Of Miracles and Modern Times

My son famously declared to his school colleagues in morning devotional, “Brothers, I believe in miracles.” I do, too. I have witnessed them. I have experienced them.

Believing in miracles supposes some understanding of what they are. I understand all miracles to have their source in the Divine. No connection to God, no miracle. That is to say, each miracle is an intervention into the world of mortality from the realms of eternity. That is why all miracles are to some degree other worldly, but not entirely other worldly, because part of the marvel is that they take place here. I suppose that what we see as miraculous on earth would not seem so miraculous to us or anyone else in heaven.

While God is the source of the power in each miracle, the essential feature of a miracle is its timing, not its substance. In fact, it seems to me that all of the miraculous quality consists in the timing. Is restoring sight to the blind a miracle? Certainly it was when it took place in 100 B.C. Today we have medical procedures that restore sight for many, perhaps daily, with techniques that we have learned but which were unknown anciently. These are marvelous procedures of great benefit, but we do not look upon them as miraculous. The difference is timing.

Curing a man of leprosy, ordinarily impossible in the days of the ancient Apostles except through divine intervention, is quite common today with the proper medicines. The difference surely is knowledge, but knowledge acquired over time. An antibiotic treatment would have been a miracle in the days of the Caesars.

As time goes by and medical and scientific knowledge advance, there is little that was considered miraculous in bygone eras that cannot be replicated today, and what cannot yet be done we can fully expect one day can and will be. That takes nothing away from the miracles of antiquity, but rather makes them all the more understandable. Increasingly as we look at miracles, we replace the question, “How could they do that?” with the question, “How could they know?”

There is no “magic” in a divine miracle. God does not nullify the laws of nature any more than we can. But He knows them better. He knows them all, and He exercises them as He pleases to do His work, which seems and is wonderful to our eyes.

God knew the powers of controlling vapor and flame in the days of Moses, but man’s knowledge of it was primitive. What was involved with the control of energy in the pillar of fire that guided Israel by night and the “pillar of a cloud” that guided them by day (see Exodus 13 and 14)? Is it something we could do 2,000 years after the birth of Christ? Very probably. The miracle was not in the substance, but in the timing, a very explicable exercise of fire control that was once beyond the skill of man.

But in this example there was an even more important display of the miraculous timing of God. The pillars of fire and vapor appeared exactly when needed, either to guide Israel or to keep the armies of Pharaoh at bay. They were taken away just in time to lure Pharaoh’s armies into the flood. With their back to the sea and the Egyptian chariots nearly upon them, Israel despaired. But not Israel’s prophet, as Moses declared, “Fear ye not, stand still, and see the salvation of the Lord, which he will shew to you to day” (Exodus 14:13). The timing was all and everything.

In my own day and life, I have received the piece of information, just in time. The increase in salary has come precisely when needed. The new medical treatment became available none too soon but not a day too late. An acquaintance was made, too beneficial to have been by chance. Closed doors have been opened.

Others have witnessed greater than these, the recovery from terminal illness, the power to endure the unendurable, the inspiration to touch the hearts of one and of many, the means to build, to comfort, to restore, and to renew. Nearly all have come in answer to prayer, from a God who is easy to be entreated.

Should these seem small to you, especially when compared with the miracles of the prophets recounted in ancient scripture, bear in mind that miracles are not given to satisfy a popular appetite for spectacle, but rather they have always been employed by God to do His work, which is most usually done quietly.

Yet I would offer a couple of great modern works of God for your contemplation. Consider the translation of an ancient work of scripture from an unknown language by a young man barely literate in his own native tongue. And consider that this work, The Book of Mormon, would be so powerful in the testimony of Jesus Christ as to make millions of Christians on every continent of the world. Consider the miracle of thousands of these people crossing a thousand miles of 19th century American wilderness to an even more desolate and barren wasteland, carving out of the desert an empire of cities, farms, and enterprises, a successful effort unmatched by any other colonization effort in the history of the Americas. These are epic works of God worthy to stand alongside any of antiquity, no less powerful for happening in our time.

These and other modern miracles point to the truly greatest miracles in the work of God, the quiet transformation that takes place in the hearts of men by the power of repentance and forgiveness, which makes an ordinary man or woman full of kindness, someone who “envieth not, and is not puffed up, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil, and rejoiceth not in iniquity but rejoiceth in the truth, beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.” (Moroni 7:45). That is the miracle that is the most awe inspiring of all.

(First published September 10, 2013)

One thought on “Of Miracles and Modern Times

  1. What comes to my mind while reading this, is another miracle, that in every way shaped my life for the better and the wonderful. That is of another young teenage boy living in upstate New York, only much later than Joseph Smith. This brilliant young mind heard the gospel, recognized it as the truth, and choose to be baptized. The miracle of those missionaries coming to his door that day, and his choice to listen, and faithfully commit himself to a lifetime of gospel living, has forever changed my life. It is the miracle that made me, and everything of value in my life, and one that has blessed an innumerable amount of additional lives. I will never cease feeling gratitude for the timing of the miracle on that day, or for the young man, who I have loved every day of my life.

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