The Problem With Miracles

The Problem With Miracles

And when he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.” And Simon answered, “Master, we toiled all night and took nothing! But at your word I will let down the nets.” And when they had done this, they enclosed a large number of fish, and their nets were breaking.

Luke 5:4-7

Miracles present problems. They can always be explained away. The body of Jesus was stolen by his disciples, the miraculous tongues of Pentecost are the result of drunken Galilean fishermen, the voice which spoke to Jesus from heaven was just thunder, timing is a coincidence, visions are hallucinations, the impossible provision of loaves and fishes is an act of inspired human cooperation, the Red Sea is dried up and filled again by shifting tides.

Miracles are birthed by something called dunamis in Greek from whence comes our word dynamic. Miracles are dynamic events. The gift of the working of miracles mentioned in the First Corinthian epistle is taken from two Greek words related to our English words energy and dynamic – the womb of a miracle is a dynamic energy expressed in a phenomenon which transcends the laws of nature. It is supernatural. These problematic and dynamic events are often messy and life-changing.

In the event cited above, Peter’s entire life was turned upside down by a single miracle. The setting and plot are instructive regarding the nature of the miraculous. We see several things in this dynamic event which inform us about the nature of miracles.

1. Dynamic events often involve a simple yet bold request

This is what Bill Hybels has sometimes called the big ask. Jesus asks Peter for his boat – his livelihood. He does so without apology. Plus, he makes an extravagant demand on Peter and his crew. After a long night of fishing he asks them to head out into deep waters and let down their nets . . . again.

2. Dynamic events involve faith and action

Passive belief is not enough. The request demands a response. Peter and his companions must actually launch their vessel on this journey. Action releases the dynamic power of the miraculous.

3. Dynamic events often happen in the depletion zone

We have fished all night, but at your word…For some reason, God’s power is released when we are in our depletion zone. Human energy, and even human confidence, are spent. What little energy is left is offered as a simple and perhaps feeble act of obedience. The widow who is ready to fix her last meal and die gives Elijah what little she has. Another woman who must sell her children into slavery to pay off debt collects jars and pours her one possession, a little oil, into them. These actions releases a dunamis of miraculous provision — food during the famine and a continuous supply of oil and financial sustenance. They must act their way out of the depletion zone.

4. Dynamic events disrupt the status quo

This is not the normal routine. After fishing all night and mending the nights, it’s time to go home and get some sleep. “This is not how we do things. I’m not sure we can accommodate this departure from routine.” To see the miraculous, we must.

5. Dynamic events are children of kairos (opportune timing) and defy mechanics

This call to let out the nets for a draught was a one-time only offer – to be acted on now, not next week. It was not a matter of technique or strategy, but an obedient response to the call of God in the now. Today is the day of salvation, now God’s grace is offered. Sailing to the same spot and repeating the award-winning method of casting the net cannot produce the miraculous catch of fish. Dynamic energy alone, the gift of the Holy Spirit, is capable of producing the effect. We let such seasons pass at our peril.

6. Dynamic events stress the system and demand teamwork

Nets are stretched to the breaking point and boats are nearly sinking. Partners must be called in to help contain the effect of the release of this dynamic energy. Teamwork requires that all hands look out for the interests of all. A losing effort is the result of sub-groups looking after their own interests and not the interests of the wider enterprise. Even on the natural level this is so. In her book, Confidence: How Winning Streaks and Losing Streaks Begin and End, Rosabeth Moss Kanter cites the self-absorption of offensive, defensive, and special teams with their own statistics and performance as a mark of a losing football team. Dean Smith, former coach of the North Carolina Tar Heels, recognized that seldom if ever does the national scoring champion play for the national championship team in college basketball. It’s takes the entire team to win games. Something dynamic is released when groups of people work for each other’s best interest. If this is so in sports, how much more in spiritual pursuits?

7. Dynamic events point to something greater

Peter recognizes in this miracle a sign that Jesus is more than a normal man. He is at the least a holy man and a prophet. He recognizes his own sinfulness and will soon come to recognize the Son of the Living God. The miraculous exists to glorify God.

And with great power (dunamis) the apostles were giving their testimony to the resurrection of the lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all . . .Now many signs and wonders were regularly done among the people by the hands of the apostles.

Acts 4:33, 5:12

What if Peter had not obeyed? This was his time. A life-changing and miraculous release of dynamic power awaited his obedience. His life would never be the same. Would disobedience have meant obscurity? We’ll never know, but we do know what this miracle produced in his life.

As a seventh-grader I read a book called Danger Dinosaurs! In it, a group of young people travelled far back in time. There was only one rule – do not kill anything, as that would alter the course of history. In a dangerous encounter a dinosaurs is shot. In a memorable passage, the main character then goes through the anguish of forgetting the existence of his brother who disappears from the expedition. Would Peter be invisible today if he had not obeyed the summons? Perhaps. What is thrilling is that this same power is at work through the Holy Spirit in our day. We are called to obey his summons and experience his delightfully disruptive and life-changing power.

And when they had brought their boats to land, they left everything and followed him.

Luke 5:11