Friday, October 15, 2010

Ebert on Miracles

Yesterday Roger Ebert questioned the use of the term "miracle" to describe the rescue of the Chilean mine workers. In doing so, he attempted to explain what a miracle is, which for Ebert seems to be something like "a violation of the laws of nature by God."

Ebert is a smart guy, working outside his area of expertise (film), so he makes a lot of mistakes in his treatment of miracles, theology, and history. But what I find remarkable is what he says at the end of his discussion of miracles.
I argue that few people have a good idea of what a miracle actually is. It's not like entering the lottery. God doesn't perform miracles for a few lucky winners. They take place for one purpose only, and that is not to spare lives, cure disease, heal limbs or prevent a bus from falling off a mountain. Their only purpose is to demonstrate the glory of God. They're sort of wake-up calls: "Hey, people, this is Me up here on the mountain top, hurling these lightning bolts."
While Ebert says he does not believe in miracles of this sort, he is concerned with separating out a proper understanding of what a miracle is. What do you think of Ebert's claim about the purpose of miracles (according to his reading of Christian tradition)?

1 comment:

Ray said...

I like Ebert a lot, but I'm not sure about this account of the purpose of miracles. I'd agree with him about the rescue of the Chilean mine workers--I doubt God "violated" the laws of nature (or at any rate dealt differently than usual with the nature order) in order that it might be accomplished. (Though maybe God did--it's hard for us to know.) And I also think that the term "miracle" is overused these days.

A couple of reasons I doubt the "demonstrate the glory of God" account of miracles. First, many of Jesus' miracles don't seem to fit the bill in so far as few people knew they had occurred. In addition, many of those miracles seemed to have been performed for the sake of the lucky recipients--Jesus healed people out of love for them, and not ONLY to demonstrate the glory of God.

Second, Ebert's way of putting the point makes the miracle-performing God out to be a big show-off (sort of like the way God is sometimes portrayed on Family Guy). If God performs miracles and demonstrates God's glory in order to call people to God (a picture that probably fits better with scripture), then the show-off problem goes away.

Besides, non-miracles do a perfectly good job of highlighting God's glory--the beauty of a sunset or mountain scene, the vastness of the universe, the joy in the rescue of Chilean miners. So I doubt God performs miracles solely for the purpose Ebert assigns to them, and I also suspect that God doesn't much need to perform miracles for that purpose anyway.