Science and Miracles: The Aspects of Surrender and Faith in Miraculous Events

The notion of miracles is undeniably a part of the Christian faith. Specifically, miraculous and scientifically unexplainable events are frequently depicted throughout the Bible. Such accounts display connections to contemporary miracles as well as unignorable revelations of the relationship between God and humanity.1 However, the presence and importance of miracles has been overshadowed by the secularization of society, specifically culminating from four major shifts.2 The secularization of society has ultimately resulted in a scientifically dominated culture, leaving little room for the discussion and interpretation of miracles; this can be detrimental to not only a greater grasp on God’s unceasingly merciful nature but also a deeper understanding of life in both scientific and theological manners. By neglecting the significance of miracles, God’s intimacy with creation is ignored and humanity ultimately denies its utter need for a relationship with God.

What do miracles reveal about the relationship between humanity and God?

Therefore, in this essay, the following questions will be addressed: how should society think about miraculous events in both a scientific and theological sense? What do miracles reveal about the relationship between humanity and God? I will argue that the analysis of the notion of surrendering to God and faith within Christ in relation to miraculous healing events, in both the New Testament as well as in modern times, reveal humanity’s dependence on the Divine; worldly aspects cannot solely be the source of miracles. By identifying and undertaking the magnitude of miracles, the current scientifically driven culture can become re-enchanted with creation and capable of discerning God’s desire for and relationship with humanity.

Defining Miracles

To truly grasp the notion of a miracle, one must clarify its meaning. According to St. Augustine, miracles can be described as unexpected or unanticipated events, and a sense of wonder is created within the individual that either witnesses or experiences the miraculous occurrence. In De Utilitate Credendi, Augustine relays that miracles are defined as an event that “exceeds the expectation and capacity of him who marvels at it.”3 A sense of awe is formed, which aids in the understanding of the miracle and its relation to God. Moreover, Augustine separates miracles into two categories: ones that cause wonder (the event is nothing beyond the “spectacle” itself), and ones that result in gratitude and good will (such as healings, which hold more of a theological meaning).4 I agree with Augustine in regard to the definition of miracles: They should be deemed as unanticipated, wonder-inspiring, and astonishing. However, through the separation of miraculous events into two distinct categories, especially with one category ignoring the significance of miracles, society loses its grasp on the theological meaning of miraculous occurrences. Instead, I argue that miracles should not only be acknowledged for the awe they inspire, but they should also be interpreted and analyzed in order to attain a stronger sense of what they reveal about God and the relationship between creation and the Lord. Specifically, a sense of surrender is revealed, which will be explored further in this paper.

Miracles are not merely a single event, but instead they exist as an act of God which guides our gaze towards Christ; this is further explained by Dr. Charles Pinches, a religion professor at the University of Scranton. In “Miracles: A Christian Theological Overview,” Dr. Pinches relays, “If we mistake the miracles for [the] work itself, that is, if we are drawn to suppose that God’s work is about spectacular display, about overpowering force, about righteous paybacks or easy fixes, then we completely miss the thing to which the miracles in the Gospels point.”5 The Gospels direct us towards recognizing that “Jesus is the One.”6 Focusing on the event or physical aspects alone deters us from the meaning and interpretation of the miracle, then society is left with an empty understanding of what the miracle conveys in a theological sense. Humanity detaches God from miraculous occurrences. Therefore, to describe any miracles to only exist as “spectacles,” an aspect of God’s nature remains covered as humanity continues to disregard the relevance of the miracle. By acknowledging Dr. Pinches’ argument, the two distinctions proposed by Augustine can be intertwined; miracles are not just the “spectacle” alone, but rather the significance of a miraculous occurrence lies within the interpretation and meaning of the miracle itself. Through the incorporation of the two categories established by Augustine, a more thorough and rich discernment of miraculous events and the relationship between God and creation is provided.

The Shift: From a Theological to a Scientific Approach

The scientific revolution sparked a denial of religious interpretation and use of theology in understanding life. The negligence of the significance of miracles, and religion as a whole, is evident through the claims proposed by philosophers Baruch Spinoza and David Hume during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. In The Miracles of Jesus and the Theology of Miracles, author René Latourelle discusses the perspectives of the two philosophers. According to Spinoza and Hume, “a miracle is impossible, because it would mean a rent in the immutable web of the laws of nature…. the claim, therefore, that God interrupts the order of things for the sake of human beings is really sacrilegious.”7 The basis of Spinoza and Hume’s argument was heavily dependent on scientific disciplines, a reliance that was extremely detrimental to the undertaking of religion, and specifically the understanding of miracles, during the scientific revolution. Through understanding a miracle as something that “interrupts the order of things,” there is too great of a focus on the aspect of science when attempting to examine a theological facet. Additionally, even if miracles do interrupt the natural order, this should not be a concern when interpreting miraculous events; if we perceive this to be a concern, then we place God in a box by limiting his capabilities and interaction with creation. By solely relying on the scientific interpretation of miracles, little room is provided for the true analysis of the religious meaning of miracles.

Furthermore, by perceiving miracles to be “sacrilegious,” as suggested by Spinoza and Hume, a sense of conflict is created between the scientific understanding of miracles and the miraculous events presented throughout the Bible. If Christians are to interpret miracles as “sacrilegious,” it would deny the nature of God and insist that miracles are not a part of God’s plan for creation. In addition, how is society, and specifically how are Christians, supposed to interpret miraculous occurrences in the Bible if there is a rejection of the existence of miracles in general? If this was the basis for society’s understanding of miracles, there would be a claim that the Bible is neither accurate nor true; this belief would have substantial implications for the Christian tradition. The acceptance of miraculous events in the Old and New Testaments and the denial of present-day miracles establishes a tremendous challenge and further separates society from God.

The discussion of the impact of the scientific revolution on religion and the acknowledgment of the significance of miracles has been continued by Canadian philosopher and practicing Roman-Catholic Charles Taylor in his book A Secular Age. As a consequence of four major “eclipses,” humanity has further deterred itself from religion and overemphasized the importance of the disciplines of science in understanding life.8 Taylor emphasizes that the first shift occurred at the beginning of the seventeenth century, about 50 years after the start of the scientific revolution.9 The first shift has been outlined as “the eclipse of this sense of further purpose; and hence of the idea that we owe God anything further than the realization of his plan.”10 This “further purpose” can be interpreted as not only realizing that God’s will is more than one’s own good but also undertaking his plan. An emphasis on self-reliance or personal interest was created, eroding the relationship between humans and God. Additionally, the second shift can be summarized as “the eclipse of grace.”11 This shift created a feeling of entitlement and a lack of recognition of God’s unceasingly merciful nature; ignorance of the nature of the Lord and his purpose ensued. The third shift can be characterized by a fading of mystery and God’s Providence.12 A focus of self-interest and self-motivation resulted in such a shift, creating a refusal to admire nature and forming a hole in humanity’s understanding of God and his plan. Taylor then discusses the fourth shift to deny that “God was planning a transformation of human beings.”13 The negation of the necessary change of humanity forces humans to believe that they themselves have achieved their fullest extent and worth. Through a rejection of further purpose, grace, mystery, and transformation, society separates itself from the undertaking of God’s nature and the formation of a rich relationship with the Lord. The abandoning of religion in the name of science has warped society’s view of miraculous events, leaving society with the inability to recognize and interpret unexplained healings in a religious manner.

In addition, through Taylor’s proposition of the “secularization thesis,” there can be a greater understanding of the shift that occurred from a theological to a scientific view, which is due to the scientific revolution as well as the ultimate decrease in religious participation within society today.14 According to Taylor, the secularization thesis incorporates the notion that “religion must retreat before reason.”15 Through the secularization of society and the acceptance of the secularization thesis, a disconnect was created between society and God, causing the relationship between humanity and the Lord to be diminished. Thus, a haze of “disenchantment” fell upon society through a shift towards relying on science as a basis of understanding.16 A greater reliance on science contributed to the move of society from recognizing and interpreting unexplainable events or miracles to ignoring the presence of miraculous events in their entirety. Through humanity’s reliance on the disciplines of science, it has and continues to be deemed that “God’s purposes for us encompass only our own good,” which means “no further mystery can hide [in nature].”17 As a result, there is an elimination of question, awe, and wonder regarding God’s creation. The disregard of miracles emerges, forcing humanity to neglect the miraculous and wonderful nature of the Lord.

Surrender, Faith, and Miracles: Examining Miraculous Occurrences

The theological analysis of the significance of miracles and the notions of surrender and faith begins with the miraculous occurrences, events, and accounts in the Bible. On the journey to Jerusalem, Jesus encounters a blind man known as Bartimaeus. While begging, Bartimaeus recognizes Jesus’ voice, and Bartimaeus then exclaims, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”18 Undeterred by others, he continues to call out to Jesus and eventually “[throwing] off his cloak, he springs up and comes to Jesus.”19 Bartimaeus reveals his desire to see, and Jesus proclaims, “Go; your faith has made you well.”20 Bartimaeus’ sight is restored, an act that is seemingly impossible through any fully human means. Again, Augustine’s definition of miracle is illustrated. In addition, it is apparent that Bartimaeus’ faith permitted his healing. There was no shame in his love for Jesus, and Jesus’ unrelenting love for him was displayed. Bartimaeus’ complete and utter faith and dependence on the Lord bestowed Jesus’ miracle.

The recount of the healing of Bartimaeus further demonstrates the aspect of surrender in miracles throughout the New Testament. Prior to being healed and receiving sight, the surrender of Bartimaeus to Jesus is not only revealed through Bartimaeus’ words but also through his actions. Despite many “[ordering] him to be quiet,” Bartimaeus persisted, “[crying] out even more loudly,” proclaiming his love for Jesus Christ.21 He released his cloak and reached for the Son of God. This is significant since, as a beggar, his cloak held everything he owned. Willingly, Bartimaeus surrendered every worldly possession he had in order to hold a relationship with Jesus. His concern with society and earthly pleasures ceased, which revealed his unrelenting surrender to Christ and faith in God.

Bartimaeus’ surrendering to Jesus is further amplified through the comparison to the encounter between Jesus and a rich man, as described in Mark 10:17–22. After asking what must be done in order to inherit eternal life, Jesus directed a rich man to “sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.”22 Reluctant to give up his wealth and surrender himself to the Lord, the man receded unhappily. Unlike Bartimaeus, the rich man never recognized the nature of Jesus nor offered his life in order to follow God. The rich man, in a sense, was too focused on what Jesus could do and reveal for the man himself rather than what the man could offer and relinquish to Jesus. The rich man was so concerned with the “spectacle” of miracles and what Jesus could provide instead of the meaning of holding faith and following Christ. Rather than recognizing the significance of Jesus Christ and miracles, the rich man directed his gaze upon the single event. If society behaves like the rich man, then the focus shifts from a dependence on God to a deceiving dependence on oneself. Unless there is a surrender to the Lord, only then can humanity begin to understand and undertake the nature of God.

Furthermore, Augustine’s explanation of the miracles he witnessed depicts a connection to Biblical miracles and illustrates the significance of faith. In The City of God, Augustine recounts numerous miraculous events, one including the healing of cancer. Augustine writes:

This the lady we speak of had been advised to by a skillful physician…she betook herself to God alone by prayer. On the approach of Easter, she was instructed in a dream to wait for the first woman that came out from the baptistery after being baptized, and to ask her to make the sign of Christ upon her sore. She did so, and was immediately cured. The physician who had advised her to apply no remedy if she wished to live a little longer, when he had examined her after this, and found that she who, on his former examination, was afflicted with that disease was now perfectly cured.23

This revelation is quite similar to the Biblical story of Bartimaeus, in which he could not find or receive any alleviation of pain or disease in the world itself. Yet, akin to the account in the New Testament, the woman’s experience of not receiving any healing or reprieve from earthly aspects did not force her to drift away from the Lord; rather, her faith in Christ was strengthened, and her focus was directed towards God. By holding faith in Jesus, she was guided towards prayer. Through her conviction to the Lord, she relinquished her dependence on the world in order to undertake a relationship with God.

The woman, who received no reprieve from any earthly being, prayed for the guidance and protection of the Lord. Through prayer, the woman was humbled. She surrendered herself to God; she waited with patience; she received a redeeming and miraculous gift. This occurred when she followed the direction of God, which was conveyed through the dream. The similarity between Augustine’s outline of the event and the miracles in the New Testament intertwine to further unveil that the facet of surrender is a necessary component of miraculous healings. The release of self-dependence permits the full reliance on the Lord.

Miracles remain just as relevant today as they have been in the past. Specifically, Sarah Bessey, a Christian author, conveys her experience of healing and miraculous events. After enduring physical injuries in a car accident, Bessey experienced severe pain and discomfort throughout her body, especially within her spinal column. Yet, after being invited to Rome for the celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Catholic Charismatic Renewal Movement, she received tremendous healing of her areas of pain. Although initially hesitant to accept and permit prayers for her physical sufferings, Bessey surrendered to God and his will and accepted the prayers of others. Her husband, three priests, and two friends surrounded Bessey, and they prayed for each individual region of discomfort: spine, vertebrate, neck, and left hip. Then, Bessey recounts, “At [the priest’s] words, I felt a cooling liquid sensation rising up from my tailbone, through my hips, up through my spine, reaching the base of my neck …. The pleasant coolness wrapped around every joint in my spine, moving slowly up through my injuries. I felt my vertebrate rotating like gears turning in my spine, one by one, moving in response to the [priest’s] words.”24 Her ailment, in a matter of seconds, was eliminated. Prior to receiving such unexplainable healing, Bessey was unconvinced that her pain would dissipate. Nothing on earth could provide her with alleviation. She eventually submitted herself to the Lord through prayer. It was only through such surrender that a miracle was revealed to her; her faith was uncovered, and the merciful nature of God was visible. 

The Significance of Miracles on Society’s Relationship with God

The surrender of oneself and the significance of faith in miraculous occurrences throughout the New Testament, the accounts of Augustine, and the contemporary healing relayed by Bessey portray humanity’s complete dependence on the Lord God. In each account, there was no immediate healing or alleviation of pain through earthly manners: no physician cured the disease, and no medication or remedy diminished the pain. Only Jesus restored Bartimaeus’ sight; only God, through prayer, directed the woman towards healing during Augustine’s time; only the Lord relinquished the abnormalities and pain endured by Bessey. It was solely through God that a miracle was revealed or a disorder was eliminated, and this occurred following each individual’s profession of faith and succumbing to the Lord.

How, then, does the understanding of the notion of surrender in relation to miracles impact society’s, and specifically the scientifically driven society’s, relationship with God? With the recognition and analysis of yielding oneself to the Lord and the deliverance of a miraculous occurrence, humanity becomes re-enchanted with the wonderful nature of God and creation. The detrimental effects of the four major “eclipses” explained by Taylor begin to dissolve; humanity is reinstated with a sense of wonder and awe with both the Lord’s character as well as creation itself. The sole reliance on science is diminished. By recognizing the significance of not only the spectacular physical attributes of miracles but also the underlying meaning of such acts, the scientifically centered culture of contemporary society shifts towards undertaking what God is conveying through miracles. Rather than ignored, God is admired. His overwhelming care, mercy, and faithfulness are acknowledged and loved by society.

In addition to the aspect of surrender associated with miracles, one’s faith also reveals the utter importance of wonder in understanding the meaning of miraculous occurrences. In Mark 10, Jesus encounters children on his journey towards Jerusalem. Jesus exclaims, “Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.”25 The children, full of faith and childlike wonder and awe, come to Jesus. Just like the Bartimaeus, they, in a sense, surrender to the Lord as well. This illustrates the significance of fully yielding oneself to God and carrying a feeling of astonishment of the character of Jesus. This awe that accompanies the children allows for the formation of a rich relationship with God; the faith, wonder, and surrender held by the little children are what allow an uncovering of the nature of Jesus Christ.

Although I have emphasized the significance of surrendering to God and holding faith in the Lord in regard to understanding miracles, I must preface that Christians should be hesitant in interpreting the yielding of oneself to the Lord as a part of a “formula” that has the end product of a miracle. To be clear, neither surrender nor holding a “sufficient” amount of faith equates to experiencing a miraculous occurrence. Miracles are not bestowed by God because an individual completes tasks X, Y, and Z. If Christians, and society as a whole, resort to the level of believing such a notion regarding miracles, then humanity not only loses touch with what miraculous events uncover about God’s nature, but also creation refrains from enriching and strengthening its relationship with the Lord. This is even further elaborated upon in recognizing that surrendering and having faith does not always result in a miracle. In particular, although Bessey received tremendous healing of her spinal column after being prayed over in Rome, she continued to bear other types of pain and suffering. It would be unjust to explain that she did not “surrender enough” or “resisted from practicing or embracing an abundance of faith.” Instead, her continuous suffering and additional diagnoses, such as depression and fibromyalgia, directed her towards the most wonderful aspect of Jesus: his sacrifice and resurrection.

“We are made in the image of God, communal by creation, and my body isn’t an impediment to knowing and following and embracing God.”

Thus, surrendering to God and the unveiling of miracles uncovers God’s merciful character and enhances the connection between humanity and the Lord. Yet, when miracles are not gifted to creation following a sense of surrender, society is then further pointed towards the resurrection of Jesus Christ and his Second Coming. As explained by Bessey, “We are made in the image of God, communal by creation, and my body isn’t an impediment to knowing and following and embracing God, it’s part of the whole redemption. It is also redeemed, blessed by the incarnation all over again. Even my body as it now stood — both healed and unhealed — was blessed.”26 Through the affliction, the pain, the suffering, the surrender, and the so-called unanswered prayers, God is moving creation towards his Son, Jesus Christ. Therefore, even with surrender and faith, and without a miraculous event, we are guided towards Jesus. The currently endured pains and the discomfort within creation will all be removed through Jesus’ Second Coming. Humanity has been promised the glorification of human and earthly bodies. “The Incarnation — Jesus as human — is a blessing and affirmation of these very human bodies, in all their variety …. God is blessing our bodies as they are right in the most human moments because it’s then that we embody the Gospel of God with us.”27 Therefore, in addition to understanding the miracles revealed to creation and what such events uncover about God, the lack of miraculous occurrences also holds similar importance; through both gifts, creation’s relationship with the Lord is intensified, and the discernment of Christ’s sacrifice is heightened.

Surrender and faith are clearly intertwined with miraculous recounts presented in the New Testament, as well as by Augustine and Bessey. Therefore, the scientifically centered society of today can be directed and transformed towards establishing a tremendous understanding of God and strengthening its relationship with the Lord.

By interpreting both the scientific and theological facets of miracles, humanity, in a sense, becomes re-enchanted. There is a restoration of the captivating feeling of wonder in both creation and God. The shadow of secularization that has reigned over society can begin to recede, leaving an enriched connection between humanity and the Lord.

Sarah Stevenson ’23 is majoring in Biology and
minoring in Religion. She is from Grosse Pointe, Michigan. We thank Dr. Angela Carpenter (Religion) for her involvement with Sarah’s piece.

Spring 2022 Table of Contents

1  Sarah Bessey, Miracles and Other Reasonable Things (London: Darton, Longman and Todd Ltd, 2019).

2  Charles Taylor, A Secular Age (London: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2007).

3  Saint Augustine, De Utilitate Credendi, in “The Usefulness of Belief” in Earlier Writings, trans. John H.S. Burleigh (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1979), 320.

4  Augustine, De Utilitate Credendi, 320.

5  Charles Pinches, PhD, “Miracles: A Christian Theological Overview,” Southern Medical Journal 100, no. 12 (2007): 1239.

6  Pinches, “Miracles,” 1239.

7  René Latourelle, The Miracles of Jesus and the Theology of Miracles (New Jersey: Paulist Press, 1988), 25.

8  Taylor, A Secular Age, 222–223.

9  Ibid.

10  Ibid.

11  Ibid.

12  Ibid.

13  Taylor, A Secular Age, 224.

14  Taylor, A Secular Age, 222–226.

15  Ibid.

16  Taylor, A Secular Age, 226–227.

17  Ibid.

18  Mark 10:47

19  Mark 10:50

20  Mark 10:51–52

21  Mark 10:48

22  Mark 10:21

23  Augustine of Hippo, “Chapter 8,” Book XXII, The City of God, trans. Marcus Dods (Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, 2009).

24  Bessey, Miracles and Other Reasonable Things, 113.

25  Mark 10:14–15

26  Bessey, Miracles and Other Reasonable Things, 194

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