I believe God can and does do miracles. I also believe the gift of miracles (i.e. a person with the ability to perform miracles at will) is no longer operative in the church. One of the most common objections to this view I hear is, “You can’t put God in a box.”
Ever heard that soundbite? The thinking is that God can do what He wants, but the Cessationist position limits God’s abilities. So I want to go on record as saying I believe God can do whatever He wants, but He never wants to do something against what His word says.
For example, God said in His word, “Tongues will cease,” (1 Cor 13:8) and He used a Greek tense for “cease” which means “to stop and not start again.” Then the gift of tongues (miraculously speaking in an unlearned foreign language according to Acts 2) did cease. And for over 1900 years no credible Christian claimed otherwise. If you want to scratch this itch some more, check out Nate Busenitz’s excellent articles Two Types of Tongues and What Cessationism is Not.
Then in the 1914 Azusa Street debacle it was publicized that the gift had started again, only this time it was an unheard-of, personalized, unintelligible babbling. Is it putting God in a box when one holds a view that the gift of tongues has ceased and that the new version is a sham?
It’s not that systematic theology is more important than God’s freedom. It’s that God’s word is more important than God’s freedom.
No one has a problem with Titus 1:2 saying that God cannot lie. That is putting God in a box– a box of holiness.
Ps 138:2 … you have exalted above all things your name and your word.
God’s reputation and His word is more important to Him than our scheduled healing service.
Let’s define ‘miracle.’ A miracle is not when a baby is born, nor when you pass an exam you didn’t study enough for. A miracle is when God breaks the laws of nature and accomplishes His will by doing that which is physically, scientifically impossible. E.g. making a heavy metal axehead float on the water to save a seminoid from going into debt, turning H2O into fine wine to spare a host embarrassment, or by parting the sea to keep his people safe from Egyptian hordes.
Sometimes God uses miracles, as when he destroyed 185,000 Assyrians by sending an angel of death; at other times God uses the implements of providence and concurrence just as deftly, like when he employed the Babylonians and a well-timed flood to again wipe out the Assyrians (Nahum 2).
Both are His handiwork, both are equally amazing. One type of work occurs all the time, but the other is exceedingly uncommon.
God is able to perform any miracle He wants, but that does not mean we should expect to see them as a part of the normative Christian walk.
Tomorrow we’ll explore how God uses Providence and Concurrence as His other tools in “God’s toolbox: Limiting Miracles is not Limiting God, Pt 2.”