It’s A Miracle!

As readers and writers of speculative fiction, we’re marinated in the miraculous. It’s easy to take for granted. All sorts of things happen that transcend the comprehension and capabilities of mortal men.
on Apr 12, 2011 · No comments

I may be time-stamping myself here, but some of you may remember Brother Dominic:

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Brother Dominic finishes a painstakingly-illuminated manuscript and brings it to his Abbot, who likes it very much and wants 500 more copies. Being a modern monk who no doubt reads both Popular Mechanics and Analog in his spare time, Brother Dominic finds a technological solution to his problem. The Abbot is amazed. “It’s a miracle!”

Now, we could take Brother Dominic to task for not coming clean and correcting the Abbot’s misconception, but more on that later.

"I've read five miraculous things just this morning!"

As readers and writers of speculative fiction, we’re marinated in the miraculous. It’s easy to take for granted. All sorts of things happen that transcend the comprehension and capabilities of mortal men. Particularly in science fiction, there’s a rational explanation for most events, and it’s often tied to the technical sophistication of the society in question. Arthur C. Clarke coined a maxim about this, popularly known as Clarke’s Third Law: “Any sufficiently-advanced technology will be indistinguishable from magic.” I’m not equating magic and miracles here, but from what I know of Mr. Clarke, I doubt he’d have had any problem substituting “miracles” for “magic” in his maxim. You see a similar confusion between Divine intervention and paranormal manipulation in the Bible from the Egyptian Pharoah (Exodus 8:17-19) and Simon Magus (Acts 8:18-24).

The point is, technology can look supernatural. Imagine bringing a 1st Century man into our time and showing him any number of things we use every day: cell phones, television, electric lights–he’d have trouble interpreting them any other way than as magical talismans. And let’s face it–most of us don’t understand how this technology works, either. A common reply when asked to explain some complex device? “I don’t know–it’s magic.”

For Christians, there’s certainly a danger of depending on modern technology to solve our problems, and even provide miracles, at the expense of our faith in God to supply our needs. However, there’s a more insidious danger in going the other direction and slipping into a kind of spiritual Luddism that says technology is at best a distraction and at worst an imminent peril to our souls. With regard to miracles, “If science can explain it, it’s not a miracle.”

The problem I have with this point of view is that it assumes God’s intervention in the affairs of mankind is exceptional–rare, dramatic, and incomprehensible. It’s like saying God is only active in our lives when He’s parting the Red Sea or raising the dead.

The Bible tells us every good gift comes from God (James 1:16-18), “the Father of the heavenly lights.” I think it’s reasonable to conclude that everything that has emerged over the course of history that has made our lives less nasty, brutish, and short has sprung from God’s intervention and inspiration. Miracles. Millions of little ideas, insights, and happenings all building on one another. A glittering shower of illumination sprinkling down upon our benighted world from the Father of lights.

Makes me dizzy just thinking about it.

Getting back to our lovable friar–a chain of innovations and improvements stretching from Gutenberg’s printing press all the way to several thousand engineers working in cubicles at Xerox led up to the little miracle of producing 500 perfect copies of Brother Dominic’s beautiful manuscript in just a few minutes. We could say, “No, this isn’t a miracle. God didn’t make this happen, Xerox did.” Or, we might acknowledge that God had an interest and a direct role in making the printed word (and in this case, His printed Word) rapidly available to as many people as possible.

Yes, I think Brother Dominic should ‘fess up, but I think the Abbot’s got it right, too.

Fred was born in Tacoma, Washington, but spent most of his formative years in California, where his parents pastored a couple of small churches. He graduated from the U.S. Air Force Academy in 1983, and spent 24 years in the Air Force as a bomber navigator, flight-test navigator, and military educator. He retired from the Air Force in 2007, and now works as a government contractor in eastern Kansas, providing computer simulation support for Army training.Fred has been married for 25 years to the girl who should have been his high school sweetheart, and has three kids, three dogs, and a mortgage. When he's not writing or reading, he enjoys running, hiking, birdwatching, stargazing, and playing around with computers.Writing has always been a big part of his life, but he kept it mostly private until a few years ago, when it occurred to him that if he was ever going to get published, he needed to get serious about it. Since then, he's written more than twenty short stories that have been published in a variety of print and online magazines, and a novel, The Muse, that debuted in November 2009 from Splashdown Books, which was a finalist for the 2010 American Christian Fiction Writers Carol Award for book of the year in the speculative genre. Speculative fiction is his first love, but he writes the occasional bit of non-fiction or poetry, just to keep things interesting.
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  1. Morgan Busse says:

    God is in both the big and little things 🙂 Great post!

  2. My thoughts exactly. This belief is why I have no trouble with scientific explanation for miracles; did the Jordan River part because the physical embodiment of God appeared, putting a human-like hand out to stop the water, or because God knew that a mudslide that only happens once ever so often and thus told the Levites to step out at the exact time the river would stop flowing? Which is the more miraculous? Does it matter?

    I don’t see science and religion as being in conflict with each other (though that’s the accepted modern view by a variety of practitioners in both camps, unfortunately). I believe God has ultimate control of our lives, and that he can heal us; I also prefer for my doctor to have modern medical training from a reputable school. I don’t think that a prayer for God to guide the surgeon’s hands is a lack of faith; if anything, the idea that God chooses to work through falliable human agents and an imperfect creation to achieve His perfect will is a miracle, in and of itself.

  3. The actual Red Sea parting seems clearly in the obvious-miraculous category simply because Scripture does describe — instead of shallow crossings or a mudslide — walls of water stacking up on both sides. The Jordan, though, seems to have indeed been cut off by some event that stacked up the waters far away: a mudslide? a natural dam? It doesn’t say.

    However, I love the point that miracles are often occurring when we don’t see them. And perhaps the most amazing miracle Christians may overlook is God saving people from their sins! Regeneration by grace through faith is perhaps one of the greatest miracles, and God carries that out in people every day — reconciling rebel humans to Himself without violating either His perfect holiness/justice or His perfect love/mercy/compassion.

  4. […] eyes, clean water, sparkling personalities, beauty, grace, colour, music. As Fred pointed out in yesterday’s fantastic post, science and technology are gifts of God. Friendship is a gift of God. Romance is a gift of […]

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