Are miracles arbitrary?
Imagine with me an ordinary guy named Bob. Nothing too exceptional ever happens to Bob, so far. Bob considers himself a bit unique as he is the proud owner of a MacBook. Yes, it was more expensive, but personally, Bob finds Mac more desirable than Windows. Then one day everything changed for ordinary Bob. It began on a Monday in August. Bob met what he assumed to be a Steve Jobs look-a-like. At his doorstep. First of all, it would be flattering but highly unlikely that Steve Jobs would drop by average Bob’s house. Secondly, this was shortly after the terribly sad news of Job’s death. Certainly this could not be the real Steve Jobs. Surprisingly, the man introduced himself as “Steve Jobs” and “pleased to meet” one of his greatest fans.
“B-b-but you can’t be Steve Jobs. He’s-”
“My death was highly exaggerated. Mind if I see your MacBook?”
“Maybe… but why?”
“Aren’t you just a tad curious?”
“Okay, sure. Just don’t break it.”
The man grew a smile that was ready to erupt into laughter. He brought up screens Bob had never seen before, and he sped through programming lines like a serious hacker. Just about the time Bob was able to move his limp jaw to interrupt, the man sat back with his arms folded up behind his head. He pushed away from the table where the new MacBook sat. Well, it may as well be brand new, for the improved programming put into it. The welcome screen had realistic jets flying crisscross until their jet-lines spelled WELCOME BOB in Bob’s favorite color and Bob’s favorite font, jets being Bob’s second favorite thing (His first favorite was Apple products). And the startup sound, well, that would be Bob’s favorite song, Stayin’ Alive. The MacBook started up faster than ever, and every one of Bob’s programs ran better than ever. In fact, his jet-fighter game had more definition and unlocked extras.
After looking through everything on the MacBook, Bob was impressed to say the least.
“How?! How did you even know what I like?”
“Well, that part was easy. It’s found in your computer’s memory. Besides, you are one of my biggest fans. Remember when you signed up to give feedback? Well, you certainly had a great deal of input, and I took notice.”
So goes the story of average Bob and Steve Jobs. Were this to actually happen to a real-life Bob, he might just believe that he had truly met Steve Jobs. Let’s temporarily work with the assumption that Steve Jobs did make this special visit, and let’s agree with Bob that it’s a miracle. If nothing else, Bob’s visitor has given strong proof of his identity as Steve Jobs.
Now let’s ask ourselves how a God who created the universe might prove His existence. Could He work through miracles? Wouldn’t that mean breaking His own laws, the physical laws of nature? Well, isn’t that what Steve Jobs did in our story? Bob’s MacBook came pre-programmed with the rules coded by Apple. But in order for Mr. Jobs to prove himself, he overwrote some original lines of code and set new rules. How else would he have proven himself? Even if there were some other way, doesn’t Mr. Jobs have the right to choose a personal touch?
What about the arbitrary factor of miracles? Doesn’t that fly in the face of a God of laws? How can we even know His works if He might just suspend all His own laws and do whatever He wants? Again, let’s ask the same of our Steve Jobs. Imagine Steve tried to prove himself as the founder of Apple by making a rabbit appear out of a hat. Although that might impress Bob, it wouldn’t help answer his pressing question. The apparent miracle of spontaneous appearance has nothing to do with MacBooks. Breaking Bob’s reality – the reality that rabbits only appear from holes in the ground – is arbitrary. However, breaking Bob’s preset coding in his MacBook is very meaningful (the opposite of arbitrary.) So why can’t God suspend His laws of natural law to prove His existence, so long as He does so in a meaningful way? Perhaps we are the arrogant ones, when we suppose that God should be firmly restricted to the laws with which we humans are comfortably knowledgeable.
So what then would be the non-arbitrary miracle that God would perform? The answer depends on the expressed nature of God. Just like our Steve Jobs candidate, where he would have to live up to the reputation of the man behind Apple. Now the God of the Bible expresses His power in many ways. Nevertheless, we find His attention focused on a humbling place – human life. As the Psalmist said, “What is man that You are mindful of him, And the son of man that You visit him? Psalm 8:4 NKJV
Since the God of the Bible is focused on human life, we would expect to find His miracles focused on human life. Of course, God doesn’t have to meet our expectations, but this expectation would make the most sense. When we read the New Testament, we are reading about “Immanuel” meaning “God with us”. Jesus, if He were living up to the claim of being God in the flesh, should be performing miracles that reflect the intentions of God. What we find is no doubt consistent with this assumption. The majority of Jesus’ miracles involve healing, returning life to human limbs, human sight, human flesh, and so on. And then we find Him building up to the crescendo of resurrecting the life of His friend Lazarus. It’s very interesting to note what Jesus says in anticipation of this miracle. He does not say,” Well, I just feel like doing a resurrection today”, nor does He say, “I happen to do resurrections as a side gig.” Instead He says, “I am the resurrection and the life. Anyone who believes in me will live, even after dying.” John 11:23, 25 NLT. So Jesus actually defines Himself to be the source of life, just as Steve Jobs would define himself to be the man behind Apple.
Furthermore, there are a few occasions in the New Testament where Jesus refused the requests of religious leaders and His own disciples. Apparently these flash-in-the-sky miracles didn’t fit a pattern, a directive that Jesus sought to accomplish.
I encourage you to also study and consider the Anthropic Principle. If the God of the Bible did create the Universe, we could reasonably conclude that He is the engineer behind the Anthropic Principle. Since the Anthropic Principle is focused on human life, this would coalesce with the God of the Bible, and thus with the “non-arbitrary” premise. We could say there is a higher law, and it is non-arbitrary.
God being the Creator of the Universe, has the right to intervene in any way He chooses. If you read the whole Bible, you’ll see He does take lordship of His broader domain. Between God, life, and the entire Universe, things can get complicated. Furthermore, God is interested in our whole being, our spiritual life. But when we see God intervening by restoring physical life, the message is loud and clear. When Bob asked who the stranger was, the stranger showed himself as the author of Apple. When we ask God who He is, He showed Himself as the author of life. Perhaps the best way to find clarity and meaning is to see the personal interaction going on here. God has knocked on the door of your heart. You may not be sure He’s a real God, or even living God (His death has been highly exaggerated), but you’ll never know unless you let Him in. He knows all the comfortable rules you’ve set for your own life, but He wants to restore your life for the better. The pressing question is not whether God can break His own rules, but whether you’ll surrender yours.