Not everything is a miracle

On a pair of blogs, both written by faithful Christians, I have recently seen the following quote from Albert Einstein: “Either everything is a miracle or nothing is a miracle.” At first glance it appears that Dr. Einstein was affirming the existence of miracles, but I am afraid that was not the case. That quote does not mean what some Christians think it means.

Consider the source: Einstein was a scientist who studied the principles of the universe—physics—and discovered new aspects of physics that had not been seen before. Religiously, Einstein wavered between Deism and atheism. Sometimes he spoke of the universe as God’s creation and described science as learning God’s rules for creation. But in other cases he stated that he used God’s name as a shorthand label for the order and structure in the universe without considering God to be a personal or accessible Being in the Christian sense of the term.

“Either everything is a miracle or nothing is a miracle.” Einstein probably believed that nothing is a miracle. Everything happens according to natural law, and the more we study the universe and learn its laws, the fewer things will surprise us. If everything is a miracle, then the word “miracle” has lost its meaning. Deists and atheists disagree about whether there is a god, but they agree that no god interferes with the universe and causes events that are against the natural laws of the universe.

“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” He established the natural laws that scientists like Einstein study to learn, but he did not bind himself by those laws. God’s creation is full of marvels and wonders. We should be astounded every day by the glorious things God has made. But to call created things miracles robs the word “miracle” of its meaning. We must reserve that word for the special actions of God that show him acting within his creation.

We are wonderfully made (Psalm 139:14). Every human baby born is a marvel and a wonder. But when ninety-year-old Sarah conceives and gives birth to Isaac, that is more than a marvel and a wonder; it is a miracle. When Mary, a virgin, conceives and gives birth to Jesus, that is more than a marvel and a wonder; it is a miracle.

God sends rain to water the earth, making it grow and flourish. Some of that rain lands in vineyards, where the grape vines soak up the water through their roots along with nutrients from the soil. The vines produce leaves which gather energy from the sun and change carbon dioxide into oxygen to give energy to the vines. That is a wonder. The vines then develop bunches of grapes, which swell and ripen in the sun and the rain. That is a wonder. The grapes can be picked and eaten, or they can be cooked into jelly, or they can be crushed and fermented to produce wine. That is a wonder. But when Jesus calls for six pots to be filled with water and then instantly transforms it into wine, that is a miracle. God is at work in his creation, doing suddenly what his creation requires time to accomplish.

When grain is sown and sprouts, that is a wonder. When it grows in a field until it produces a crop, many times the number of grains that were planted, that is a wonder. But when Jesus takes five loaves of bread and feeds a crowd of thousands, with basketfuls of leftovers remaining after they had eaten their fill, that is a miracle. Once again, we see the Creator at work, going beyond the laws of his creation.

Some people claim that primitive and unscientific people wrote about miracles. They go on to say that we would see the same things today and understand them scientifically; we would not call them miracles. That is far from true. The writers of the Bible described the miracles they saw because they knew those events were special. They knew that ninety-year-old women do not conceive and give birth. Nor do virgins. Water does not instantly transform into wine, nor does a loaf of bread multiply in one day to feed a thousand people. Dead people do not return to life. These miracles were signature events, indications that the Lord of the universe was present, doing good things to help the people he loves.

Miracles show us that Jesus is the Son of God, though whom and for whom all things were created. They show his compassion, his desire to help his people. They show him at work fixing the things that sin and evil have broken in his creation. They foretell what he will do on the Day of the Lord, when all the dead are raised, when every eye will see him, and when the entire planet will be transformed. That new creation will be the ultimate miracle, after which no further miracles will ever be needed. J.

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Imitation

The great mathematician and physicist Albert Einstein, during the later years of his career, went on long speaking tours around North America. Usually on college and university campuses, but sometimes for civic groups, Einstein would talk about his theories of Relativity and other scientific advances of recent times, helping students and citizens gain an appreciation of what was being discovered in the academic community. It is said that he generally traveled by car from lecture site to lecture site, with a driver who would see to his needs on the road. The driver (or chauffer) would sit at the front row at each lecture for one reason: as soon as the question-and-answer session ended at the end of the lecture, the driver would whisk Einstein out the side door of the hall, take him to a motel where he could get a good night’s rest and a healthy breakfast, then set out on the road again for the next evening’s lecture.

One summer, after a few weeks of nightly talks, Einstein was exhausted. Getting into the car, he said to the driver, “Billy, I don’t think I can do this one more time. I need a night off; I’m sick of saying the same thing night after night.”

“Dr. Einstein,” the driver answered, “A lot of people say that I look just like you.” The resemblance was slight, but Billy did have longish unruly white hair and large blue eyes, and he was about as tall as Einstein. “I’ve heard your lecture enough times that I know it by heart. Tomorrow night why don’t you let me wear your suit and stand up and give the lecture. You can wear my uniform and sit in the front row and get some rest for a change.”

“I don’t know, Billy,” Einstein said. “You could probably give the lecture from memory, but what about the questions and answers afterward?”

“It’s been the same questions twenty times over,” Billy said, “and I’ve heard you give the same answers twenty times over. I’m sure I can pull it off.”

Einstein was tired of lecturing, so he agreed. Before they reached the next town, they stopped at a service station and exchanged clothes. When they arrived, the driver met the organizers of the lecture as Einstein, and the real Einstein sat in the front row as the driver. When the lecture began, the real Einstein was nervous, but as the talk proceeded he realized that Billy was speaking his lines perfectly. He relaxed and even napped a bit. When they got to the questions and answers, Einstein woke up and was fretful at first, but the first two questions were perfectly familiar, and the driver answered then exactly as Einstein would have answered.

The third question came from a young man who clearly had been thinking about the theories of Relativity for a while. His two-part question called for a response that had not been needed at any of the previous lectures. Billy’s heart was racing, but he kept his outward composure. Peering over the top of his glasses, he frowned at the questioner. “Young man,” he said, “you clearly think you have come up with something new in the field of physics. You are mistaken though. In fact, your question is so elementary that I believe even my chauffer could offer you a response. Billy, come up here and answer this man’s question.”

 

Discipleship is largely a matter of imitation. In the ancient world, disciples lived with their teacher, traveled with their teacher, and learned to imitate their teacher. Eventually they were sent out on teaching tours of their own, sharing with others the same things they had learned from their teacher. Christ’s Sermon on the Mount was probably a talk that he gave dozens of times to various crowds in synagogues and outdoors and in people’s houses, until Matthew and Peter and the other disciples could repeat the teachings of Jesus word-for-word.

Now we are the disciples of Jesus, learning how to imitate him, to say the things Jesus would say and to do the things Jesus would do. When we least expect it, Jesus invites us to stand up and take his place, to represent him to a world that needs his message of hope and forgiveness and love. As disciples, it is not enough for us to remember what Jesus said. We are called to say it too. It is not enough to remember what Jesus did. We are called to do it too. We save no one by our obedience, not even ourselves; Jesus has already saved us, and he has already saved the sinners we encounter. But the Church of Christ is his body: his hands, his feet, his voice. Our imitation of Christ forms the basis for everything that many people know about Jesus.

At times, we will be confronted with something unexpected. Jesus will not leave us on our own at those moments. He is always with us, always ready and able to take our place, to fight our enemies, and to win our battles. He rejoices, though, to see us succeed in our imitations of him. He is the genius; we are just the drivers. Yet because we know him, we can speak for him even in this sinful world. J.