Miracles are not impressive
A woman is walking with her young son on the beach when a tidal wave suddenly appears and sweeps the boy out to sea. The mother immediately falls to her knees and starts praying, “Oh Lord, please return my son to me. I will be so grateful!” A moment later, another wave brings the boy back and sets him down on the shore, completely unharmed. The mother looks up at the sky and says curtly, “He had a hat.”
This joke takes aim at those who fail to appreciate what they have received, no matter how grand or miraculous, and instead focus on what they have lost or never had.
But the mother in this joke has a valid point. If an all-powerful god would intervene to save a boy, why would he neglect to also recover the boy’s hat?
It would certainly be petty to begrudge a ‘mortal’ — such as a Coast Guard rescue swimmer — for only saving a child from drowning and failing to save his hat. But a presumably all-powerful god who does mediocre miracles deserves to be called out. And every miracle in the Bible that I can think of is mediocre — that is, much less impressive than it could be — especially when you think of it in the context of God’s supposed omnipotence.
Here are few biblical miracles that come to mind:
- Jesus turning water into wine: Why did he need ingredients? Why not just create wine from nothing?
- God turning Aaron’s staff into a snake to prove Moses and Aaron were speaking for God: Why didn’t God just appear to Pharaoh and speak for himself? And why did he use a ‘miracle’ that Pharaoh’s magicians were able to imitate without supernatural aid?
- God making the sun stand still (never mind the physics) so the Israelites had more daylight hours to kill the Amorites : Why didn’t God just kill the Amorites (painlessly) and spare everyone the trauma of war?
Apologists would answer these challenges in the same way they answer the problem of evil in general — by invoking God’s ‘mysterious ways’ and his sovereignty: God could make life 100 percent pleasure, 0 percent pain, for everyone, but he opts not to do that for reasons that we cannot understand, and it is not our place to question him. (That sounds a little like what we kids used to say to each other on the playground about daredevil feats: “I can do that; I just don’t feel like it.”)
I regard the Bible as folklore and its miracle stories as fiction. So in my view, the problem of mediocre miracles has a simple and satisfying explanation: The Bible’s authors were not thinking big enough. They established ‘problem situations’ and then treated the key constraints of those situations as if they applied to God:
- Given only water, Jesus makes wine.
- Given only a staff, God makes a snake.
- Given only a star and a planet, God makes a day last longer for people at certain longitudes.