Are miracles real? How would you know one if you saw one? Miracles: What They Are, Why They Happen, and How They Can Change Your Life is the bestseller from Eric Metaxas now in paperback. We talk about it here. — KJL
Kathryn Jean Lopez: What has been the most frequently asked question you’ve gotten asked about miracles since the book was published?
Eric Metaxas: The most frequently asked question is: When can I get your Miracles book in paperback — and how many copies would you recommend I purchase? Okay, that’s not true. I made that up. I admit it. But just in case that really is someone’s question, I feel obliged to answer it. And the answer is you can get it in paperback right now! It just came out days ago! The price is fantastic! As for how many copies, everyone has to decide on his own, but I can tell you that all of the really best people buy five or more copies. I’m not sure why.
Okay, now I’ll get serious. The question I get asked most often is: How do you know the difference between a real miracle and a coincidence? Which is a great question. But it’s very hard to answer, because it’s complicated. Which is why the second half of the book doesn’t talk about miracles but is actually a number of amazing miracle stories. When you read the stories you get an idea of the breadth of possibilities, and I think reading them communicates a relatively concrete idea of what a miracle is. So the second half of the book is really the best answer to that question. In a funny way, it’s a lot like learning to spot poison ivy. It doesn’t always look exactly the same, because there are a number of varieties of it, so you really have to practice by walking in the woods with someone who does know what it looks like, and eventually you sort of get the hang of it.
Lopez: Why do you think your Wall Street Journal piece last year on God and science was so popular?
Metaxas: Two reasons, and they’re connected. First, it’s because most people have an absolutely tremendous hunger for answers about the ultimate questions, like “What is the nature of reality? Is there something or Someone beyond this world? Can I know that? What can science tell me about that?” And second, because we live in a culture that avoids those questions like the plague.
People never ever seem to get real answers to these questions. The media typically offers the same canned narrative that science and faith are somehow at odds, but most people know that can’t be true. So when they can finally read something that confirms what they’ve thought all along, that science and faith are not at odds, and that science is even leading us toward God, they flip. I can’t take credit for inventing the ideas I wrote about, but by God’s grace my piece reached a lot of people because it was published in the most mainstream of mainstream publications. The response was outrageous. People shared it, and pastors used it in sermons, and it really went viral. Some people wrote rebuttals, and then other people wrote rebuttals to the rebuttals. And I just sat back and watched it all, truly staggered at the response. It became the most popular and most shared article in the history of the Wall Street Journal. But as I say, it’s because there is such a deep hunger for this kind of thing. Which is of course why I wrote this book.
Lopez: What’s the most interesting miracle you’ve heard about since writing the book?
Metaxas: I’ve heard so many, but I think the story of how the moon was formed, which is in the book, is the one that fascinates me the most. I can’t believe that I never knew it before and that most people don’t know. But it really is so stunning, and science hasn’t been able to tell us the details of it until very recently. If it isn’t a miracle, I’m not sure what is. It couldn’t have just happened by accident.
Lopez: Do people need miracles?
Metaxas: That depends on how one defines a miracle. If you accept my thesis that the universe and this earth are the most outrageous miracles by an infinite margin, then you will understand that simply for us to exist requires a miracle. If God miraculously created all that is, including you and me, then to say that we need miracles is an understatement. Our only response to that idea should be undying gratitude.
Lopez: What if you’ve never experienced a miracle?
If God miraculously created all that is, including you and me, then to say that we need miracles is an understatement.
Metaxas: Most people haven’t — or aren’t aware of having experienced one. I think for some mysterious reason some people are more inclined to experience them than others, but miracles really aren’t the point. God is the point. Miracles are supposed to point us to him, but we can get to God without miracles. It is God himself we should long for, rather than for the miracles that point to him. To get caught up in wanting miracles is a bit like thinking the destination of a road trip is the highway you’re supposed to take. The highway is not the destination. It’s just the highway.
Lopez: How do you know a miracle when you see one?
Metaxas: I can hardly say. Sometimes it’s obvious and hits you over the head. I’ve had a few of those. But sometimes it takes real discernment. Sometimes when I hear the details from a supposedly miraculous story, I feel that it’s really just a coincidence, but the person can’t see that. If an event leads us away from God or contradicts what we know of Him from the Bible, it’s not a bona fide miracle. For example, a friend told me that he kept seeing certain patterns of numbers and someone told him that that meant angels were trying to get his attention, so now he prays to angels. Not to God, but to angels. I think that there are deceptive forces out there that will try to lead us away from God, and we really do need to be careful.
Lopez: Can miracles become a pride problem? If one is tempted to brag?
Metaxas: Of course. People get this idea that they had something to do with it. That’s a dangerous temptation. But in the book I talk about the opposite, too. Because sometimes when people experience something like the actual presence of God — or taste eternity somehow — it is so holy and amazing that they don’t feel they can speak of it. They don’t want to sully it that way. My story about my 92-year-old friend Alice von Hildebrand in the book explains that. She couldn’t talk about those two experiences for many, many years. Which is why I’m honored she let me put them in the book.
Lopez: For what are you most grateful?
Metaxas: I’m most grateful that God in His mercy would allow me to be a part of some people’s journeys to Himself. I can think of nothing more wonderful than God using me in that way. Sometimes someone who has read one of my books tells me that it’s changed their life, or that it’s drawn them closer to God, or helped them overcome some intellectual objections to faith, and I think, wow, that’s about the best thing I can ever imagine, and I’m bursting with gratitude over it. Leading people to truth and life and meaning is the most important thing there is. I know I’m not worthy of being used that way, so hearing those things from people makes me deeply humbled and simultaneously filled with joy — which is, of course, the very heart of gratitude itself.