While looking for something else in my office I happened upon an outline I had done for an old EQ lesson on the subject of miracles, so I thought I’d throw it up here in case it is useful to anyone:
1. Definition. English “miracle” derives from Latin miraculum, from the verb mirari, “to wonder.” Webster’s suggests “an extraordinary event manifesting divine intervention in human affairs,” and the Encyclopedia of Mormonism has “a beneficial event brought about through divine power that mortals do not understand and of themselves cannot replicate.”
2. Biblical Terminology.
a. nes. In Biblical Hebrew, a long pole for a banner or flag that can be seen from a great distance. In Num. 26:20, a “sign.” In later, Rabbinic Hebrew, this becomes the main word for “miracle.”
b. gedolot. “Great things” (beyond normal human power).
c. nipla’ot. “[God's] saving acts.”
d. pele’. “Wonders” (only in poetry).
e. *PL’. This verbal root refers to things beyond man’s understanding.
f. ‘ot, mophet. A “mark, sign.”
g. dunamis. “Mighty work, miracle, wonder.”
h. teras. “Wonder, portent.”
i. semeion. “Sign.”
j. paradoxon. “Strange thing.”
k. Miracles are often indicated by the reaction of those who witness them; people are amazed, astonished, astounded, they marvel, wonder, fear, are in awe, etc.
3. Analyzing a Miracle.
a. The performer.
b. Invitation to the performance (prayer, direct appeal).
c. Special actions or use of implements.
d. Type of miracle (natural order, national history, human life).
e. Purpose of the miracle (trial, build faith, prove divinity, show love and compassion [grace], reward and punishment).
f. Role of faith (is faith a necessary condition ["faith preceds the miracle"], a result, or both?). Blaise Pascal: “The heart has reasons which the mind does not understand.”
g. Role of priesthood (explicit, implicit, or not apparent).
h. Distinguishing miracle from magic.
4. Canons of the Ordinary and Variations therein. The perception of that which is extraordinary will differ in time and place. (For instance, is the human body in all cases subject to gravity, visibility, tangibility, space and mortality?) A miracle can also be something ordinary that appears at precisely the right moment, like the ram caught in the thicket to be sacrificed in lieu of Isaac.
5. A Mormon Thology of MIracles.
a. The Unknown. James Talmage, Jesus the Christ, 148: “Miracles cannot be in contravention of natural law, but are wrought through the operation of laws not universally or commonly recognized…. In the contemplation of the miracles wrought by Christ, we must of necessity recognize the operation of a power transcending our present human understanding. In this field, science has not yet advanced far enough to analyze and explain. To deny the actuality of miracles on the ground that, because we cannot comprehend the means, the reported results are fictitious, is to arrogate to the human mind the attribute of omniscience, by implying that what man cannot comprehend cannot be, and that therefore he is able to comprehind all that is.”
b. God is not the source of natural law, but natural law is eternal and exists apart from God; even God is subject to such law. God did not create the world ex nihilo, “out of nothing”; rather, matter is eternal and has always existed. Intelligence too is in some sense eternal, and God has irrevocably granted to man his free agency. Therefore, the common presumption that God can do whatever he likes is not true. There are eternal realities and verities that exist outside of God and to which even God is subject. (Worship worthiness v. theodicy, etc.)
6. Issues for Reflection.
a. Did the miracles of the Bible occur?
b. If so, how are we to interpret them?
c. Do they all have the same degree of authenticity? To what extent, if any, is the rationalization of miracles appropriate? (Problems of evidence, illusions, hallucinations, etc.)
d. What do history, science, philosophy, literature and theology have to say about miracles?
e. What are we to believe about miracles in other religions and cultures?
f. Did miracles cease after the Bible?
g. What was the attitude of the prophets and Jesus towards miracles?
h. Are miracles an essential element of Christian faith?
i. What role did miracles play in the Restoration?
j. Is the universe controlled by laws to which there are no exceptions?
k. What should be one’s attitude toward the possibility of miracles in the world today?
l. What if you pray for a miracle and it does not happen? Is that prima facie evidence of your lack of faith? Should the lack of a miracle result in a loss of faith?