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Miracle or Divine Providence — What’s the Difference?

Believers throw around the word ‘miracle’ a lot when what they really mean is divine providence. There’s a difference: With divine providence God is clearly involved with the event because what happens is just too coincidental (or whatever) and therefore it could be categorized as supernatural provision of some sort. The difference between this and a miracle is that a skeptic could argue that – while remarkably coincidental – such things sometimes happen and therefore it wasn’t necessarily supernatural in nature.

A good example of divine providence would be praying for needed cash and suddenly apprehending it one way or another. For instance, Carol & I were in need of funds a couple of years ago when we pulled into a park on Lake Erie, about an hour drive from our home. There were no vehicles near us but Carol found some large bills as soon as she got out of her door. While we believe this was God’s supernatural provision, it wasn’t technically a miracle because a skeptic could explain it away on the grounds that people are sometimes careless with their cash and we merely stumbled upon some that was accidently dropped. It was mere chance that we pulled into that particular spot in the large parking lot at that particular time.

Here’s another example of divine providence: Say an aged relative has to have surgery but the doctor says chances of survival are very slim. You & others bathe the situation in prayer and the procedure is amazingly successful. While wonderful, a cynic would argue that she was saved simply through the expertise of the medical professionals, time/rest and natural healing.

A miracle, by contrast, is decidedly supernatural and cannot be explained away by a skeptic. The burning bush wherein the Angel of the LORD spoke to Moses from within the flames (Exodus 3:1-2) and the resurrection of Lazarus after four days (John 11:38-44) are good examples. Even “smaller” miracles like Christ’s healing of Peter’s relative are clearly miracles:

Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they immediately told Jesus about her. 31 So he went to her, took her hand and helped her up. The fever left her and she began to wait on them.

Mark 1:30-31

While not as spectacular as the parting of the Red Sea (Exodus 14:13-41), this is a miracle because it cannot be explained away by a skeptic on natural grounds: One moment this woman was bed-ridden with a fever, but when Jesus ministered to her she was immediately healed and proceeded to wait on visitors.

To sum this up: Divine providence is God working through natural means to provide one way or another whereas a miracle is God working outside of natural means. The former can be “explained away” by skeptics while the latter cannot.

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