FROM THE STANDS - Domini M. Torrevillas (The Philippine Star) - January 4, 2018 - 12:00am

In these days given to reflection, a striving for inner peace, and thanking the Lord for His blessings,  I find myself thinking of miracles that have made major consequences in people’s lives.  

At a Women’s Sunday morning service at the Church of the Risen Lord in UP Diliman, Quezon City where I delivered the homily, I spoke of events that are beyond man’s comprehension.

There’s the story of a plane exploding while flying at 30,000 feet. All in the plane were killed except the pilot. As he was plummeting to the earth, he pulled the rip cord, but his chute failed to open. At the last minute, the chute opened, but it was in shreds because of the speed of his fall. But Tom was not killed. The ropes of his parachute were caught in the branches of two trees, breaking his fall and lowering him gently to the ground. Was what happened a miracle?

We hear of people being given just a few days to live, but who suddenly sprung to life and lived for many years. Of people with stage 4 cancer, saved by the prayer of friends and relatives for the Lord to heal them. 

Those are miracle stories.

I have a personal story to share. 

In the 1950s, my baby sister, Rosario, was diagnosed with leukemia. One morning, doctors said she was about to go any minute. Thereupon my mother, a very spiritual woman, stretched her arms to the heavens, and cried repeatedly, “Lord, show us a miracle. Let my baby live!” To  everyone’s surprise, the baby opened her eyes and moved her head. One of the doctors said, “This is a miracle.” My father decided to rename the baby “Milagros.” Milagros is 67 years old now, happily retired after working as a nurse in Gingoog City’s  local health center for many years.  

What is a miracle?

Merriam-Webster defines a miracle as “an extraordinary event manifesting divine intervention in human affairs; an extremely outstanding or unusual event, thing, or accomplishment.”

Stories of God’s interventions in human affairs are aplenty in the Bible.

We learned our miracle  stories at our mother’s knees. One was the dramatic parting of the Red Sea, allowing the Israelite slaves to walk on dry land, with the giant waters standing like walls on both sides. As the  enemy giving chase rode on the dry land, the walls of water fell and drowned them. 

Jesus’ ministry was characterized by acts that confirmed the disciples and followers’ belief that the man they had followed and given up all their worldly goods for had supernatural  powers. 

The New Testament records about 100 miracles during the time of Jesus. The first miracle that Jesus performed at a wedding feast in Cana was converting the water in pots of stone to wine, an act so significant at the time. There are the acts of Jesus healing ten lepers, a centurion’s servant, a paralyzed man, a woman long suffering from hemorrhage; of Jesus calming a storm, of his ridding people of demons that had entered their bodies, of feeding 5000 people out of a little boy’s lunch box containing two loaves of bread and five fish, of Jesus raising Jairus’ daughter and Lazarus from the dead.

But the greatest miracles of them all, according to theologians, were  the Resurrection of Jesus, and his Ascension. 

Sir Fred Hoyle writes that miracles described within Scripture “are beyond the capabilities of man and beyond the regular workings of the universe.” Miracles, he says, “call attention to  God, are events that may only be attributed to divine origin or intervention, and are rationally unexplainable by probability or natural sciences.”

One particular event that has all the qualifications of a miracle, and is easily acknowledged as having occurred, writes Sir Fred Hoyle, is the beginning of the universe. “This is the first recorded action of God in the Bible. That the universe had a beginning is even officially accepted among astronomers. Nothing in nature or natural reasoning can explain how the universe (or even a pre-existent spaceless and matterless environment of quantum laws) could have been produced by nothing from nothing.” 

Hoyle’s view did not sit well with other theologians who dismissed miracles as products of the imagination, as hoax or fraud. Skeptics explain miracles away, saying that science and medicine are not compatible with miracles.

The skepticism of the last and present centuries concerning miracles grew out of what Burns has called “the Great Debate on Miracles” during the Deist controversy of the 17th and especially 18th centuries. Deism is described as a belief in the existence of a supreme being, specifically of a creator who does not intervene in the universe. The term is used chiefly of an intellectual movement that accepted the existence of a creator on the basis of reason,  but rejected belief in a supernatural deity who interacts with humankind.

 Some theologians were at pains to provide a purely natural explanation for certain events. Believing that events with supernatural causes do not  occur, there simply had to be some account available in terms of merely natural causes.

Thus Karl Bahrdt, in his Ausfuhrung des Plans and Zwecks Jesu (1784-92) explains the feeding of the 5000 by postulating a secret store of bread which Jesus and his disciples distributed to the multitude; Jesus’ walking on the water was effected by a platform floating just beneath the surface; his raising the dead was actually reanimation from a coma, thus preventing premature burial. This last explanation provided the key to explaining Jesus’ own resurrection.     

By the end of the eighteenth century, the theft hypothesis so dear to Deism, had pretty much lost conviction, and a new explanation was needed.  Deism is the belief that God has created the universe but remains apart from it and permits his creation to administer itself through natural lawsDeism thus rejects the supernatural aspects of religion, such as belief in revelation in the Bible, and stresses the importance of ethical conduct.

According to Bahrdt, Jesus’ death and resurrection were a hoax engineered by Jesus himself to convince people that he was the Messiah.

But the dean of the  natural explanation school,  H.E.G. Paulus, professor of theology at Heidelberg, perfected the art of explaining naturalistically the miraculous elements in the gospels.

According to Paulus, miracles are not the important thing, but rather the spirit of Jesus as seen in his thought and actions. It is the person of Jesus in his moral character and courage that is truly miraculous. The true meaning of Christianity is to be found in the teachings of Jesus, which, Paulus says, are  self-evidently true, as demonstrated by their inner spirituality. 

God is still in the business of miracles.  A theologian  believes that the greatest miracle of all is that of converting a blind sinner to see his sin and to change the human heart; from one of serving the god of this world to seeing their own sin and the need of a savior in Jesus Christ. The miracle of human conversion is actually greater than any healing miracle because this brings eternal life in Christ. 

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Email: dominitorrevillas@gmail.com

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