Why we don’t see loaves or limbs “magically” appear

You’re giving me a chunk of bread and a piece of fish and you want me to do what?

One of Jesus’s signature miracles is the feeding of the five thousand, recorded by all four Gospel writers. Have you ever wondered what the multiplying of the loaves and fish looked like for the disciples passing them out? Did another chunk of bread suddenly appear in their basket as they reached into it? Did Jesus toss a chunk into each of twelve baskets after he broke the loaves and then when they took them up they were filled with chunks? Did more chunks continually pop into existence underneath those that could be seen in the bottomless baskets of bread?

I’m intrigued by the fact that none of Jesus’s miracles involved something visibly popping into being. Some skeptics talk as if that’s the only thing that would convince them of God’s existence. Let me see an amputated leg suddenly grow back before my eyes and then I’ll believe. But would they? If their hearts were antagonistic towards even the notion of God, can’t you see them, after the initial shock, saying to themselves, Wow…isn’t Nature amazing?

Yet even if such a visual display gets them to acknowledge that God is real, they still might thumb their noses at him. It’s one thing to accept that a sovereign exists; it’s quite another to accept his authority. Many who acknowledge the legitimacy of the federal government nonetheless rebel against it in various ways. So too with God.

But imagine you’re sitting on that hillside listening to Jesus…and your rumbling stomach. He wants to give you something to eat…and a sign of his divine status. As God, who brought everything into being with a word, he could simply cause a loaf of bread to materialize on your lap. Poof! Your reaction to that display, I think, would be different than being handed a chunk from a bottomless basket. The utter shock of seeing something suddenly and supernaturally appear in front of you would likely be too astounding to absorb, producing more fear than awe.

Perhaps a miracle that is less “in your face,” if you will, is more effective because it doesn’t so overwhelm that you can’t quite process it. Seeing five loaves feed five thousand plus people without actually “seeing” the loaves multiply before your eyes engages the mind over the emotions. Instead of being overtaken with fear and trembling, you’re overcome with wonder and astonishment leading to contemplation. And it is as we think about what we’ve witnessed that we make the connection between the miracle and the miracle worker.

It’s also important to remember that God’s desire is not merely that we acknowledge his existence. He wants us to freely enter into a relationship with him, and that involves an act of our will…a decision arrived at after mentally processing the evidence. Maybe having our minds blown by a sudden and visible supernatural materialization is like blowing a fuse. The unbelievable appearance short-circuits our ability to connect what we see with what it means, and with what the wise response should be. The ancient Israelites were witness to some pretty spectacular demonstrations of God’s power over nature, yet many of them still rebelled against him.

So it seems that God eschews showy, eye-popping manifestations of his creative power in favor of “undercover” yet nonetheless miraculous deeds. Though he could knock the skeptic off his feet with a dazzling, mind-blowing display of creatio ex nihilo in real time, it may not knock him to his knees.

God doesn’t need to impress anyone and won’t be manipulated by scoffing skeptics. If the unbeliever has a cogent explanation for how the universe and every amazing thing in it came to exist apart from God, then sure…wait for that impossible limb regeneration before you’ll believe in him. But if not, then just look around you. You’re living in an impossibility.