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MIRACULOUSA Fascinating History of Signs, Wonders, and Miracles
By Kevin Belmonte
Thomas NelsonCopyright © 2012 Kevin Belmonte
All right reserved.
Chapter OneIn the Beginning: The Miracle of our World
Thou hast brought us into being out of nothing. —The Liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom
God calls for things that are not, and they come. —William Cowper
And where are all His miracles which our fathers told us about?" (Judg. 6:13). For Jews and Christians alike, the answer to this ancient question from the book of Judges must be traced to the origin of the world itself.
What is the first miracle? God created the heavens and the earth. All that we know—this world and the universe in which it resides—were spoken into existence through a mighty, matchless word.
"Then God said, 'Let there be ..."; it was the soaring refrain an omnipotent God gave to the song of creation (Gen. 1:3). Each time it was voiced, something more of the world we know became a reality: light, the heavens and earth, flora, fauna, and humanity itself. All have their origin in God.
As we have seen, every miracle is "accomplished by God as a sign of some purposes of his own." The first miracle reveals that God is the king of creation—the heavens and earth His royal decree. They show forth His glory.
The psalmist told us this: "The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament shows His handiwork.... Their line has gone out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world" (Ps. 19:1, 4).
The writer of Psalm 93 heard this celestial hymn of praise. It called forth stirring reflections in which he saw God, the king of creation, "clothed with majesty ... [and] strength" (v. 1).
And that is how we should see God in this first of all miracles. It shows Him to be the majestic Creator, the gifting God who decreed the world's existence because it was His good will and pleasure. He is our beneficent, almighty sovereign.
This truth is captured beautifully in lines from the poet William Cowper, which tell us that "a ray of heav'nly light gilds all forms ... in the vast and the minute." In them we see "the unambiguous footsteps of God."
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The foregoing paragraphs speak of the majesty of God as reflected in the colossal act of creation. It ought to inspire within us an enduring, overwhelming sense of awe. And so it does whenever we see a sunset that far surpasses any skyscape rendered by J. M. W. Turner, mountains whose beauty far transcends any sculpture Michelangelo crafted, or a sea alongside which any painting of Winslow Homer pales in comparison. "I am the Lord, who makes all things," we read in Isaiah 44:24, "who stretches out the heavens all alone, who spreads abroad the earth by Myself."
But lost in wonder at such sights, we may tragically miss asking ourselves a question that gets to the heart of the miracle of creation: why did God do it?
No one has written more beautifully in framing an answer to this question than Bishop Kallistos Ware, whose reflections grace a subsequent chapter in this book—one exploring the faith heritage of the Orthodox Church. "If nothing compelled God to create," Bishop Ware asked rhetorically, "why then did He choose to do so?" It is a staggering question, he admitted, but
in so far as such a question admits of an answer, our reply must be: God's motive in creation is His love. Rather than say that He created the universe out of nothing, we should say that he created it out of His own self, which is love. We should think, not of God the Manufacturer or God the Craftsman, but of God the Lover.... God's love is, in the literal sense of the word, "ecstatic"—a love that causes God to go out from Himself. By voluntary choice God created the world in "ecstatic" love, so that there might be besides Himself other beings to participate in the life and love that are His.
This moving description of God's purpose in creation is one rooted and complemented in Scripture. Do we remember the description given in Job 38, when the Lord spoke out of the whirlwind? "I laid the foundations of the earth" (v. 4), the Lord told Job, but do you know where its foundations are fastened, or who laid its cornerstone? Were you there "when the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy?" (v. 7). As this passage shows, there was an ecstasy that marked the creation of the world. The very heavens and earth rejoiced in what God had done.
Does this sound strange? It shouldn't. For 1 Chronicles 16:31 is just one of many passages that declares, "Let the heavens rejoice, and let the earth be glad; and let them say among the nations, 'The Lord reigns.'" So, too, we read in Psalm 96:11: "Let the heavens rejoice, and let the earth be glad; let the sea roar, and all its fullness."
And if love and joy were woven into the fabric of creation, other aspects of God's divine intent are present within that matchless tapestry. Consider Isaiah 45:8: "Rain down, you heavens, from above, and let the skies pour down righteousness; let the earth open, let them bring forth salvation, and let righteousness spring up together. I, the Lord, have created it."
All of these passages, in concert, only deepen our sense of what God imparted to us in the miracle that is the creation of the world. Creation was God's opening movement in the symphony of our reality, and there is none other like it.
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Moving from the creation of the world to the flow of human history in the Old Testament, we begin to learn more about the nature of miracles as they transpired among men and women whose lives were closely associated with the purposes of God.
Here, The Oxford Companion to the Bible has done a good service in describing the several kinds of miracles that occur in the Old Testament. Among them are confirmatory miracles, "through which God shows his choice and support of certain individuals or groups." Confirmatory miracles were displayed prominently in God's dealings with the patriarchs Abraham and Jacob, as well as Moses, who led the Israelites out of bondage in Egypt.
A second kind of Old Testament miracle is that which is judgmental in nature. We see them in the plagues God visited on the Egyptians because they refused to obey the commands of God spoken to them by Moses or in the fall of the walls of Jericho because its citizens resisted Israel's entry into the promised land.
Miracles of mercy are a third type of miracle displayed in the Old Testament. In the book of 2 Kings, for example, the prophet Elisha is the mediator through whom God performs miraculous healings.
Miracles of deliverance represent a fourth kind of miracle found in the Old Testament. The preservation of Daniel in the lions' den is one famous example, as is the saving of his friends from death in the fiery furnace.
Lastly, a fifth type of miracle described in the Old Testament is a miracle of divine vision. Isaiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel were three prophets of God who were favored with such visions from God. These visions were given to "reveal God's purpose for his people, or to achieve some form of deliverance or punishment in behalf of individuals, of the Israelite nation, of her enemies, or of the minority who remain faithful to God."
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Now that each of these kinds of miracles has been described in brief, we may take time to explore them more fully. We cannot take every instance of these types of miracles into discussion, but we can select representative examples of each and consider what they tell us about God. For miracles are all about God and what He wishes us to know of Himself.
Chapter TwoThe Miracle of Humanity
Try to conceive a man without the ideas of God, eternity, freedom, will, absolute truth; of the good, the true, the beautiful, the infinite. An animal endowed with a memory of appearances and facts might remain. But the man will have vanished, and you have instead a creature more subtle than any beast of the field, but likewise cursed above every beast of the field. Upon the belly must it go, and dust must it eat all the days of its life. —Samuel Taylor Coleridge
In Paradise Lost, the poet John Milton said to look upon Adam and Eve in the splendor of the garden of Eden was to see that "the image of their glorious Maker shone." Once the heavens and earth had been created, a meeting unlike any other took place: a council to consider the creation of humanity. How matchless a scene must it have been when the Triune God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—met in holy conference for this task. We do not know what that scene looked like, but we do know what was said. And so we read in Genesis 1:26–27: "Then God said, 'Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.' So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them."
In the act of creation, God extended the mighty power of His royal scepter to bestow the gift of life upon Adam and Eve—with all its attendant blessings. What were these? For a classic description of the creation of humanity, we could do no better than to turn to the great seventeenth-century biblical commentator Matthew Henry. With great eloquence and insight, he described the gifts God bequeathed to Adam and Eve.
At the outset, Henry noted that the creation of Adam "was a more signal and immediate act of divine wisdom and power" than that of the other creatures to which God had given life earlier in the Genesis account. "Man," Henry continued, "was to be a creature different from all that had been hitherto made. Flesh and spirit, heaven and earth, [were] put together in him, [that he might] be allied to both worlds."
This was wondrous in itself, but Henry placed special emphasis on the divine council God convened as Adam was to be given life. In no other place within the Genesis account did God do this. That unique and most sacred fact impressed Henry deeply. Where Adam was concerned,
[God] called a council to consider of the making of him; Let us make man. The three persons of the Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, consult about it, and concur in it, because man, when he was made, was to be dedicated and devoted to Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Into that Great Name we are, with good reason, baptized, for to that Great Name we owe our being.
Henry moved next to a play on words born of wonder over what God had wrought in creating Man. "God made the worlds," Henry marveled, "not only the great world, but man, the little world, [and] formed the human body." But there was more besides, and Henry knew it. The soul of Adam, therein lay the essence of our humanity. "It is the soul," he wrote, "the great soul of man, that does especially bear God's image. The soul is a spirit, an intelligent immortal spirit ... resembling God, the Father of Spirits, and the Soul of the world." Then followed one of the most beautiful phrases in all commentary literature: "The spirit of man," Henry wrote, "is the candle of the Lord."
Next, the great commentator turned to Eve—Adam's gift from the Lord. All that has been said of Adam was most certainly true of her. Fashioned as she was from one of Adam's ribs, she was endowed—no less than he—with all the gifts that Adam had before God. But then, Henry also noted that since Eve was given to Adam because "it was not good for him to be alone," there were things about her creation and its intent that were unique to her. And what Henry said here is one of the finest, most eloquent descriptions ever given of Eve and her place at the fountainhead of our humanity. "The woman," Henry noted, "was made of a rib out of the side of Adam; not made out of his head to top him, not out of his feet to be trampled upon by him, but out of his side to be equal with him, under his arm to be protected, and near his heart to be beloved."
When we consider the creation of Adam and Eve further, we might say a great deal about the capacity for creativity that led to all the arts as we know them or the physical prowess we so often see displayed in athletics. A great catalog might list all the things history has revealed of the richness of our humanity. God was indeed generous beyond measure to our first parents.
But the chief gift, the capstone of all the gifts God gave humanity, was woven into the gift of life itself. For far beyond the physical aspect of our being, the matchless gift is one that lies within: our souls.
No one has written more helpfully about the nature of our souls, or in words more readily understood, than Billy Graham. He said,
The Bible teaches that the person is more than just a body.... Our souls are created in the image of the living God. Just as our bodies have certain characteristics and appetites, so do our souls. The characteristics of the soul are personality, intelligence, conscience and memory. [Moreover,] the human soul (or spirit) longs for peace, contentment and happiness. Most of all, the soul has an appetite for God—a yearning to ... have fellowship with Him forever.
Many beautiful thoughts are expressed here. Let us consider the first great statement that Dr. Graham introduced: the personality, intelligence, conscience, and memory each of us possesses. Many of us have heard the phrase "there's no one quite like you." So far as our souls are concerned, this phrase could not express the truth more completely. We are all unique, according to God's sovereign plan and design. There was no one quite like Adam and Eve, and there never will be. The same is true of us, their descendants.
Sometimes we need to remember who we are and who God created us to be. Each of us is a beloved child of the Creator—someone precious and unique—a vital part of the great cosmic story that God has been writing throughout all time. Thus our lives are filled with profound meaning and significance. We are not solitary travelers left to our own devices, at the mercy of mere impersonal chance. God has written each one of us into His story. We are, most truly, part of His plan. It is as the psalmist has written: "You formed my inward parts; You covered me in my mother's womb.... Your eyes saw my substance, being yet unformed. And in Your book they all were written, the days fashioned for me, when as yet there were none of them" (Ps. 139:13, 16).
The second great statement that Dr. Graham made on the nature of the soul is that "the human soul longs for peace, contentment and happiness." This was a theme taken up also by Graham's distinguished evangelistic predecessor, D. L. Moody, who described the longing for peace that all humans share:
You know the world is after peace; that's the cry of the world. That is what the world wants. Probe the human heart, and you'll find down in its depths a [need], a cry for rest. Where can rest be found? Here it is, right here. Put your trust in the living God, with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength, and you'll have peace.
Lastly, Dr. Graham noted that, above all, "the soul has an appetite for God—a yearning to ... have fellowship with Him forever."
Think of that. Consider as well that there was a time when no humans were present on the earth. This is deeply important, for, as Oxford scholar John C. Lennox noted, Genesis 1 and 2 are not chapters that speak of God revealing Himself to humans who already existed. Rather, they explain how human beings came to exist in the first place. These chapters do not describe "the calling of existing human beings into fellowship with God," but state "how God physically created human beings from the dust of the earth in order to have fellowship with him."
Do we ever stop to consider this? God created humanity because He desired fellowship with men and women—beings who could freely choose to love Him and, in gratitude for the gift of their existence, live their lives in communion with Him. Moreover, as Dr. Lennox has noted, this gift of fellowship was instantaneous. "The Genesis narrative," he wrote, "makes it evident that Adam and Eve did not need to be called into fellowship with God at the beginning: they were in fellowship with God from the start." Each day God walked in the garden of Eden, and each day He walked with Adam and Eve. Oh, the wonder of what this must have been like!
And yet, tragically, horribly, it was not to last. It was the sin of Adam and Eve, Dr. Lennox wrote, "that broke that fellowship." Sin sundered the fellowship God intended from the very creation of the world. The wonder of walking with God was to be no more. Could there ever have been a loss more grievous?
But—and herein lies the road to another miracle—when Adam and Eve were most lost and in need of rescue, God gave a promise that all would at last be put right. How Adam and Eve were lost, and how God came with news of blessed hope, will be taken up in the next chapter.
Excerpted from MIRACULOUS by Kevin Belmonte Copyright © 2012 by Kevin Belmonte. Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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