Posted by: rcottrill | July 17, 2013

It Took a Miracle

Words: John Willard Peterson (b. Nov. 1, 1921; d. Sept. 20, 2006)
Music: John Willard Peterson

Links:
Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal (John Peterson)

Note: Kansas born John Peterson was the youngest of seven children. He was only four when his father died. He began singing when just a boy, and trusted Christ as his Saviour at the age of twelve. This brought together the two great passions of his life: he loved the Lord and wanted to serve Him; and he loved to make music. John and two of his brothers formed a gospel group in 1940, and were busy in evangelistic meetings. During the war, Peterson served as a pilot, and it was on one of his flights that the idea for It Took a Miracle was born (his first song to become popular).

As an Air Corps pilot, Peterson flew supplies, especially 100 octane gas, over the Burma “Hump” and into China, to help in the war against Japan. These flights were often made at night, giving the pilot a glorious view of the starry heavens, the handiwork of God. On the return flight, the next day, he would fly low through the mountain passes and see many remote villages below. And Peterson thought of how the God who set the stars in the sky so loved each of the people living below that He gave His Son to save them.

While this gospel song does say some good and true things, it’s use of the word “miracle” is problematic. Like the word “love” the term has been abused and misused to the point where the true meaning has become obscure. For example, in the kitchen we have Miracle Whip salad dressing, and in sports we have “the Miracle on Ice” (the Olympic gold medal won by the American men’s hockey team in 1980).

With regard to Peterson’s song, we need to take a look at the biblical use of the word miracle (and other terms applied to the same events). Our English term comes from the Latin word mirari, meaning a wonder.

¤ Miracles. The actual word “miracle” is used sixteen times in the Bible (NKJV)–only twice in the Old Testament. In the New Testament, it translates two descriptive Greek words, and encompasses a third.
¤ Powers. Sometimes miracles are spoken of as “powers.” The Greek word is dunamis, from which we get our word dynamite. Miracles are demonstrations of supernatural power.
¤ Signs. Other times, the word miracles translates the Greek word semeion, meaning signs–as it is sometimes translated. The miracles are signposts, pointing to something beyond themselves.
¤ Wonders. This renders the Greek word teras. This suggests that a miracle is something unusual and thought-provoking.

All three of the latter terms are brought together in one verse. “Jesus of Nazareth [was] a Man attested by God to you by miracles [dunamis], wonders [teras], and signs [semeion] which God did through Him in your midst” (Acts 2:22).

A DEFINITION: Miracles therefore are supernatural manifestations of divine power, observable in the external world, causing wonder and amazement in those who witness them. Sometimes, though not always, they can involve acts of mercy toward an individual or group. But mainly each functions as a sign, pointing to something else.

As Acts 2:22 indicates, they were the Father’s confirmation of the identity of Christ, and a means of authenticating His message (cf. Jn. 3:2). John tells us he recorded miracles of Christ, which he called “signs” (semeion), given “that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name” (Jn. 20:30-31). They served as authenticating signs for the apostles in a similar way, as they presented the Lord’s message:

“God also bearing witness both with signs [semeion] and wonders [teras], with various miracles [dunamis], and gifts of the Holy Spirit, according to His own will” (Heb. 2:4; cf. II Cor. 12:12; cf. Acts 14:3).

Some suggest that God counteracts the laws of nature when a miracle is performed. However, that is misleading. Nature is not independent of God. What is sometimes called natural law is only a way of describing the Creator’s ongoing work in the natural world, sustaining and maintaining it. “He is before all things, and in Him all things consist [are held together]” (Col. 1:17). He is “upholding [sustaining] all things by the word of His power [dunamis]” (Heb. 1:3)

By definition, miracles need to be both observable and unusual (thus causing wonder and astonishment). Creation is not miraculous in this sense. We weren’t there at the time to observe it happening. And if all of creation is miraculous, then the word virtually loses any meaning. Nor is the new birth a miracle, since we cannot observe it taking place (Jn. 3:8). We see the results and effects after the fact, when God creates, but that is something different.

Perhaps this will be seen simply as a minor quibble by some, but I believe we need to be precise and accurate in our use of biblical terms. Otherwise, “the trumpet makes an uncertain [unclear, indistinct] sound” (I Cor. 14:8), and we fail to “teach” God’s truth with our “psalms and hymns and spiritual songs” (Col. 3:16).

Yes, the natural world is full of God’s wonders, and the new birth is a thrilling and supernatural work of God. I’m merely suggesting that neither fits into the category of the miraculous, as the Bible uses the word.

1) My Father is omnipotent,
And that you can’t deny;
A God of might and miracles–
‘Tis written in the sky.

It took a miracle to put the stars in place,
It took a miracle to hang the world in space;
But when He saved my soul,
Cleansed and made me whole,
It took a miracle of love and grace.

Questions:
1) Is this a song you would use in your church? (Why? Or why not?)

2) Are there other hymns that speak of the new birth in a more accurate way?

Links:
Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal (John Peterson)


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