I’ve been working my way through a blog series in light of the recent release of my book, Surviving Religion 101: Letters to a Christian Student on Keeping the Faith in College (Crossway, 2021). This series includes 7 videos that tackle key intellectual questions about the Christian faith.
We now come to the seventh and final video, and this is a big one: “How Can I Believe in a Miracle If I’ve Never Seen One?”
Of course, skepticism over the supernatural is nothing new. Even when it seems a miracle just may have occurred, the knee-jerk reaction of most people is to prefer a naturalistic explanation: someone is lying, eyewitnesses are confused, maybe someone is having a hallucination, etc.
This reminds me of the scene in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe in which Lucy returns from her first magical trip through the wardrobe. After describing the wonderful land of Narnia—and how she met a faun named Tumnus—her siblings conclude that she is just making up stories. Lucy runs off in tears. Later, Peter and Lucy discuss the situation with the professor, worried that something might be wrong with their little sister. They are shocked to discover that the professor might just believe her!
Susan’s response represents the classic position that miracles are impossible: “But this couldn’t be true—all this about the wood and the Faun. . . . We thought there might be something wrong with Lucy.” Notice that Susan’s skepticism about the miraculous leads her to assume a naturalistic explanation, namely, that Lucy is mentally ill.
But the Professor pushes back by pointing out that there’s other evidence to consider:
Why don’t they teach logic at these schools? There are only three possibilities. Either your sister is telling lies, or she is mad, or she is telling the truth. You know she doesn’t tell lies and it is obvious that she is not mad. For the moment then and unless any further evidence turns up, we must assume she is telling the truth.
What makes the difference with the professor is that he is not closed off to the possibility of the miraculous. Thus, he does not feel compelled to always pick a non-miraculous explanation. With a credible eyewitness like Lucy (who’s more credible than Edmund), he is quite willing to think that a miracle might just have occurred.
So, here’s my video addressing this important subject:
I really struggle with this one. I grew up in a Christian home, went to church as a kid, later truly made my own choice to follow Jesus more than a decade ago.. and yet I can’t remember any moment I saw something I knew was the miraculous… On a mission trip one of the members took the crutches away from someone and saw them very gingerly walking.. I was told they saw him the next day walking around and I can only just take their word and praise God.. I’ve also heard many stories from other Christians.. but it’s all second hand right? I think it’s often less that people are ‘lying’.. but while miracles do occur that can’t be explained, I have seen many cases where other Christians have tried to push the supernatural on something that often isn’t… where it can be a bit of a stretch.. which doesn’t help someone who is naturally a bit skeptical (I guess I’m a bit of a Thomas sometimes) or people that are still seeking.. We have to be intellectually honest I feel, and have to be careful of wishful thinking or grasping at straws…even those articles about cells in the body being a cross shape… I mean majority of them don’t resemble it that closely, but if you cherry pick a few sure. not attributing miracles where there isn’t one, but being ready for when they do occur. By definition they aren’t things that are ordinary and regularly occurring. We need to have some credibility as Christians in order to reach the non believers imo
I should say I have had a couple really close calls at times in my life and I have reflected on those moments and truly felt he was watching over me. It’s more one of those going by a feeling/faith
To go from dead to alive in salvation is a miracle. If you’re reading this and you are truly born again you are a walking miracle.
There is a quote attributed to Einstein, “There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.”
Augustine writes to the effect that when we experience a work of God for the first time, it excites great wonder in us, and we call it a miracle, but if we experience it day after day, we cease to wonder at it, and call it law of nature instead.
In the Old Testament, the people of Israel saw with their own eyes the mighty acts of God, and yet didn’t believe (Psalm 78:19-21). What the Scripture says about their unbelief can be said about a lot of people, myself included: I used to pray for something very specific and somewhat improbable and say I would never doubt again if only He would grant me this prayer, and yet, after the prayer was answered exactly as I prayed for, I would return to the same type of prayer time and time again.
The earthly desires of man are never satisfied, not “even if someone rises from the dead”(Luke 16:27-31), such that God has to work new things to overcome the stubbornness of man (Isaiah 48:3-11).
Coburn: You’ve made some excellent observations; namely, not witnessing a genuine miracle in Christian contexts. It seems that God would be more active in such circles with miracles, but that doesn’t seem to be the case at all. You also made a great point in regards to Christian’s exaggerating or embellishing things — I too have witnessed this time and again.
I commend you for your skepticism, and think you are justified in it. I say this as a Christian believer.
Thanks Derek. Yeah I think sometimes embellishing things can actually do more harm than good when being around seekers. I still need to work on my buddy who is still seeking… but he respects my opinion on things because of my skeptical nature.
I do think not seeing undeniable miracles (MB is right, but many of us are the type that look FOR tangible things more) is as much as blessing as a disappointment. It’s the whole idea of not seeing, but believing. As Nemo pointed out there was an emphasis of frustration on people who had seen miracles first hand and still being stubborn and unbelieving and there is an increased expectation on such people.
Life from non life has never been seen yet the materialist puts faith in such a notion. I had not heard of the other Messianic individuals that were put to death by the (now fallen) Roman Empire but I figure they were military or political type deliverers.
I have never witnessed a miracle yet, but I see by faith God’s divine hand each day in the providence of His creation and as He builds His church throughout the ages.
Nemo, this reminds me of the crowds that experienced miracles of feeding while Jesus taught in the regions. God gives us something utterly remarkable and then we seek to fashion it to or for our own purposes and kingdoms.
Simon the sorcerer (Acts 18:18) and Pharaoh (Exodus) both had witnessed miracles/God’s power, yet their responses were more about self. In contrast, God perseveres to work by His merciful and undeserved kindness by the Spirit to fashion His children to be more like Him/Jesus.
So miracles surely have their purposes in Gods plan of salvation but observing them is a lot more complex regarding a persons response to them (much like the gospel and Scripture)
I think for most people the question of miracles is connected with the problem of suffering: We ask for miracles because things have gone wrong for us, and we’re looking for deliverance of some sort. God performed miracles for the Israelites when they were pressed down by slavery in Egypt; Jesus did many miracles of healing because people were suffering from all kinds of ills. There would be no need of miracles in an ideal world, for then the world itself would be the greatest miracle.
So the title question can be asked in a different way: How can I believe in God when I see so much evil and suffering? Even if one witnesses many miraculous healings, those miracles might still be outnumbered by the non-miracles, i.e., all the cases where people are dying from diseases, spiritual and physical disease, every minute every day.
In his great novel The Brothers Karamazov, the Russian writer Dostoevsky posed many thought-provoking questions about Christianity, suffering, faith and miracles. One of the arguments he made, through one of the characters, is that miracles don’t make people believe in God, it is the other way around, people believe in miracles because of their belief in God. This aligns with Dr. Kruger’s point about different worldviews.
Speaking as someone who was raised an atheist and converted to theism as an adult, I see in myself how a belief in God has changed my view of the world: before, there was no such thing as a miracle, obviously because there is no God; but now, I see the work of God in nature, in people around me, and even in myself. As MB and Dean have said, the creation and salvation (the new creation) are miracles, because they are the acts of God.
In sum, I think the “undeniable miracle” that Coburn seeks is the undeniable existence of the Good in the world. For even the existence of evil proves that Good exists, and God alone is Good.
In as much as there is suffering, there is also the manifestation of evil and death. Just believing in something is not enough in the sense that we need redemption and deliverance. God has demonstrated that he is the way.
The Purpose of John’s Gospel
John 20:30-31. Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe/continue to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.
We don’t have to witness the miracles themselves but trust that God’s word has been preserved for us to guide us with the Spirits aid as the spiritual battle described in Rev unfolds as the church declares salvation in Christ alone to a fallen and corrupted world.