an act of special providence. And though this does not lessen the merit of the father’s generosity, it was an act of God in answer to prayer.
Whether through miracles or acts of special providence, God still intervenes in the affairs of men. This can be used as evidence for the truth of Christianity. In fact, the apostle John wrote his gospel for this very reason. He stated that, “Many other signs therefore Jesus also performed in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these have been written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name” (John 20:30-31).