A miracle is the supernatural overriding of nature to accomplish an apparently impossible action in accordance with divine will and purpose. Providence is God’s sovereign usage of nature to accomplish actions in accordance with divine will and purpose. Divine actions may be either miraculous, providential or a mixture of both the miraculous and providential; but from the Biblical perspective, no action is ever outside of God’s inherent sovereign rule. That is, nothing happens that does not first pass through the Divine throne. God either ordains things to happen by direct cause (e.g., creation, “let there be light”) or he allows things to happen fully within the orbit of his will by indirect cause (e.g., Temptation of Job by Satan). Whether indirectly or directly, no activity occurs outside the sovereign, inscrutable will of God either miraculously or providentially.
Resurrection from the dead, immediate healing, exorcism of devils, the sun “standing still,” parting of the Red Sea, judgment of Sodom and Gomorrah, water turned to wine, walking on water, etc. are to be classified as miracles. The preservation of Jonah in the whale, Abraham’s defeat of Chedorlaomer, destruction of Jerusalem, David’s protection from Saul, various battle victories for God’s people, continual provision of food and covering, daily safety, etc., these are to be classified as acts of providence. Though miraculous acts appear more powerful, acts of providence are no less significant or amazing. God mostly reveals his sovereign will through providence rather than the miraculous. Rarity of the miraculous is good and divinely intended. We ought not seek after the miraculous nor look down upon Divine providence as less interesting or helpful. Rather, we should be more intent to see God’s providence behind every action and deed and in turn worship with gratefulness.
In some cases, God blends the miraculous with providence. The case of the birth of Isaac to Abraham and Sarah is one such example. God suspends the laws of nature and supernaturally opens the aged Sarah’s womb. It is clear from the Biblical text that Sarah is naturally unable to have children as she is post-menopausal. Conception is not only an improbability; it is a natural impossibility. But then God shifts from miraculous provision to provision through providence. Abraham must now know his wife sexually in order that she should conceive in her womb from Abraham’s seed. This is a providential action by God. He is the one who supernaturally opens the womb, and He is the one who causes Abraham and Sarah to conceive Isaac through natural means. Thus, the promise of conception is fulfilled by God through a mixture of the supernatural and natural and God is glorified. Contrast the conception of Sarah with the conception of the Virgin Mary with the Christ. There was no natural element in the Christ’s incarnation, but was completely a supernatural work of God, a miracle, in which the Holy Spirit inexplicably causes the virgin to immediately conceive the incarnate Son of God. Indeed, natural processes then took over and Providence caused Mary’s womb to sustain and birth the Christ, but the conception process was not a mixture of Providence and Miracle – but miraculous only.
One important point for the Christian is that we train ourselves to be “Providence seekers.” What I mean by this is that we look for and are continually in awe of God’s work through Providence. Many Christians are “miracle seekers” always hoping for and pining after some unexplainable event that might solidify their faith. Yet miracles are an intentional rarity and almost always for particular redemptive intentions. Seeking miracles often blinds us to the beauties of Divine Providence that is always surrounding us and limiting our worship that may be had often throughout any given day as we gratefully rejoice in God’s intimate and continual work of providence in our lives.