The thesis of this post is that acceptance of some miracles is required by Christian faith but it is not essential for Christian practice to expect or to hope for miracles.
What do I mean by “salvation history?” My paradigm is the Christian history of salvation. A salvation history is a history of how God has been working in human history to rescue humanity from its evils for a better life after biological death. For the most part, the events narrated in salvation histories are events which would be narrated in a purely natural, or secular history. Obviously, salvation histories must include some events which tell of the natural and supernatural interacting. Otherwise, they would be simply natural histories. When the supernatural and natural interact in a recognizable way, there will not be an event which fits into a purely natural account of what we experience. It will, then, be a miracle.
My paradigm of a natural/supernatural narrative is Luke’s account of the angel Gabriel’s announcement to Mary that she would virginally conceive a child who is the Son of God, Mary’s acceptance and conception. (Lk. 1, 26-38) Luke pinpoints the time and place of this miraculous: When Herod was king, in Nazareth of Galilee. Of course, there are other events: feeding 5,000 with a few loaves and fishes, walking on water and Jesus ‘resurrection. Scripture cites many more events which do not fit into the natural order, have religious significance and happen here on planet earth.
Despite the many events outside the natural order, the ratio of these events to those events fitting into the natural order approaches zero. So, for the purpose of finding natural laws, for science, the natural events with supernatural factors involved, can be ignored. Well, maybe, they can be considered as reminders of the methodological point that natural laws should be understood as probablistic – statistical. Acceptance of the miracles in Christian salvation history requires no rejection of science. A Catholic scientist may simply forget about the miracles recorded in scripture while working as a natural scientist.
What about the rationality of accepting accounts of miraculous events as true? Is this question being asked before or after having faith in the Christian salvation history? First, there is a need to bring out when the question of believing in miracles arises. For some of us, and these are the only people I will talk about, the question of justifying belief in miracles arises only after there is belief that the salvation history tells the truth about the human condition and the fate of humanity. There is faith in the story. Then there is a need to justify believing that the crucial miracles actually occurred. For instance, I find a need to justify believing that Jesus rose from the dead because I have faith in the Christian Salvation history. That is how St. Paul approaches the issue in 1st Corinthians 15. “ But if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain, and your faith is in vain.
This is not the place to make a case that early Christian belief in the Jesus’s resurrection from the dead is correct. N. T. Wright has made a good case. Of course, we have to admit that the early belief could have been wrong. But that only requires conceding that Christian salvation history could be wrong. But faith in a religion is faith that it tells the truth; not that it is necessarily true.
So, miracles entailed by the scripture, tradition and religious authorities of a religion require acceptance, What about other miraculous events accepted by many adherents of a religion? My anecdotal evidence is that many of my fellow Catholics, some very pious, do not expect miracles. Reported miracles are like reports of someone far away winning a huge sum in a lottery. Some of us would not even like to win big in a lottery. It would disrupt our lives. I do not know how I would react if a putatively miraculous event happened to me or someone close to me. It would not seem right!
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