Miracles: the Bible seems full of them, and yet we see so few today. How do we account for this?
That question was recently put to John Piper, and here’s the substance of his reply.
1. There were fewer miracles in the Bible than we probably think
See Psalm 77:11 ‘I will remember the works of the Lord. Yes, I will remember the amazing things you did long ago!’
Even in OT times God’s people saw miracles as predominating in days past – especially the days of Moses and Elijah. Miracles do not run all the way through OT times. Mostly, they were living by faith, with hope in the future, based on God’s mighty works in the past.
In the NT, it is gloriously true that Jesus performed many miracles. But even our Lord did not heal everyone, everywhere. His miracles look forward to a time when all will be raised from the dead, and when there will be no more sickness. The miracles of Jesus are exceptional because they point to his divinity (Jn 10:37), and so we would not expect miracles to attach to any other person in the same way.
Even though Jesus authorised his disciples to work miracles, unique authority and power resided in him. It is true that the apostles worked many amazing miracles in the name of Jesus, but it is also true that they suffered much, and that their colleagues became sick. And although the NT witnesses to various miraculous gifts of the Holy Spirit, we are not to suppose that they performed miracles with the ‘success-rate’ of Jesus himself.
2. There are probably more miracles today than we know
If only we could know about all the encounters between Christians and sickness, and between Christians and demons, then we would conclude that we are living in an age of miracles (which we are!).
[Piper does not expand this point. I would point especially to the work do Craig Keener (MIracles : The Credibility of the New Testament Accounts), as well as to various accounts of revivals, to see the historical evidence.]
3. There is a good reason for why we would see a greater prevalence of miracles in the Bible compared with today.
Jesus came primarily, not to be a miracle-worker, but to bring salvation. Miracles clustered around his appearance and his mission, but they are not ‘the main thing’. Christians look back with confidence in the work of Christ, and look forward to the future consummation of his work. We live in a time that is characterised but suffering, but be can believe too that God hears and answers our prayers for miracles (sometimes occasionally, at other times – as in revival – with greater frequency).
Why doesn’t he do more miracles today? Answer:-
(a) because of our lack of expectancy and faith, but, ultimately
(b) owing to his sovereign will.
When we call people to repent and believe, we are not doing so on the basis of a miracle they may have witnessed yesterday, but rather on the basis of Scripture’s testimony to the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.