Do You Believe in Miracles?

‘Miracles strengthen faith in the One who does his Father’s works; they bear witness that he is the Son of God.’ (CCC 548)

Pieter Lastman, “Christ and the Woman of Canaan,” 1617
Pieter Lastman, “Christ and the Woman of Canaan,” 1617 (photo: Public Domain)

Believing in miracles is tricky. You might say Aunt Matilda talks about having miracles all of the time or even your best friend swears they have had one. But are they real?

Why are miracles so hard to believe? Sometimes it’s for good reasons. It is not always “a miracle" when Aunt Matilda finds her reading glasses after losing them — especially when her story “improves” with age. Sometimes the miracles can be attributed to natural causes not previously known. But are there real miracle cases?

Are Miracles Possible?

Wikipedia defines a miracle as “an event that is inexplicable by natural or scientific laws and accordingly gets attributed to some supernatural or preternatural cause.”

So when Jesus healed the paralytic or raised Lazarus from the dead, what happened? The heart restarted, the bones healed, muscles grew. How can that be? It is “inexplicable by natural or scientific laws.”

Do you believe that those physical changes occurred? David Hume, an 18th-century philosopher, struggled with that. He said, “A miracle is a violation of the laws of nature, and as a firm and unalterable experience has established these laws, the proof against a miracle, from the very nature of the fact, is as entire as any argument from experience can possibly be imagined.”

In Hume’s time, the Enlightenment was flourishing, and scientific authority began to displace religious authority. This view that miracles are impossible because they are “violations of the laws of nature” has shaped the debate ever since.

I must admit, I once felt the same way. I was a biochemistry major in college and I like process. Science has long focused on repeatable, causal processes with the same outcomes. Each miracle would be a disruption in the cosmos. I was conflicted. Yet, the most important most important aspect of my faith rests in that Jesus rose from the dead. Jesus died. On the cross. His heart was pierced to make sure of it. He lay in the tomb for three days. And yet he rose. 

In high school, many of us learned Newton’s third law of motion, which states that “for every action in nature there is an equal and opposite reaction.” Most of us then learned the example of a billiard ball hitting another billiard ball — a vivid and precise example. But what happens if a cat were on the pool table and stopped the ball? We wouldn’t say that nature was violated, would we? We would say another agent entered into the equation. The effect of the cat stopping the ball is logical and makes sense.

So why can’t God be another agent? God doesn’t violate the laws of nature but acts upon them. Why can’t God have the same influence as a cat’s paw? Some might argue that God is not material, but isn’t material creation subject to its Creator?

So it seems very plausible that God can perform miracles that are consistent with nature.


Why Does God Perform Miracles?

The next question is, why would God perform miracles? The Catechism is a big help here:

  • “The miracles of Christ and the saints, prophecies, the Church’s growth and holiness, and her fruitfulness and stability ‘are the most certain signs of divine Revelation, adapted to the intelligence of all;’ they are ‘motives of credibility,’ which show that the assent of faith is ‘by no means a blind impulse of the mind.’” (156)
  • “Special graces, also called charisms … such as the gift of miracles … are oriented toward sanctifying grace and are intended for the common good of the Church.” (2003)

These signs then both help strengthen our faith by reinforcing divine revelation, and are given for the common good.


Do Miracles Still Happen in Our Midst?

So, God can perform miracles and there are good reasons why he does this, but are all these things we hear about really miracles?  As stated before, some probably aren’t. But many definitely are. The crutches at Lourdes and some cures seemingly contradicting nature are good examples. Again the Catechism states (CCC 434), “In his name his disciples perform miracles, for the Father grants all they ask in this name.”

Does that mean if we ask God for a miracle, he will automatically give it to us? No. Like all prayers, he will say “yes,” “no,” “later” or “I have something better for you” (although we might not agree at the time).

Believe that miracles happen. Listen to miracle stories and be edified. Pray for good things — and yes, pray for miracles. Miracles aren’t a substitute for lack of planning or simple wishful thinking, but are performed for your good and the good of mankind. Have faith, and pray.