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Last Updated: 2012/02/15
Summary of question
If the laws of God are unchangeable, then how are the miracles of Jesus (a) explained?
Verse 48 of Surah Al Imran of the Quran describes the miracles of Prophet Jesus (a). Why would God alter the natural order of how He has created the world in order to satisfy a few ignorant individuals (who should already believe in Him due to the perfection of the natural world and the order found within it)? If the laws of God are unchangeable, then how can the concept of miracles be explained?
Concise answer

In order to properly answer this question, we must first discuss three preliminary matters. These matters are the actual definition of a miracle, the intent of a miracle, and the lack of incompatibility of a miracle with divine laws.

What is a Miracle?

Islamic scholars have said the following in regards to the definition of a miracle: ‘A miracle is a supernatural occurrence which is accompanied with tahaddi (challenge to bring the likes of something) and is in correspondence with the claim being made.’

The Intent of a Miracle

Miracles are performed with very high and lofty goals in mind and here we will mention some of them. Amongst these reasons are the manifestation of the limitless power of God, proving an individual’s prophethood, showing a special connection between a messenger and God, guiding people, and in some cases, manifesting the final proof in a matter (something which will close the case for any future argument of not knowing about a matter such as the existence of God). The goal behind various miracles is not separate from the issue of the prophethood of the Messengers of God (a); rather, it is within the same general category.

The Lack of Incompatibility in the Matter of Divine Laws and Miracles

The third verse of the Chapter Talaaq (قَدْ جَعَلَ اللَّهُ لِکُلِّ شَیْ‏ءٍ قَدْراً) mentions how God has set limits and a measure for every single cause which exists, and the effects of these causes are connected with other effects and things. In the case of miracles, He intervenes in these connections and links in a way that His desired effect takes place. Such examples can be found in Prophet Abraham (a) not being burned in the fire, the transformation of Prophet Moses’ (a) staff into a serpent, as well as other similar stories.

Therefore, it is very clear that miracles are not outside the scope of divine law and rather, it is part of the unchanging laws of God. When it is said that a miracle is outside the scope of normal occurrences this is not to mean that a miracle is a suspension of the laws of causation, because causation is something that both logic and the Quran corroborate.

In addition, the intent behind such miracles is a very lofty and high wisdom and it is not purely an answer to the request of ignorant individuals. As we have witnessed in history, many times the ignorance of people was not responded to in the form of miracles.

Detailed Answer

In order to understand this concept better, it is necessary to delve into three related issues. The first is a definition of what a miracle even is. The second is the intent of a miracle and the third is how a miracle is not incompatible with divine laws.

The Definition of a Miracle

Islamic scholars have mentioned the following in their definition of a miracle:[1] ‘A miracle is a supernatural occurrence which is accompanied with tahaddi (challenge to bring the likes of something) and is in correspondence with the claim being made.’

Extraordinary acts or miracles are events that take place in a way other than what commonly takes place within the framework of natural laws. [2]

The Intent behind Miracles

Miracles are performed with very high and lofty goals in mind and they are not performed primarily as a response to ignorant individuals. There have been many cases where the ignorance of people has not been responded to with miracles. Below, we will refer to some of the possible reasons behind the performance of miracles:

1- Showing the limitless power of God.[3]

2- The intent of miracles by the prophets (a) was in proving their prophethood.[4]

3- Miracles were a way through which a special relationship with God was manifested.[5]

4- The intent behind miracles was the guidance of the people.

5- Sometimes, miracles were performed in order to showcase a final proof over the people (so they would be unable to say that they did not know in regards to the existence of God or the truth of the words of a Prophet (a)).

The Lack of Incompatibility in the Matter of Divine Laws and Miracles

A primary question here is as to whether God performs miracles through material and causative means or whether He performs them through other means which we are unaware of. Both of these are possibilities but the last sentence of the third verse of Surah Talaq (قَدْ جَعَلَ اللَّهُ لِکُلِّ شَیْ‏ءٍ قَدْراً) lends more weight towards the reliability of the second issue which we have mentioned. This is because the verse has mentioned that God has set a limit and a measure for everything imaginable; therefore, every cause that is imaginable (such as the fire becoming cool for Prophet Abraham (a), or in the case of the staff of Prophet Moses (a) becoming alive, or in the case of Prophet Jesus (a) bringing the dead to life), even though they do not have any known and physical causes, or even other issues, such a piece of wood catching fire (which is an ordinary matter understood by all) are all due to God. In both of these cases, God has set up certain limits and measures for them and these effects are interrelated with other various effects; God intervenes in these effects and their connections in a way that His desired effect is yielded. Through these causes, God brings about various miracles, such as Prophet Abraham (a) not being burned by the fire. Furthermore, human beings are not the owners or the masters of all of the causes which exist in the world; God is their master and it is He who directs them (makes them exist and gives rise to their effects).

Therefore, from these verses of the Quran, it is understood that God has brought about a state of inter relation and connection between all of the things that exist and He is able to do whatever He wills. Such a thing is not a negation of causation between various things and it does not mean that just because a miracle has taken place, it took place without any cause. This is due to the fact that all things are in the hands of God and He can make things happen in any way or form that He wishes.[6] In addition, a system exists (which we may not understand) which makes such miracles possible. When it is said that a miracle is something supernatural, this cannot be taken to mean that a miracle is an exception in the rules of causation; the laws of causation cannot be negated ever, because causation is something supported both by logic and the Quran.[7]

[1] See: Allamah Hilli, Kashf al-Murad fi Sharh Tajrid al-I’tiqad, with the comments and corrections of Ayatullah HasanZadeh Amoli, pp. 350-353 and Ta’liqate Ayatullah HasanZadeh Amoli bar Kashf al-Morad, pg. 595; Rahbarane Bozorg va Mas’uliyat’haye Bozorgtar, pp. 119-153; Motahhari, Morteza, Moqaddame’i bar Jahan Biniye Islami, Jame’eye Mudarresin Press, 1983, pp. 179 and 208; al-Mizan, vol. 1, pp. 58-90; Farsi translation of al-Mizan, vol. 1, pp. 93-140; Insane Kamil az Didgahe Nahjul-Balaghah, pp. 8-21; Malekshahi, Tarjome va Sharhe Esharate Ibn Sina, pp. 466-491; Mulla Sadra, Shawahid al-Rububiyyah, pp. 340-349, with the late Sabzawari’s annotations and the annotations, correction and introduction of Sayyid Jalal Ashtiyani, second edition; Mulla Sadra, Faslun fi Usul al-Mu’jizaat wa Khawariq al-Adaat, translated by Ahmad bin Muhammad al-Huseini Ardekani with the effort of Abdullah Noori, pp. 538-549.

[2] Adopted from: The Miracle of Prophet Yusuf and the Interpretation of Dreams, Question 3200 (website: 3460).

[3] Qara’ati, Muhsin, Tafsir Noor, vol. 3, pg. 246, Publisher: The Cultural Institute of Lessons from the Quran, Tehran, 2004.

[4] Ja’fari, Ya’qub, Kawthar, vol. 3, pg. 298.

[5] Qara’ati, Muhsin, Tafir Noor, vol. 3, pg. 246.

[6] Tabatabai, Muhammad Husein, Tafsir al-Mizan, Musawi Hamedani, Sayyid Muhammad Baqir, vol. 1, pp. 120 and 121, The Office of Islamic Publications of Jame’eye Mudarresin of the Islamic Seminary in Qum, Qum, 1995.

[7] Adopted from: The Miracle of Prophet Yusuf and the Interpretation of Dreams, Question 3200 (website: 3460).

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