Over the years, working in Personal Correspondence for the Church of God, I have been confronted with many stimulating and thought-provoking questions that deserve an answer. One such question recently came into the United Church of God office here in Australia asking the question: "Why are no miracles being performed today?"
The writer went on to ask:
"Why doesn't God speak and interact directly with us today, as He did with the likes of Elijah and Elisha, and others? Why can't we--God's people--make, for example, the head of an axe to float? Why is it that we don't have that power today?
"Nothing spectacular is happening anymore. In the first century, supernatural things were going on all the time. Did the disciples have more of the Holy Spirit than we do or did they just have more faith? Because miracles were taking place on a daily basis.
"I think Jesus expects us to perform miracles, after all that was part of His message and ministry."
Certainly an interesting challenge. Why are there so few miracles, in the sense of spectacular public displays of God's power within His Church and by His people? Does God expect us to perform such miracles today, to somehow prove He is "on our side"?
True, many people do know that God does perform many miracles today. Many of us have witnessed miracles with practical benefits, such as the miracles of healing, protection, solving problems, etc. And then there's the miracle of conversion, which is the greatest miracle of all. However, that was not the type of miracle our writer was questioning. He spoke of the public displays of God's hand in the first and earlier centuries.
How would you have answered?
Perhaps a good place to start is over in Hebrews 1:1: "God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets." Those "various ways" did indeed include unmistakable and public miracles. Witness the life and work of the prophet Elijah and the judge Samson.
However, today He works in another way, as the explanation continues in verse 2. He "has in these last days spoken to us by His Son." Not necessarily through miracles, but through the life, message and teachings of Jesus Christ as recorded for us in the New Testament.
The miracles we read about in the Bible were examples of the power and love of God that are important to our understanding. But now that we have the biblical record, there is not the need to continually repeat all the different types of miracles.
Miracles were used at times to attract large audiences, and this was especially important in the founding of the New Testament Church. Today, we have the benefit of mass media technology.
The Bible shows that God doesn't want to force everyone to see His truth and where He is working during this age, so that He doesn't have to hold them fully accountable and they can be extended more mercy (Matthew 13:10-17; Romans 11:7-10, Romans 11:32). Proving Himself through miracles would make the audience more accountable.
And miracles aren't necessarily good for us. God gave many members of the Corinthian church miraculous spiritual gifts, but they seem to have done more harm than good in that the gifts went to the heads of the members.
Now let's consider a major question, What spiritual value are miracles anyway? What value are they in terms of conversion and salvation? Especially the public miracles that draw attention to God's work and people. Consider, as a first example, the parable of Lazarus and the rich man in Luke 16.
When the rich man begged for a miracle (as our writer seems to be doing), a miracle of a resurrection from the dead, notice Abraham's reply in verse 31: "If they do not hear Moses and the prophets [many of whom did perform miracles], neither will they be persuaded though one rise from the dead" (Luke 16:31)
Abraham explained that miracles would not necessarily convert the rich man's relatives.
What about the miracles performed by Christ Himself? Did they make any real difference? Would they have converted that rich man's family?
Over in Matthew 12:10-13 we read the miracle of Christ healing the man with a withered hand--a dramatic and undeniable miracle. What was the reaction of the unconverted and carnal Pharisees? Verse 14 says, "Then the Pharisees went out and plotted against Him, how they might destroy Him." So much for any positive effect, even when a miracle was performed by Christ Himself! (Matthew 12:14).
Again, back in Matthew 9:1-3, we read of another of Christ's public miracles. This time a paralytic was miraculously healed. The reaction from the scribes? "This Man blasphemes!"
Another equally discouraging example is recorded in Matthew 9:32-34. "He casts out demons by the ruler of the demons," was the pathetic response. The same reaction is recorded in Matthew 12:22-24.
Apart from the mercy and kindness extended to those He healed, Christ would have saved Himself a great deal of opposition, by not performing any miracles at all. But then Christ would have been asked, "Why do you not perform miracles like Elijah? Show yourself to be the Christ by performing a miracle." So would have gone the challenge and criticism.
Incidentally, even being a miracle worker, so-called, does not prove conversion or spirituality. Matthew 7:21-23 gives us the haunting and sobering warning that even those who have "cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name" will be confronted by Christ Himself with the chilling challenge, "I never knew you." Compare also Matthew 16:1-4.
So performing miracles, or witnessing such miracles, doesn't necessarily have lasting or deep effects on those witnessing such miracles. So, why none today? I guess you could say, Why bother?
Deceptive and ineffective miracles
We also need to consider that miracles can be used to deceive. Matthew 24:24 warns, "For false christs and false prophets will rise and show great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect." If we are looking for such signs and wonders as some kind of proof as to where God and Christ are working today, then we run the risk of being deceived.
Perhaps one of the soberest warnings and examples of just how ineffective a miracle can be in getting people to change, is seen by considering the people alive just before Christ's return, who witness endless miracles as described throughout the book of Revelation. What will be the ultimate reaction of such a godless generation to the divine intervention of God? "But the rest of mankind...did not repent... And they did not repent of their murders or their sorceries or their sexual immorality or their thefts" (Revelation 9:20-21). Thus Christ Himself has to return in undeniable power and might to convince that generation of unthankful, unholy and stubbornly resistant people. Miracles, of and by themselves, don't convince or convict people. Only the presence of Christ Himself will gain the permanent attention of that end-time generation. And many people will have to die and be resurrected before their minds are receptive to God's revelation.
Also in the book of Revelation, consider the miracles and wonders performed through the power of God by the two witnesses as recorded in Revelation 11:3, 5 and 6. These two individuals will be given power: fire will proceed out of their mouths; they will have power to shut up the heavens and power over the waters of the earth (Revelation 11:3-6).
Will men repent in the face of such power? We know otherwise. Verses 7 through 10 show war will be made against them and they will be murdered. The earth will rejoice, not over their miracles and power, but over their death! So much, again, for the power of miracles (Revelation 11:7-10).
A great denial
Many of you will have been thinking about one of the greatest denials of miracle-working power ever experienced by mankind--the denial by ancient Israel of the God who miraculously bought them out of bondage in Egypt. As you have the time, you might want to read the entirety of Psalm 78. Verse 12 reminds us of the "marvelous things He did in the sight of their fathers," how He "divided the sea," how He "led them with the cloud" and "brought streams out of the rock" (Psalm 78:12-16).
Their reaction? Entirely predictable by now: "But they sinned even more against Him" (Psalm 78:17) to the point God's anger was kindled against them (Psalm 78:21).
We could have expected Pharaoh, even in the face of miracle after miracle, to have continually hardened his heart (which, by the way, was hard from the beginning), but Israel? How many more miracles would it have taken to convince them? If you wonder how many, read the story of Korah in Numbers 16. A mighty miracle was witnessed by the Israelites--the miracle of the ground literally opening up before their stunned eyes and swallowing Korah and his fellow complainers. Surely that would be enough to convince anyone that God was working through Moses and was a God to be reckoned with. Surely the letter writer would be satisfied if a similar miracle took place today?
What was the reaction? One of humble repentance? Hardly. Read verse 41: "On the next day all the congregation of the children of Israel complained against Moses and Aaron, saying, 'You have killed the people of the Lord'" (Numbers 16:41). Absolutely astonishing. How did they think Moses pulled off such a feat--opening the earth and swallowing them up?
About this time God had had enough: "Get away from among this congregation, that I may consume them in a moment" (Number 16:45). (Just as I have no doubt that Christ must have had, on occasions, "enough" when the miracles He performed were continually attributed to the work of the prince of demons.)
In all this, there's not too much evidence that miracles--in the sense of public displays of power--are the answer to the needs of man.
As we draw these considerations to an end, please also consider Hebrews 3:7-12.
Even in the face of undeniable miracles, sin can and does deceitfully harden our hearts. The most important power for softening hard hearts is the indwelling of God's Holy Spirit. God's calling and the gift of the Holy Spirit is what all people ultimately need. Sure, miracles--signs and wonders--gain initial attention. But not always, as we have seen, positive or life-changing attention. The answer to the needs of man is found in scriptures such as Hebrews 10:15-16, which tells of the writing of God's laws in our hearts.
I would like to quote from the answer we sent the letter writer who was looking for miracles to prove God is working in our midst.
"Even when God does speak and interact directly with us as He did with the likes of Elijah and Enoch, man will still not repent. No, miracles are not the answer, at least not the miracles you spoke about in your letter, but rather the miracle of true conversion is what man so desperately needs.
"Were their needs greater than ours, as you posed in your letter? No. All mankind has the same need--the Spirit of the Living God, miraculously dwelling and working in their hearts and minds. Let us be searching for that lasting miracle, not the fleeting, attention-getting, miracles that usually lead no one anywhere.
"As much as miracles are great and wonderful, they never have and never will convert the hard, stony heart of man. Only the miracle of the indwelling of God's Holy Spirit will ever perform that miracle. And that is what God is doing today, through the work of His Church and people, as He offers the opportunity for the miracle of a transformed, Spirit-led life to those who are willing to accept that gift--that miracle."