God is alive and active in the world today. He reaches into the natural world from his supernatural throne and affects the lives of men and the course of history. Prayer is the means by which men ask God to intervene in their lives. While we do not believe in the existence of true biblical miracles today, we do believe that God acts providentially on behalf of his children. This so-called providence is the subject of this article.
For this article we define providence as God working through natural laws. Providence may be contrasted with Biblical miracles, in which God sets aside natural laws to affect some change.
God is active in our world today through providence. He hears the prayers of the faithful and responds to them through his providence. When Christians pray for healing, God heals. When Christians pray for deliverance, God delivers. When Christians need strength, God gives. Of course, God grants our prayers based upon his will and his discretion, but when our prayer is proper and coincides with his will, it is granted by God through his providence and not miracles.
Providence in the Old Testament
While there are many, stunning miracles in the Old Testament, God also works through his natural laws. For example, many women in the Old Testament were barren until God opened their womb. Examples would include Sarah (Genesis 21:1), Rebekah (Genesis 25:21), Rachel (Genesis 30:22), and Hannah (1 Samuel 1:5, 20). In each of these cases God directly intervened to allow these women to give birth. Nevertheless, God worked through his natural laws to bring about the birth of their children. In each case, the children were conceived in the usual manner, the children were carried to term in the usual manner, and the birth occurred in the usual way.
King Hezekiah of Judah offers another example of providence. In 1 Kings 20:1-7, 18 he is told that he will die from his illness. He prays to God for healing. Hezekiah is granted another 15 years of life Believers have no doubt that God intervened on Hezekiah’s behalf but Hezekiah received, medical treatment for his condition. Certainly God could have miraculously healed him on the spot, but he did not. God worked through the laws of nature to bring about his healing.
Providence in the New Testament
The Gospels, record many miracles performed by Jesus. These events are exactly what they appear to be, they are true biblical miracles. Such events as feeding 5000 people from the little boy’s lunch or raising a man from the dead can hardly be considered anything other than a miracle. Those events cannot be explained away in any rational way. However acts of providence are seen scattered throughout the New Testament.
In Acts 12:20-23, we read of the death of King Herod. Herod was immediately struck down by an angel of the Lord when he failed to give God glory. From our perspective we hold this to be the intervention of God. However a nonbeliever might argue that Herod died of some pre-existing illness. In other words, someone could explain away the death of Herod with a rational scientific explanation.
In Acts 27, the ship on which Paul is sailing is shipwrecked. The chapter reports a terrible storm, the fear of his shipmates and the ultimate wreckage of the ship. But no one died as result of the shipwreck. Their survival is at the hand of God. The skeptic might offer some rational explanation as to why this happened. It does not change the fact that God intervened. Paul had absolute confidence that because of God’s power the crew of the ship would be saved.
These distinctions from both the Old Testament and the New Testament, although they are fine and miniscule, are important when studying modern miracles. Today, many people use the word “miracle” loosely. Some examples will help make our point.
Providence in the Present Time
Sometimes people speak of childbirth as a miracle. While childbirth is an amazing and glorious moment for any parent, it is not proper to call it a miracle. Thousands of children are born every day and in some cases do not even require the assistance of a physician. The laws of nature have been created as such to allow childbirth to occur almost routinely.
Occasionally someone will be involved in a horrific automobile accident and will, amazingly, walk away from the accident with barely a scratch. While the Christian will give glory to God, a scientist will probably find a way to explain the occupant’s safety through physical science. As such, this is best described as providence. It strengthens the faith of the Christian who believes fervently that God protected them. But it does not rise to the level of a biblical miracle.
Christians are instructed to pray for the sick. In our day there is hardly a congregation of Christians not touched by cancer. Oftentimes our prayers are heard by God and answered affirmatively. The patient responds well to treatment, soon improves, and is able to resume their normal lives. As before, the Christian believes that the hand of God was involved in their healing. Skeptics will simply say that they responded to established medical treatment just like other people respond to treatment every day. In other words, this is providence.
Please understand, this is not simply an article on terminology. Words have meanings. Those meanings convey ideas. Sometimes the misuse of words, meanings, and ideas promote false teachings.
It is not uncommon today to see some preachers claim miracles where none exists. Such false claims rob God of his glory. These alleged miracle working charlatans not only assault the most vulnerable among us, they bring disrepute and create a lack of credibility among true gospel preachers.
Brethren, let us use caution and carefully distinguish between true biblical miracles and the marvelous providence of God today. Appreciating the providence of God is an inherent factor in walking by faith and not by sight. We know God is active and intervenes even when the world does not or will not agree. Let us be people of faith and always give God the glory for every good thing he does.