i do not have to look at the sky
where the sun is.
i can look at the ground,
to where the shadows fall,
and see where the sun
Some of the Pharisees said,
“This man Jesus is not from God, for he is working on the Sabbath.”
Others said, “But how could an ordinary sinner do such miraculous
signs?” So there was a deep division of opinion among them. . . .
But despite all the miraculous signs he had done, most of the people
did not believe in him.
—John, describing the deeply divided opinions concerning Jesus’s identity
(John 9:16; 12:37)
I think our world is full of mysteries and every moment holds the potential for the miraculous, yet too often we tune out the unexplainable or relabel it to make it seem less baffling or less of a miracle. Take light, for example. Depending on how you measure it, light seems to behave like both particles and waves. Scientists keep changing their theories about it. No one really knows what light is. After all these years, humans still don’t understand something as common as daylight.
And then there’s the magic of photosynthesis. Green plants spend their lives converting carbon dioxide (poison) into oxygen (life). Scientists can explain the process, but no one really knows how it all works. That’s amazing to me.
Birds flawlessly navigate tens of thousands of miles; sea turtles head toward water when they hatch, even if it’s out of sight. How? No one knows. I asked an educator at the world’s most visited aquarium about the sea turtles, and she said, “They follow the moonlight.”
“What if it’s cloudy?” I said. She blinked and didn’t really have an answer.
I thought maybe she’d say instinct. That’s one of our favorite labels for the stuff we don’t understand. It makes those things sound natural instead of inexplicable. That way we can talk like we understand our world even though we have no clue how it all works.
I don’t understand love or birth or why I don’t laugh when I tickle myself or how my eyes work with my brain to translate light waves (or particles) into images and colors in three dimensions. My skin is a mystery to me too. It keeps the rainwater out and the blood in. Yet even though I’m waterproof, I can sweat. It’s nice too that the sweat can’t get back in again. This isn’t a major mystery to me, but at least it’s a very convenient one.
Life itself is a mystery to me. How can someone be daydreaming or joking around with his buddies and enjoying a piece of leftover pizza one moment and then be a slab of cooling meat with a bullet hole in it the next? How can life just be over like that? I can’t even comprehend it.
It’s a mystery to me how no one can see, hear, touch, taste, feel, measure, weigh, or control my thoughts, and yet they’re real. They exist, but no one can prove it. Scientists might be able to record electromagnetic impulses, but that’s just evidence of brain activity; it’s not the actual thoughts themselves. My thoughts are invisible and impossible to find. You can’t cut my brain open and locate them. They’re nowhere and yet right here. Every moment seven billion people are walking around thinking about gorillas or cherry flavored yogurt, and with every thought we’re immersed in a mystery that has baffled philosophers for thousands of years. And most of us aren’t even aware of it.
I think gravity is a miracle we’re still in the middle of. We don’t know where it comes from or why it’s there, so we call it a “law of science” instead of a miracle. I think it’s a miracle God just hasn’t turned off yet. Of course, it could just be planetary instinct.
all around me,
life is on fire, but it is not consumed.
buildings are burning
people are flickering
cars are bursting into flame
and i marvel at the mystery of it all,
with the smoke of life thick in my nostrils.
then i hear a voice, deep within the passing of the day,
remove your flip-flops!
for the sidewalk on which you stand is holy ground!
so i drop to my knees at the glory of the thunder,
and i rip off my sandals and close my eyes
and when i open them,
the fire has gone out, but everything around me
wrapped in the guise of the familiar.
Jesus performed dozens of miracles. I love how his friend John put it: “Jesus’ disciples saw him do many other miraculous signs besides the ones recorded in this book. But these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing in him you will have life. . . . I suppose that if all the other things Jesus did were written down, the whole world could not contain the books” (John 20:30- 31; 21:25).
That’s a lot of miracles.
A few of the miracles Jesus’s friends did write about include accounts of him walking across the surface of a lake during hurricane-force winds, setting victims free from demonic possession, healing incurable diseases from across town, feeding thousands of families with two tuna fish sandwiches, calming storms with a whisper, and making a coin appear in the mouth of a fish (ta-da!). He spoke and the blind were healed. The deaf could hear. The lame could walk. The lost were found. The dead were raised.
Or were they?
Should we accept these stories at face value or look for a logical explanation instead?
Scientists tell us that everything, including solid objects, is made up mostly of space. Maybe Jesus just knew how to rearrange the spaces between molecules so he could pass through doors, walk through crowds, step on water, remove diseases, and untangle eternity to awaken the dead.
It was all just instinct. There, that explains it.
An obscure passage in the book of Mark is as fascinating to me as all the accounts of Jesus’s great miracles. Jesus was visiting his hometown, and the people there didn’t believe in him. Mark writes, “And because of their unbelief, he couldn’t do any mighty miracles among them except to place his hands on a few sick people and heal them. And he was amazed at their unbelief ” (Mark 6:5-6). Mark doesn’t say Jesus wouldn’t do miracles; Mark says he couldn’t.
I’m astonished that Mark mentions this, that he thought Jesus’s inability to do miracles was newsworthy. You don’t typically mention the fact that someone can’t do mighty miracles: “Ricardo came over to my apartment this afternoon and he couldn’t control the weather, walk across the swimming pool, or cure people of epilepsy! Can you believe it?” You’d never mention that—unless, of course, Ricardo typically could do those things.
I think Mark includes this incident because it was so remarkable, so unusual. Jesus was so mysteriously miraculous that the one time he couldn’t do something amazing, Mark decided to write about it. And what was it that caused this man who could control the weather and raise the dead to become powerless? The people’s lack of faith.
Their unbelief was like kryptonite to Jesus.
The world of miracles is only visible and only available to those with faith. Jesus once said, “Anything is possible if a person believes” (Mark 9:23). The more we demand that God prove himself and make sense to us, the less he will. The door to the miraculous swings on faith.
in the seeking
comes the finding,
in the springtime
comes the bloom.
in the budding
comes the loving,
in the courtship comes the groom.
in the living
comes the dying,
in the doubting
comes the truth.
in the hoping
comes the dreaming,
in believing comes the proof.
Jesus didn’t do miracles to get attention. In fact, most of the time when he did his miraculous signs, it was in spite of, rather than because of, the crowds. He never did miracles on demand. He wasn’t into photo ops. Typically when a crowd of rubberneckers began to form, he would do his miracle quickly and then warn the bystanders not to tell anyone about it.
Jesus didn’t want to become a sideshow attraction. That’s not why he came. He just wanted to help people and have them believe in him. Here’s a typical conversation between Jesus and the religious rulers:
Jesus told them, “This is what God wants you to do: Believe in the one he has sent.”
They replied, “You must show us a miraculous sign if you want us to believe in you. What will you do for us?”
“Prove yourself,” they said.
“Just believe me,” he replied.
Believe. Believe. Just believe.
There’s something supernatural about Jesus. We can’t explain him. That’s why people are either drawn to him or repelled by him. There’s no neutral ground. Yes, the stories of his miracles are extraordinary, but we don’t get to cut out the parts of his story that don’t sound reasonable to us. We don’t get to edit the story of God to fit our preferences. In exasperation Jesus once said, “Must I do miraculous signs and wonders before you people will believe in me?” ( John 4:48).
Believe. Believe. Just believe.
The doorway to the miraculous swings open to all who dare to enter the mystery of faith.
touching the unseen
you stretch imaginations and souls.
you touch ears and eyes and tongues
and set them free.
you offer life to carcasses
dusty with the soil of everyday life.
you are spirit.
you are here.
do the first miracle of all in my life—
help me to believe in you,
and set your mysterious strength loose
in my life.