A reader kashyap asks:
Excuse me for a completely off-topic question, but this is of current interest to me. I read in the paper that sainthood was bestowed upon Mother Theresa. One of the requirement is performance of two miracles. I understand as a devout Christian, you believe that resurrection (a miracle) was so important that God made exception to the laws of nature to make it possible. I do not have any problem in people believing in their faith. But my problem would be that if you require exceptions (miracles) for every sainthood, there would be too many exceptions to the laws of nature. What is your opinion on this? If you have talked about such things before, please just give a reference. Thanks.
The canonization of saints is a Roman Catholic thing, whereas Protestants like myself do not recognize the authority of the Pope, nor do we pray to saints. Therefore I am not responsible for defending their canonization process, even though (in this case) it couldn't have happened to a nicer person... ;-)
What is common ground, accepted by both groups, is that God calls all Christians to be saints, people who are holy just like he is holy, and fills us with his Holy Spirit in order to accomplish this. Obviously, the results are more effective in some people's lives than in others, depending on our response to his grace.
Catholics* believe that people who are especially holy go directly to Heaven when they die (whereas they say that most Christians need to spend time in "Purgatory" being cleansed from their sins, before they can enter Heaven). They believe that these people have an especially powerful ability to intercede with God, and that Christians on earth can petition saints in heaven to pray for their needs. They also believe that the Pope has the power to infallibly* declare that certain deceased people are, in this sense, "saints"; although in modern times he normally only does this on the recommendation of a committee that investigates the person for evidence of "heroic virtue" and (yes) a minimum number of miracles. (However, it is a common journalistic mistake, misrepresenting Catholic doctrine, to say that "sainthood was bestowed" on the person; in their theology it is God who makes somebody a saint; the church merely recognizes the fact afterwards, in some subset of cases. On Nov 1st there is an "All Saints Day" holiday to commemorate all the saints who served in positions of obscurity, without earthly recognition.) They also believe that the good works of the saints build up a "treasury of merit" which can be dispensed by the Pope to any Catholic who performs certain actions called "indulgences", in order to reduce or eliminate their time in Purgatory.
* at least, many Catholic theologians believe it is infallible
* The term catholic means "universal". I generally use their preferred term out of politeness, although obviously I believe that Protestants are also full members of the "holy catholic church" founded by Jesus.
Whereas Protestants generally reject most of the things I mentioned in the previous paragraph. We believe that the sacrifice of Christ already provides full forgiveness for all sins without needing to add any extra "merit" from saints on Earth or in Heaven. And that, while there is nothing wrong with thanking God for the accomplishments of Christians of past ages, or of asking people on earth to pray for us, the practice of asking deceased people for favors is spiritually dangerous because of the temptation to idolatry, and the danger of treating saints (especially St. Mary) as though they were polytheistic deities having power of their own. (Of course Catholics deny that this is what they are doing, but I don't think there are enough "safety measures" in place to prevent it from happening sometimes.) Because of this danger, and because the practice is not commanded or authorized by the Bible, we avoid it. We also do not believe that Purgatory has sufficient warrant in Scripture to be accepted as a doctrine; instead we teach that everyone who is saved goes directly to be with Jesus when they die.
It is the practice of the New Testament to refer to groups of Christian believers as "saints". He wants us all to be holy, because he is Holy. This is the justification for this blog's highly unique canonization policy. To me holiness is a more important thing than miraculous signs, and there may be exceptionally holy people who never do any miracles at all. The more important "miracle" is the work of transformation that God wants to do in people's hearts, in order to fill them with love, because he is Love.
Now none of this actually answers your question about the prevalence of signs and wonders. I personally believe that God does a fairly large number of miracles even in modern times (associated with the ministries of many kinds of Christians, including Catholics and Protestants). The most scholarly compilation of modern day Christian miracles I know of is in this 2 volume tome, by St. Craig Keener. Despite the subtitle, the book is really mostly about modern times. Since you are a Hindu I should also mention that non-Christian miracles are outside the scope of his work. (I plan to blog about Keener's book eventually, but I haven't gotten around to it.)
Is this "too many exceptions"? Well, too many for what purpose? Most of these are miracles of healing, and judged from the poverty and diseases we see in many countries, one might just as easily argue that there are too few miracles in the present day, rather than too many. Certainly there are not so many miracles that we are unable to do Science, and identify the usual course of events in Nature!
I guess the real question concerns the trade-offs God is making between consistency, mercy, and revelation, as he governs the world, but:
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain. (Psalm 139:6)
I do not concern myself with great matters or things too wonderful for me. (Psalm 131:1)
where that the last Bible verse ought to be the motto for this blog, because I violate it almost every time I submit a post!
The Bible also records many miracles besides the Resurrection, although these miracles are more like "signs" or "pointers" that help illustrate particular points about the meaning of creation and salvation. (This viewpoint is explained in St. Lewis book on Miracles, which is in turn based on St. Athanasius' book On the Incarnation.) For example, when Jesus miraculously multiplied the bread and fish of a child's lunch in order to feed thousands of hungry people, this miracle illustrates the fact that God is always multiplying grain and fish in Nature, and that every time we eat we can be thankful for his loving provision. It also reminds us of the spiritual nourishment which Jesus, the Bread of Heaven, provides to those that trust him.
Whereas the Incarnation of Christ, and especially his Death and Resurrection, is the central event of the Christian faith, the event that vanquishes sin, defeats death, and brings in life everlasting. It permanently negotiated a new relationship between God and Man, and when Christ comes back from Heaven to Earth (I am talking about the return of the same body that was crucified in the 1st century, not reincarnation as a new human) his resurrection power will cause every human being who has ever lived to come back to life again with immortal physical bodies. But it is not enough to merely ransom the human race; the entire universe will be renewed as well, so that there will be "a new Heaven and a new Earth, the home of righteousness" (2 Pet 3:13). And there, his saints will reign with him forever. So the Resurrection is indeed what you might call an important miracle, one that catalyzes a whole host of other miracles.
(Since earlier I was talking about disputes between different kinds of Christians, I should probably state that everything in the previous paragraph is agreed upon by all major branches of Christianity, including Protestants, Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, Coptics, and the Assyrian Church of the East. In my view, the beliefs that all Christians share in common are more important than the doctrines that divide us.)
Anyway, you don't really say in your comment why you think it would be a problem to have "too many miracles", so I'm not sure how to respond right now. But feel free to elaborate on your thinking in the comments section.