Last night I sat down with a C.S. Lewis essay titled “Miracles.” Lewis is my favorite author, but I wasn’t expecting much from this topic.
It’s not that I’m not interested in the mystical, it’s just that miracles aren’t very effective. People who don’t want supernatural evidence for God will grit their teeth and explain away a cosmic whamboozie, even if one smacks them upside the head. Miracles aren’t a riddle for science, reason, or intellect to crack. They aren’t some kind of cognitive hurdle to overcome. They are revelatory. They generally reveal what observers have already decided about God, based on old wounds and old battles. That’s why I wasn’t all that eager to engage. The topic didn’t seem very practical.
However, Lewis takes an angle I wasn’t expecting. He writes that miracles tend to be supernaturally-condensed versions of divine engagements that happen to us every day. For example, 5000 people are fed from five barley loaves. “That couldn’t have happened!” we shout.
Then a smart guy pipes up, “Hey, those people must have shared the bread they were hiding! It was like New York City after 9/11. Everybody jumped in. Jesus was a persuasive speaker, and cold hearts were warmed. That was the real miracle.”
It’s a compromise that jazzes us. It bridges the seemingly uncomfortable gap between science and faith. It also makes us feel intelligent, because people 2000 years ago must have been too dumb to recognize everyone was just sharing bread, and boy, we are smarter than that now.
What this interpretation misses, though, is that the miracle of the fishes and the loaves compressed an everyday wonder into a single moment. Every time a tiny seed of wheat is grown, a harvest is multiplied from nearly nothing. Feeding 5000 did not just happen once by the presence of Christ, it has happened for thousands of years, ever since God made the earth to flourish from planting, through processing and baking. Of course, the compression is not exact. Jesus was doing something unique in this moment. However, it is also the sort of work that urges to see beyond it, to the fact that Christ multiplies grain for our benefit so often that we don’t even tend to notice it. We are so numb to the everyday-miraculous that the only way we can understand the divine gift of our daily sustenance is by finding the wonder suddenly condensed. It is then that we are forced to see that God is the one who fills us all along.
Or consider the Virgin Birth. Crude, non-believing men (thinking they have found a way to be witty) make jokes suggesting that Christ’s conception required God to be adulterous with a virgin. (Haw Haw Haw. Aren’t we clever?) Yet, is not God entering into a woman’s womb every time He uses a sperm and a egg to knit together life? Was not this miracle thematically connected in theme to billions of others hardly noted?
Or take the Bible’s claims that water was turned into wine. The world-wise say the water soaked up the flavor of the wine jugs. Those people were drunk, after all. They didn’t know any better. Rationalists work so hard to patch it all up, missing the greater wonder that every time rain falls and waters the grape vines, every time the chemical process of fermentation occurs, there is a Divine gift, the changing of water to wine.
A miracle condenses the miraculous so that we notice it is wonderful. It jolts us out of this lavish, sustaining grace that carries us from birth to death.
Now I will tell you why I needed to read this essay. I needed it because this concept also applies to rescue.
For several years, I’ve been disappointed that God’s rescue is so slow. I’ve seen bad people do bad things without consequence, and I’ve seen good people suffer in ways that aren’t fair. I’ve prayed and prayed, and God refuses to do what I want.
I’ve wanted an angel from heaven (pow!), or waters divided (shazaam!), or fire and brimstone (zonk!). I have wanted God to get down here right now and compress this painful, terrible, laborious process of learning faith into a single moment of deliverance.
I have wanted “That’ll teach them” and “Atta girl.” I have wanted every question and consequence packed into a nice little Reader’s Digest ending.
Yet it is also possible that God is working out the miracle of my rescue more slowly, like the growing of wheat. And it’s possible that the process itself, this laborious, painful, confusing process, will train my heart in ways that an immediate answer would not. It is possible that God loves me enough to let the water inside me turn to wine over decades instead of overnight.
That slow work is humiliating, and sometimes and it feels like dying. I am stripped down and impoverished. This is the tragedy; and yet, this is the miracle, too.
What a sweet thing to be led through time and suffering into sanctification. What a beautiful thing to engage with a God who doesn’t always make things easy, but who allows me to work through the physics, and the biology, and the economics, the conflict, and the labor of the patterns he has written deep in the earth. It is a classroom fit for another world.
Not my will, but Thine.
Rebecca Reynolds teaches Classical Rhetoric and Philosophy of Faith in eastern Tennessee, and is a contributor to the Story Warren website. She’s the author and illustrator of the pediatric series From the Medical Files of Dr. Phineas C. Bones and collaborated with Ron Block as the lyricist for his critcally-acclaimed album, Walking Song. She lives in Kingsport, Tennessee, with her husband and three children.