A second reaction to miracles is to relativize their significance. For all the claims of secularization and living in a disenchanted world, people are still as religious as ever. On her talk show, Oprah Winfrey would regularly beam, “Remember your spirit!” She believed that we are all connected to the energy of creation, that we are a part of this energy, and that this energy is a part of us. Winfrey is just one example of a growing religious demographic that has been labeled the “nones.” In her recent book Strange Rites, Tara Isabella Burton documents that the nones do not associate with any institutional religion. Think back to the heyday of the shopping mall. The main retailers anchored the mall: Sears, J.C. Penney, and Macy’s. Now malls have been displaced by shopping promenades with dozens of retailers. Instead of going to Macy’s to buy your clothes, now you might shop at six different stores to assemble your wardrobe.
This shift in retail helps us understand the cultural change in the West. Rather than belonging to one of the institutional faiths, such as Roman Catholicism, Protestantism, Eastern Orthodoxy, Buddhism, Mormonism, or Islam, people now assemble their own curated religions. Burton observes that today’s nones might combine a Christmas hymn, themes from J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter novels, mysticism, and a dash of social justice to create their own form of spirituality. Rather than purchase the album of historic Reformation confessional Christianity, the nones shop in the digital music store to create their own spiritual playlist. Nones are therefore open to the reality and historicity of miracles, but miracles coexist in an enchanted world where other miraculous, mystical, and meaningful events transpire and inspire, so they cannot help us single out one faith from others. While less aggressive, the nones’ attitude toward miracles still pulses with the heartbeat of unbelief in the overall message of God’s Word.
What, then, is the nature and purpose of miracles? The answer to this question comes in two parts: the nature of divine revelation and the specific purpose of miracles. First, the Bible shows that God reveals Himself through the creation: what theologians call general revelation. The Apostle Paul, for example, states that God’s invisible attributes, “his eternal power and divine nature,” are revealed “in the things that have been made” (Rom. 1:20). God reveals knowledge about who He is in things—in nature and conscience. God also reveals Himself in words, what theologians call special revelation. The opening lines of Hebrews memorably capture this truth: “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son” (Heb. 1:1–2). God reveals knowledge about Himself in things and words. When God reveals knowledge about Himself, His revelation also follows a common pattern of a word, followed by an act, followed by an interpretive word. In the creation account, God first says, “Let there be light,” which is followed by His act of creating light (Gen. 1:3). And then the Genesis account gives us an interpretive word: “And God saw that the light was good” (v. 4). The pattern is word-act-word. This configuration repeatedly recurs in the Scriptures but is writ large in the incarnation of Christ—the Old Testament is the preparatory word, the incarnation is God’s revelatory act, and the New Testament is the interpretive word. God reveals Himself in things and words (general and special revelation), and He speaks, acts, and then interprets His actions and words. In the simplest of terms, God is His own interpreter.