Dan, given my own situation, perhaps the place to start is with miracles. I probably should note that while I’m writing this post I have been kept in hospital imprisonment, rather than being allowed out for weekend leave, because I am suffering from a urinary tract infection – a direct result of all my stupid ongoing bladder and catheter problems. So, obviously, I’m not one of those who believe that if I pray for healing, or simply have enough faith, then I shall experienced perfect health. Such people are either wonderfully lucky, blind to their own inconsistencies (have you ever noticed a faith healer who wears glasses!), Or deliberately manipulative.
So the first thing to note is that Christian faith recognises that to be human is to be finite. It is to be a ‘creature’ subject to the joys and struggles of life on this curious planet. Whatever we are going to say about miracles it cannot be a denial of the fact that we live in frail bodies and so are subject to sickness and ultimately to death. Christian faith does not deny this reality, it merely imbues it with meaning and purpose.
The second thing to note then is that when Christians speak of miracles they do not (or at least should not) presume that a miracle by definition has no natural explanation. We affirm that God is at work in the world most commonly through, rather than against, the natural processes that he created and sustains. So, I can thank God for working in me to restore function in my right arm and hand at the same time recognising that this is a product of natural processes at work in my spinal-cord. I can also thank God for the improvement I might receive through surgery even if the surgeon also warrants a kiss, because I believe God is the primary cause for all the good and beautiful things in the world – including the wonders of science and medicine.
You might rightly say, of course, that that is not what I mean when I use the term miracle. I concede the point, yet when speaking about the purpose of prayer I cannot let go of the idea that more often than not the answer to prayer can be given two levels of explanation– God at work in and through nature.
thirdly, I simply do not believe that science can lay claim (or will ever be able to do so) to being able to provide an explanation for everything. There is simply too much mystery in the world, too much spiritual wonder, to enable us to deny the possibility of miracles. Maybe, in fact, the mystery is such that we are compelled to accept miraculous.
So much more might be said, but I don’t want to be long winded and you deserve the right of reply.