The call for miracles
I wrote this just about a year ago when I was trying to explain my doubts and thoughts on another site. Some responses to the recent “slain the spirit” post brought it back to mind.
There are certain responses that I get to my rather simple idea that a God who wants people to believe in Him and worship Him, ought to give us clear proof of His existence. By clear proof, I mean things like supernatural events, visitations, visions, revelations, and so on. And of course, I also mean that they need to be things that we can be sure are real and not just illusions, delusions, wishful thinking, or what have you.
The two main types of responses that keep coming up are what I’m calling the “normal miracles” and the “you just won’t buy it” responses.
The first goes something like, “Just look around. There are miracles you’re missing every day.” This will usually be followed by examples of what they mean by miracles, which tend to include sunsets, babies being borne, life, stars, breathing, and so on. I call this the “normal miracles response”. This response is easy to dispense with so I’m dispensing with it first.
The problem with the “normal miracles response” is that the person giving it ignores what I’m talking about and ignores the accepted definition of “miracle”.
For the record, here are some definitions for miracle that should make the meaning clear:
- An event that appears inexplicable by the laws of nature and so is held to be supernatural in origin or an act of God.
- An event that falls decidedly outside the realm of normal human experience and/or that contravenes universally known natural laws or processes.
- A striking interposition of divine intervention in the universe, by which the ordinary course and operation of Nature is overruled, suspended, or modified.
From these we can see that “miracles are around you everyday” is a contradiction in terms. It’s like saying, “Tuesdays happen every day.” It’s nonsense. The same would hold true for the version of this response that says, “The sun coming up is a miracle. A new life being born is a miracle.” It’s nonsense.
The penultimate effect of this sort of response, if someone insists in saying it and ignoring the given meaning of the word “miracle”, is that communication breaks down. A meaningful conversation is impossible if someone insists on changing the meaning of words at their whim. For a fine example of this, consider the following sentence: “Or gotten mine dog leash, went haven kapow.” Make sense? Well it does if you know what new meanings I’ve given to those words. But how well would we communicate if I persisted in mauling the dictionary like that?
The other main response that keeps popping up goes something like, “Even if God did give you a miracle, you might just choose not to believe anyway. Or you might explain it away, or start to doubt it over time.” I’ll call this the “you just won’t buy it” response.
Now there is some validity in this. Yes, I could just ignore it, and yes, I could come to doubt it over time. If I did either of the above though, I would be effectively admitting that I am dishonest in my whole approach to life, and that I won’t change even if given reason to.
My life so far says otherwise. I’ve changed my political views because I was provided good evidence and argumentation to demonstrate that I was wrong on some issues. I changed from a Protestant to an Eastern Orthodox because I saw serious faults in the Protestant position. Basically I know my own life pretty well and I can see plainly that I’ve followed the evidence before; that I’ve been honest before; that while I am reluctant change or admit I’m wrong, I will do it when shown good reasons.
So the first problem with the “you just won’t buy it” response is that its perpetrators are making the assessment that everyone who wants a miracle as evidence of God’s existence, are basically liars. Now to be sure, there are such liars. There are people who won’t change, and will just hide behind a “respectable” facade of skepticism. But to just dump everyone in the same bin is, well, it’s dishonest. It’s silly too. I mean come on now; when you dump whole populations into a single slot how often do they all really fit there? Some people just might be honest seekers. Maybe? Possibly? D’ya’think’huh?
Now here’s another problem with the “you just won’t buy it” response. Allowing for the moment that the stories in Acts and the Gospels are all true, then we’ve got a fair record of what happened when people were confronted by miracles. A bunch of them converted. To hear folks today, you’d think that no one would ever convert after seeing a miracle. They’d all set to making excuses or explanations to brush it off. But that’s just not what happens in the Bible. Yes, there are those who saw miracles and remained obstinately unconverted. But there were also many who saw miracles and converted post haste. And once again we see that everyone does not react the same way. Like I said above, you just can’t shove everyone in the same slot. Unless, of course, it helps to keep your beliefs tidy and intact.
So the “you just won’t buy it” response flies in the face of what the Bible and many ancient church writings present. If you really take the Bible as true, then you’re going to have to admit that miracles often worked very well in getting people to really believe in God. And if that’s not enough, you’ve got Jesus saying things like, “even though you do not believe me, believe the miracles” (John 10:38 ) or, “Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the miracles themselves.” (John 14:11). Then you’ve got Paul; “I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me in leading the Gentiles to obey God by what I have said and done, by the power of signs and miracles, through the power of the Spirit.” (Romans 15:18,19) or “This salvation, which was first announced by the Lord, was confirmed to us by those who heard him. God also testified to it by signs, wonders and various miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit” (Hebrews 2:3,4). There are other verses that could be cited. There are passages from ancient Church history too. It seems that those old timers didn’t think miracles were unconvincing.
One more problem with the “you just won’t buy it” response is that it’s a smoke screen. What is it covering? It’s covering the fact that Christians (and other theistic believers) are all too aware that they haven’t seen any bona fide miracles. And, unlike what one reads in Acts, or in ancient church writings, no one today can call for a miracle and have it happen. I think there’s a largely suppressed fear in the minds and souls of theists. A fear born of the fact that they don’t see visions, dream prophetic dreams, hear God, and so forth. In short they don’t see the fulfillment of Joel’s prophecy that Peter declared was fulfilled on Pentecost.
Maybe there’s even a dark suspicion that, if God did pour out His Spirit and power on the Church at Pentecost, He has retracted it since. Not like most folks would blame Him, given the Church’s march through history. [Oh no. Now the apologists will want to launch into an effort to defend the Church’s history. Please, no!]
Here’s yet one last problem with the “you just won’t buy it” response. It implies that an omniscient, omnipotent God can’t come up with something that will convince me! Really that doesn’t seem so hard a thing for such a being. BUT, here comes the follow-on objection. “If God did that He’d violate your free will.” To which I’ll just say, “Fine. He can violate it.” Nowhere in the Bible does it say God can’t, or shouldn’t, do that. And in places He clearly did do it. If you need a for instance, think Saul of Tarsus, or Jonah. Frankly this “God can’t violate our free will” silliness seems only to be found in the mouths of apologists trying to explain away the disturbing fact that they’ve got a totally absent, inactive deity.
There are other responses that I hear. Heck! I’ve used them myself many times trying to apologize (defend) for the Faith. But none are satisfactory. The only responses I would be interested in now are:
- “Fine I’ll show you a miracle.”
- “Fine. I know someone who can show you a miracle.”
- “You’re right. I don’t see miracles and I don’t know anyone who does. I still choose to believe. But I can’t help you with what you seem to need.” (Not that this response does a lot for my need to be convinced, but at least it’s nakedly honest.)
- “I believe in miracles. I’ve seen one or more (or know someone reliable who has). It’s enough for me, but I know it isn’t for you. I can’t call up a miracle for you. Still, I truly hope you get to see one.” (Again, this is at least nakedly honest, and I can accept that even if it does nothing for my doubts. It also tells me the person is sincere and cares.)
You know, after writing this, and reading back through it, I can see that parts of it sound bitter or angry. Truly though, I’m not bitter or angry. Maybe it would be understandable for me to feel that way about 25 “wasted” years. But I don’t see them as wasted at all. I learned a lot (history, philosophy, theology). I got to know some very good people. I know that the Church has a lot of terrific people in it. (Yeah, it’s got a lot of rotters too. Tell me what sizeable organization doesn’t.) I can value and respect the beliefs of Christians, even if I don’t share them, because I understand them well. And you never know; I may yet “return to the fold”.
I have no idea what the future holds. I never would have believed I’d be where I am today if someone had told me a decade ago. And hey! I’m not saying there is absolutely no God. I’m just saying I really don’t think so. Or if there is one, He’s totally non-responsive, and I sure won’t follow that. (Kinda hard to have a “personal relationship” with a totally non-responsive being.)
Still maybe there is a God. And maybe, someday, He’ll drop in and say “Howdy” to me. Frankly, I hope so. Because, odd as it sounds, I want there to be a God. I want there to be a Heaven and a Hell and an afterlife. I want there to be an eternity to live in, and ponder in, and yes, worship in. I want there to be something, someone far above and beyond us all, to whom we can look for ultimate answers or meaning.
That last may sound strange to some folks; particularly to some atheists. Hey it’s me. It’s who, how and what I am.