by J. Randal Matheny, editor
Last Thursday U.S. Airways Flight 1549 collided with a flock of birds shortly after take-off from New York’s LaGuardia Airport. The pilot set the plane down intact in the Hudson River in Manhattan, saving the lives of the 155 people on board.
We all give thanks to God for the survival of the entire crew and all the passengers. What could have been a horrible aviation disaster turned out, as it appears, to be an inspiring story of a pilot’s courage and experience. The timely rescue on the water and the heart-warming kindesses shown to the survivors inspire and renew the heart.
As is common, some mar the relief and joy of the moment by unhappy statements.
The New York governor called it “a miracle on the Hudson River.”
It’s common, in accidents and disasters in which people survive, for unregenerate people to attribute the preservation of life to a miracle. One can understand the use of the term in situations like this.
But the word miracle has become blurred and disfigured by indiscriminate use. Some call the birth of a child a miracle. Or the beauty of a sunset. It seems that anything out of the ordinary qualifies.
Biblically, a miracle has specific characteristics. The miracles of Jesus and the apostles were done instantly, completely, by the hands of, and under the direct control of the Lord, of his apostles and of those who had received the gift from them (see Acts 19:11).
Miracles accompanied the preaching the gospel and were accessories to it (Mark 16:20; Hebrews 2:1-4). They were given by the Holy Spirit working among those who exercised the faith of the gospel (Galatians 3:5).
Miracles were performed to demonstrate the veracity of the message. They were also called signs, because they pointed those who witnessed them to something beyond the working of power. Through them people should see the working of God in Christ, at the cross, for the world’s salvation. This is the greatest of all God’s handiwork.
Only the apostles had the power to transmit to others the ability to perform miracles (Acts 8:18). When they died, and when those who had received from them this power also passed away, such special, miraculous gifts ceased.
We expect such imprecise language from those who do not set the Bible as their rule for faith and practice. Christians, however, would do well to refrain from such confusion.
Also, I seem to remember reading in one of the news reports that someone explained the “miracle on the Hudson River” by saying, “Everyone was praying.”
This statement errs in so many ways, it’s hard to know where to start.
The affirmation assumes that the more people who pray, regardless of their religion or lack of it, the more God will be inclined to grant the petition.
James makes clear through the example of Elijah that the prayer of a single righteous person is powerful. “The prayer of a righteous person has great effectiveness” (James 5:16b NET). Not the prayer of just anyone, but the righteous. Not necessarily a planeload of people, but one who is doing the will of God and seeks what God seeks.
The statement also appears to believe that prayer has power of itself, rather than the One to whom prayer is addressed. One hundred and fifty-five prayers did not land the plane intact. Orayers of desperation or positive thinking did not prevent the plane from sinking. A prayer is answered because a child of the Omnipotent One has entered into the divine will to seek its fulfillment.
I don’t want to throw cold water on a moment of thanksgiving for the sparing of these 155 lives. At the same time, the issues of salvation and obedience and the will of God are so much more weighty than physical life that even in a positive moment such as this, we must continually ask ourselves what it all means in light of eternity.
The relief of seeing the passengers and crew of Flight 1549 is great, but pales beyond measure compared to the joy of a single soul saved from the torturous grave of suffering to enter the presence of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and the eternal Father.
by J. Randal Matheny, editor