Faith and Reason: A message with a further meaning: Today we start a new series on the implications of belief in miracles. Do they happen? Must they be supernatural? Can they prove anything? The first article is by Dr Max Gammon, a London GP.

TWO GREEK words are commonly used in the New Testament to describe miracles, teras, meaning a wonder, describes the astonishment of the observer; the second word, semeion, meaning a sign, describes the inner meaning of a miracle. In Greek literature three main usages of semeion are recorded:

1. The mark by which a thing is known, proof of authenticity as in a modern watermark.

2. A signal to troops in battle, understood only by those knowing the code.

3. A symbolic message, a communication with a hidden meaning.

The miracles of Jesus may be seen as living parables containing meanings extending beyond their immediate time and circumstances as well as marks of His authenticity. The Bible contains no proofs. But it is full of signs and marks.

A commonly encountered objection to belief in the miracles of Jesus is that 'they contradict the laws of nature', or, as some Christian apologists put it, 'God would be breaking His own laws.' The short answer to this was given by Jesus to the Saducees, 'Ye do err, not knowing the scriptures, nor the power of God.'

We can add to this the charge of ignorance of science too. Most sixth-form science students know that what are commonly called scientific laws are provisional and limited in their scope. Thus for everyday purposes Newtonian laws of gravity and motion are correct but, since Einstein's discovery of Relativity, we now know that Newton's laws break down at speeds approaching that of light. So let us once for all 'flap this bug that stinks and stings'. The miracles of Jesus do not contradict the laws of nature. They go beyond them as we at present perceive them, in much the same way as Einstein's laws go beyond Newton's, but do not contradict them within their own frame of reference. Thus the miracles of Jesus reveal to us aspects of reality which are not at present directly accessible to us.

The appearance of Jesus, after His crucifixion, to two of His disciples on the road to Emmaus as described in the Gospel of Luke is not usually classified as one of His miracles, but of course it is. Jesus, whom his disciples had believed to be the Son of God, had been arrested, brought before the High Priests, condemned as a blasphemous impostor, flogged and publicly humiliated and then executed. The disciples may have heard or would have been told of that terrible cry from the cross, 'My God, My God why hast thou forsaken me?' I suspect that cry would have been echoing in their own hearts - 'Why hast thou forsaken us?'

Listen to the bitter disillusionment and brutal cynicism in Thomas's response to the report that Jesus had risen from the dead, 'Except I should see in His hands the print of the nails, and thrust my hand into His side, I will not believe.'

Here is a faith so mangled that it loathes the very thought of recovery. Stories of resurrection provoke in Thomas the spiritual equivalent of a vomit. If there is any miracle in the Bible more difficult to believe than the resurrection of the crucified Christ it is the resurrection of the faith of His disciples.

Can we, nearing the end of the 20th century, stand alongside those disciples? I believe that we can. Many of us will have experienced the seeming powerlessness of God in our personal lives, all will have agonised over it in the world at large. Some may have experienced prayers seemingly unheard, hopes destroyed, faith crushed. Day in and day out we hear the sound of the rationalist whip not only, or indeed chiefly, wielded by avowed atheists. Who can forget the mockery of the modern High Priest who dismissed belief in the physical resurrection of Christ as belief in a 'conjuring trick with a bag of bones', an assessment echoed by tittering scribes from pulpits up and down the land?

Many of us were brought up to believe in the Second Coming of Christ, few of us can have been prepared for His second death.

Yes, we can stand alongside the disciples on the Emmaus road, so let us walk with them. And now the miracle begins.

Jesus, unrecognised, joins the travellers and asks what they are discussing and why they are so downcast. They tell Him. His reply is remarkable first for what it does not contain. He gives no explanation for what has happened. Earlier I said that the Bible gives us no material proofs of what it tells us, it is not a scientific textbook. Thank God for that; textbooks are soon outdated. Equally important, the Bible gives us no material explanations, it is not a work of philosophy. Thank God for that; philosophies go in and out of fashion.

It is difficult to accept, but none the less true, that not every question that man can frame is capable of a rational answer. Indeed, it is precisely to the most profound questions, whether in cosmology or in human affairs, that there can be no rational answers. If this were not the case we would indeed be a sort of highly complex computer; every question generated within our circuitry could then necessarily be answered by ourselves or a similar machine.

The terrible questions tormenting the disciples on the Emmaus road went right to the heart of the relationship between man and God. The 'answers' lay outside the rational calculus. Jesus made no attempt to explain to the disciples what had happened, instead he mildly reproved them for their dismay and reminded them that the events had all been foretold in prophetic scripture and in His own discourses.

What does Jesus have to say to us today on our stretch of the Emmaus road? I suggest that He would remind us of His last discourses as recorded in the Gospels, and such texts as, 'When the Son of Man cometh shall He find faith on the earth?' and 'Except the Lord had shortened the days, no flesh should be saved.' But, like the disciples, I do not think that many of us are going to be satisfied with this. No amount of teaching and preaching even by Christ Himself could heal those broken hearts, restore that dead faith. The miracle was incomplete, indeed the disciples were unaware that it had begun. Something more than words was needed.

The disciples, still not recognising Jesus, pressed Him to join them in a meal. He did so and broke the bread - 'Take this in remembrance of me . . .' and in that moment 'their eyes were opened'. Just a flash, like a mountain top glimpsed through breaking cloud, they saw and they knew. The cloud returned but ever after they knew. They returned to Jerusalem, transformed. Men who had fled from Christ on the cross, they were now shortly to lay down their own lives affirming His resurrection. And this we know to be true; how else could we still be remembering and celebrating the event?

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