The Miracle of Birth
Pastors have to talk about miracles, and this is tougher than it sounds because the word “miracle” has been brutally sentimentalized by greeting cards and refrigerator magnets for a long time town. Flip through one of those “Precious Moments” wall calendars and you’ll see what I’m talking about. A word that once stood for the parting of the Red Sea, or walking on water, is now used to describe anything that looks good embroidered on a lacey, pastel pink keepsake. In an attempt to restore some of the word’s power, pastor Erwin McManus found himself explaining to his congregation why referring to birth as a “miracle” is a bit of a misuse. To paraphrase McManus, birth is not necessarily a miracle because it happens countless times a day all over the world, and, in fact, has already happened billions and billions of times in history. If a miracle is a highly improbable or unexplainable event that seems to have come as a result of supernatural intervention, then a pregnant woman delivering a baby after 40 weeks of gestation is no miracle.
I quite like Erwin McManus’s sermons but I have to disagree with him on this point about the “miracle” of birth. It’s a reasonable point, and it’s one I would have made myself a few years ago. If we look at the planet in isolation where babies are born half a million times each day, then it’s true, birth is no miracle; however, if we look at the universe as a whole, then every birth, even if it happens trillions more times, is certainly a miracle. As far as we know the universe is anywhere from 150 billion light-years to infinity in diameter. So far astronomers have observed the existence of thousands of galaxies and suspect that there may be hundreds of billions out there. In some recent super-computer generated models of the universe, the whole of existing things appears to be spread out in strands, collectively resembling the fibers of a sponge, and the light from each strand is emitted by clusters of galaxies, each of which contains billions of galaxies of varying sizes (some much larger than our own which itself contain 200-400 billion stars). Now, although scientists and laymen alike suppose that, with numbers like that, it’s possible that life exists somewhere else, we haven’t yet discovered any trace of it. In fact, Earth-like planets and life-supporting environments are proving to be extremely rare indeed. Maybe our planet is only a one-in-a-hundred-trillion kind of a planet, and maybe in all of those we are the only one that contains anything like human beings at this point in the history of the universe. If that’s the case, then each of the billions of human births on earth IS a miracle. It’s a miracle it happened the first time (because even now, no scientist is completely sure why or how), and it’s a miracle that it continued to happen against all odds to give us the population we have today. And even if you want to take a theistic approach and say, “Well all of this had to be, because God made it that way,” then the miracle is that a self-sufficient, omnipotent God is good, and that he saw fit to create anything at all. Let’s not forget that if God had never created anything ever, he would still go on being God, no less powerful or awesome than he would have been had he created an infinite number of universes.
I suppose by this rationale we have to consider the Earth itself, and everything that happens on it, a bit of a miracle. If that’s the case, then I’m sorry to say that the word “miracle” has achieved the paradox of being endlessly useful when describing the happy events of life, and hopelessly useless at the same time. Either way, the next time an old woman looks down at a non-descript collection of newborns in the nursery of the hospital maternity ward and says, “Aren’t they all just precious! Each one is a miracle!” all you can do is grin and say, “Yes they are.”