Of course I was using hyperbole to emphasize my surprise at how smoothly our flights went. I do not really think an airline trip without glitches is a supernatural event, even if it does feel like it sometimes. But after that conversation I began reflecting on the idea of a miracle. What constitutes a miracle? People use that term all the time. A student admits that it was a miracle he or she passed the test after not adequately preparing for it. Sports gives us lots of references to miracles. There was the Miracle On Ice in the 1980 Olympics when the ragtag USA hockey team defeated the seemingly invincible Soviet team, and the Miracle on Manchester in 1982 when the underdog Los Angeles Kings, trailing the Wayne Gretzky-led Edmonton Oilers 5-0 in the final period of a playoff game, stormed back to tie the game with 5 seconds to go then won it in overtime. Then there was the Music City Miracle in an NFL playoff game back in 2000 in which the Tennessee Titans came from behind to win in the final seconds on a highly unusual and unlikely trick play. So in many different contexts we use the term miracle when we mean something out of the ordinary rather than a truly supernatural event. In our case, having problem-free airline flights is most definitely out of the ordinary, but I don’t view it as divine intervention.
The ancient Hebrews saw God at work in everything. The drawback of that mindset was that the answer to any question about why something happened in the world was that some deity caused it. If a person today has that as his answer to why things happen, the questioning ends right there and no insight is gained into how and why things occur as they do on this planet. The scientific mindset requires rejecting that answer and looking for cause and effect. An earthquake doesn’t happen because some divine being made it occur but because of friction between tectonic plates. So the scientific approach has led to a much greater understanding of our universe and has enabled us to make life much more comfortable. That’s a good thing. But with that has come an unfortunate result, and that is the separation of God from this world, at least in our minds. The ancient perspective created a greater immediacy in the way the people of Israel, for instance, viewed God. They saw him as active in all that happened around them. The sun rising and setting, the rains coming and watering the crops, the plants growing, the trees producing fruit, the winging of a bird in the sky were all manifestations of the activity of God. The presence of God was real and could be seen and experienced in anything and everything. The beauty of a flower or a glorious sunset or a magnificent animal running at full gallop were manifestations of God’s grace, goodness and presence in the world. In that view was our recent smooth airline trip a result of divine activity? In a sense, yes, although had a flight been canceled and the trip gotten fouled up as a result God would have been involved in that too. He would have been involved no matter what happened because God is active in everything.
Colossians 1:17 says that in Christ “all things hold together.” In other words, it is the activity of Christ that keeps the “natural laws” of the universe operating. Were he to cease his activity and stop holding all things together it would all simply cease to exist. So it is biblical to see God active in all that happens around us. In Matthew 5:45 Jesus said of God the Father “He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” Does the sun rise because the earth rotates and exposes a given point to the sunlight for a period of time or because God causes it to rise? The scientist says it is only the former, but a biblical view says it is both. Yes, the earth rotates and that is why the sun rises each day, but it rotates because God has ordained it and holds everything in the universe in place doing what he has designed it to do. Does the rain fall because God made it do so, or because a storm system formed according to the laws of physics and meteorology producing precipitation? Once again, the Bible says both are true. This means that scientific inquiry is valid and encouraged by a biblical perspective, but so is our sense that God is present in all that happens. We experience awe and wonder and joy not only in nature, but in the wisdom, power, love and beauty of the God who created it, sustains it, and is active in it.
In his book, The Holy Wild, Mark Buchanan exemplified a little of this mindset at one point. He wrote, “I look at the holographic strangeness of water, the shifting surface, reflecting, revealing, hiding, disclosing. One minute, water will lie still and everything above it—faces, sky, mountains, trees—will imprint on its silvery surface an image as clear as a photograph. The next, the light will shift, a breeze will stir, and everything above and beneath the surface splinters and disappears… Or I look at the infinite variety of wood and stone, and all the things you can make from a single piece of ash—a bow, a nightstand, a walking stick, a window frame, a door. I let these things be, and I simply dwell in the presence…There is nothing mystical about this. This is not a slipping toward pantheism, where every rock bluff or grass tuft brims with divinity. This is simply an act of reverence for the God who makes things.”
Buchanan is reveling in the God who is creative, who is present and revealing something of himself in creation. How much more aware of the grace, love, goodness and loveliness of our God, of his presence and his activity, we will be as we stop banishing him from our world. We should be looking for and aware of his activity in everything that happens in our lives and in all that we see around us. We can see evidence of him in creation, and we can know that while there are most certainly causes and effects going on in the events of our lives, we can also see the activity of God. Yes, the fact that our flights went smoothly was a result of the proper functioning of an airline, but it was also a manifestation of God’s activity in this world. But so is the fact that the sun rose this morning, the fact that I can breathe and see and hear, the fact that I was encouraged by a friend today and that I experienced the love of my wife. In all of these things God was acting. He is active in bringing people into my life to enrich me, encourage me, love me, challenge me, or give me opportunity to grow in loving unconditionally. He is active in blessing me through creation, in giving me the ability to function and work, in providing food for me and my family and in so many ways. How real God becomes to me when I open my eyes and see anew the activity and presence of God all around me each and every day.