Faith & Reason: Calling cards left as a sign of hope: Our series on the implication of belief in miracles, and whether they prove anything, is resumed by Clive Calver, General Secretary of the Evangelical Alliance, UK

A CLOSE encounter of the miraculous kind was recently recounted to me by an acquaintance. Struck by two cars in south London and tossed into the air like a rag doll, she recalls: 'As I fell towards the ground a pair of enormous hands enfolded me and lowered me gently to the ground.'

A freelance journalist not known for flights of fancy or hallucinogenic drug-taking, she remains unyielding in her conviction that on a specific night in south London God stepped forward and spectacularly left his calling card.

I am prepared to believe her remarkable interpretation of events because I am persuaded of a divine ordering of the world which permits such a mysterious happening. An atheist might snigger at such a fanciful explanation of a 'lucky escape' because of a philosophy which prohibits the supernatural. A liberal, whose God may be more spiritual force than person, might take offence at the notion of a deity playing heavenly backstop.

It is virtually impossible to approach the topic of miracles impartially. The beams of presupposition in our eyes distort our views about Jesus and the miracles he performed. My conviction is that religion which depicts Jesus as little more than an ethically minded do-gooder has robbed Christianity of its transcendent power and its purpose. To strike out or explain away the 35 specific New Testament miracles performed by Jesus is like demanding that butchers sell only vegetarian goods. Christ's supernatural acts are as much a manifestation of God incarnate as are his more palatable teachings about loving our neighbours.

It is too easy to seek refuge in the rationalist arguments of the Enlightenment - that we live in a closed-circuit, mechanistic universe governed solely by natural laws. To espouse a God who has abandoned his creation leaves no potential for divine intervention and leaves us with a remote deity, a pale shadow of 'God Almighty'.

The cosmic loneliness which invades those whose God has departed the planet demands the alternative explanation of a loving creator, who, like a responsible parent, does not desert his offspring. And certainly not when his omniscience informs him of the perils and disasters to befall us in his absence.

Miracles happen, not primarily as sensational physical acts, but as part of God's continuing revelation of himself. They are not cheap paranormal stunts. They represent the activity of a supernatural God unwilling to be the absentee landlord of his creation.

Miracles supremely possess spiritual significance. They authenticate God's logical divine relationship with human beings and they liberate us from the slavery of our own inherited myths. A familiar 'miracle myth' dictates that supernatural interventions are forbidden because they transgress the sacrosanct laws of science and nature. Yet many miracles could be described as God intervening within nature in ways comparable to our own.

A billiard ball rolling along a table is responding according to Natural Law. If someone places their hand in the way of the moving ball the Natural Law is interfered with - but only in a way that also conforms with the Natural Law. The person behind the intervention may well have a purpose whose significance is outside the 'realm of billiards'. For instance, a father may be insisting that the game of billiards stop.

In the same way, God can be said to intervene within our higher forms of science. The parting of the Red Sea did not transgress Natural Law and was no less disruptive to the process of cause and effect than the spoiling of a billiard ball's progress. In any event, miracles by their very definition are not recurrent happenings around which it is possible to construct scientific theory.

Christ's feeding of the 5,000 is but a microcosm of God's large- scale action in creation over billions of years. Every day God enables the production of corn seed and the other ingredients which together become bread. God has also stocked the oceans with spawning fish. So, in multiplying the available food, Christ was operating within the Natural Law, albeit at a much faster rate and on a small scale. A short-cut, yes. Breaking Natural Law, no.

Christianity's essence is that God desires to reveal his personal identity and character to humans. Miracles become not just possible but predictable for such a God. In fact, it would be outrageous for God to remain hidden and his absence would contradict the Incarnation and Resurrection.

Of course many claims to miracle-working are spurious - from the apocryphal story of Jesus as a boy breathing life into birds of clay, absurd because of its absence of purpose - to the peculiarly large number of leg-lengthening deeds professed by some modern-day healers. Charlatans and tricksters should not throw us off the trail. After all, Jesus's contemporary opponents did not disbelieve his miracle-working, only the source of his power which they supposed was 'Beelzebub'.

Sceptics today find the concept of a miracle-working God crass and unsophisticated. Those of us who are conservative in our theology can be accused of a vested interest in believing in miracles to buttress our own Christian world- view. Equally, those who wish God to be more manageable have a profound stake in the notion of a non-interventionist God.

As in first-century Palestine, people today are still drawn to Jesus as a sign of hope. Their response to him can be strengthened by reports of miracles, old and new, which demonstrate that the Kingdom had arrived. Miracles challenge us with the good news of a supernatural salvation which is received through faith. Few people would dare question the belief that Julius Caesar set foot on Britain's shores. Yet this fact rests on the flimsy historical evidence of 10 manuscripts. Immeasurably more evidence exists to support the miraculous resurrection of Christ. Not that either event can be 'proved'; faith is required for both events. Perhaps popular reluctance to concede Jesus's rising from the dead while being convinced of Caesar's invasion, is due to the fact that the latter demands no response. If miracles do occur, then Christ has indeed risen, God is alive after all and we face implications for the way we live our lives.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Ashdown Group: HR Assistant (Events business) - Central Manchester - £20K

£18000 - £20000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Assistant (Events busi...

Recruitment Genius: Project Engineer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This privately-owned company designs and manuf...

Recruitment Genius: Human Resources Officer

£22000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity has arisen at th...

Ashdown Group: HR Manager - London - £40,000 + Bonus

£36000 - £40000 per annum + Bonus: Ashdown Group: HR Manager (Generalist) -Old...

Day In a Page

NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

Beige to the future

Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own