byFaith | 5.2.16
By Alan Dowd
are two ways to live,” a wise man once observed. “You can live as if nothing is
a miracle; or you can live as if everything is a miracle.”
the source of this insight for living is not someone generally associated with faith,
but rather one of the giants of science: Albert Einstein.
seems Einstein was suggesting that this world and this life are full of
miracles, and indeed that this world and this life are miracles—if only we have
the eyes to see God’s fingerprints.
the great challenge in this age of “man-made miracles”—micro-surgeries performed
on unborn babies, wonder drugs that cure disease and erase pain, boundless
harvests that feed billions—and man-made horrors—pills that can effortlessly erase
unborn life, weapons that can kill by the tens of thousands, mass-murderers
masquerading as holy men.
a challenge that’s getting the better of us. Recent pollingreveals a decline in belief in God among Americans (from 82 percent in 2005
down to 74 percent by 2013) and an resultant decline in the percentage of
Americans who believe in miracles (from 84
percent in 2000 down to 72 percent by 2013).
This trend is at least partly
a function of the emergence of the “Millennials”—the 83 million Americans born
between 1982 and 2000. They represent a huge
share of the adult population, and their impact on culture and society
cannot be overlooked. Compared to every other generation of living Americans, lower
percentages of Millennials pray, believe in God or attend religious
It’s not difficult to
understand why or how this happened. Marinated in our postmodern culture—which
denies the existence of absolute truth, which celebrates cynicism, which
elevates the self and miniaturizes God into some me-shaped idol—what else should
we expect from these teens, twenty-somethings and thirty-somethings?
Christ’s words from Matthewcould just as well apply to our day and age: “They have closed their eyes…Though
seeing, they do not see.”
Put another way, even when God
does miraculous things—even if everything really is a miracle—many of our
neighbors miss it because their eyes are closed.
Einstein’s notion that everything is a miracle presents us with something of a conundrum.
In one sense, “A miracle is,
by definition, an exception,” as C.S. Lewis observed. Oceans parted, improbable
pregnancies, stilled storms, the dead
raised to life, water turned to wine, a lunch pail feeding 5,000 people, blind
men seeing, mute men singing, lame men leaping—these are not normal
occurrences. They are amazing and unusual.
Yet Einstein suggests that
“everything is a miracle.” Every breath. Every heartbeat. Every sunrise. Every
day. Every moment.
The way to bridge these two
seemingly divergent views of miracles—the “exception view” and the “everything
view”—is to adjust our vision. When it comes to miracles, how we see the world
is key to whether we notice God’s fingerprints. And our world is literally a
The rotation of the earth, the
earth’s distance from the sun, the kind of sun the earth orbits, the moon’s
distance from the earth, the position of the earth in this solar system and in
this galaxy—all of these are part of a mega-miracle that makes this planet so
much more than “a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark,” as Carl
Sagan gloomily concluded.
The earth and its neighborhood
are wondrous works of art, marvels of mathematical precision, evidence of a
“The harmony of natural law,” Einstein concluded,
“reveals an intelligence of such superiority that, compared with it, all the
systematic thinking and acting of human beings is an utterly insignificant
Cosmologists calculatethe odds of “a life-friendly universe appearing by chance” at less than one in
10 raised to a power of 10 with 123 zeros after it. The odds are, quite
In other words, life is the “exception,” to borrow
Lewis’ word, and because we are alive, it’s not unreasonable to view everything as a miracle, to paraphrase
Everything: from the infinite
expanse of the universe to the infinite complexity of the human brain. Researchstudiesconclude that the human brain’s memory capacity is equal to at least one
How much information is that?
A petabyte equals 1,000,000 gigabytes. To put that into terms we can try to grasp:
A brand-new iPhone has 16 gigabytes of memory, which roughly equals 2 million
pages of text or11,000 photographs or 4,500
songs. And that’s just 16 gigabytes; a petabyte represents 62,500 times more
information than your iPhone can hold. Or try this: The entire Library
of Congress has upwards of 235 terabytes of data; a petabyte is four times more
than that amount.
In short, this arrangement of
cells, neurons and nerves that enables us to learn and think and remember and
recall and understand and discern and reason is a miracle of staggering
complexity and capability.
Lewis described miracles as God’s “shortcuts.” Looking at miracles—and the
world—this way can help us perceive the constancy of miracles in our lives.
Lewis explained that in the
miracles of Christ, “God does suddenly and locally something that God has done
or will do in general. Each miracle writes for us in small letters something
that God has already written, or will write, in letters almost too large to be
noticed, across the whole canvas of Nature.”
For instance, “As part of the Natural order, God makes wine. He does so by
creating a vegetable organism that can turn water, soil and sunlight into a
juice which will, under proper conditions, become wine. Thus, in a certain
sense, He constantly turns water into wine, for wine, like all drinks, is but
water modified. Once, and in one year only, God, now incarnate, short-circuits
the process: makes wine in a moment: uses earthenware jars instead of vegetable
fibers to hold the water...The miracle consists of the shortcut, but the event
to which it leads is the usual one.”
Lewis concluded that “The
Supernatural is not remote…It is a matter of daily and hourly experience, as
intimate as breathing. Denial of it depends on a certain absentmindedness.”
We may think we’re too
rational, too intelligent, too evolved, too advanced to believe in miracles,
but perhaps we’re the very opposite. Perhaps we’re too dense, too oblivious,
too cynical, too self-obsessed to notice miracles, to see God’s fingerprints,
to perceive what God is doing.
Our obliviousness is sad but not new. “When our ancestors
were in Egypt,” the psalmist lamented, “they gave no thought to your miracles;they did not remember your many kindnesses.”
may appear to be the exception in a fallen world. Yet by setting things
right—life defeating death, evil being cast out, the unjust vanquished, the
righteous vindicated, wholeness replacing brokenness, abundance dislodging
hunger, shalom conquering war—they actually provide “a glimpse of what the
world was meant to be,” as Philip Yancey writes. “Death, decay, entropy and
destruction are the true suspensions of God’s laws; miracles are the early
glimpses of restoration.”
Jesuspromisedthat miracles would not end when He went away to prepare a place for us. And He keeps His promises.
I have seen His signs and wonders: my grandfather receiving Last Rites—twice;
my niece coming out of her coma whole and healed; my wife rescued from the
nightmares of her childhood.
challenge as people of faith is not just to believe in miracles, but to look
for them and to point them out to the miracle
that is the world around us.