Miracles? Seriously?

Can we take miracle claims seriously? Are miracles possible? Could Jesus have been raised from the dead? Let us have a wee think by asking a few questions:

Is it possible that God exists? If it is possible that God exists, then miracles are a possibility. In fact we we don’t even need to go on to the probability of God’s existence here though much can be said about that. The mere possibility of God is enough to admit the possibility of the miraculous.

Have we been around long enough to rule out the supernatural? If you were to join me for a ride on my motorcycle on highway 401, you might conclude that my motorcycle always travels at 100 km/h, or a wee bit higher, and that the bike never turns. Your experience would not be enough to tell you otherwise. If we have not experienced in miracle in our day, is that sufficient evidence to rule out miracles in Jesus’ day? Even if we add together the collective experience of every scientist working feverishly to amass empirical evidence, that would still not be a broad enough knowledge base to rule out miracles.

Could it be that what we would call a miracle and what we would call normal are both just another day at the office for God? When God creates the universe complete with the “laws of nature” by which it functions and functions well, He is enabling life and fulfilling His purposes. Now when God supersedes natural laws, especially in and through Jesus, again He is enabling life and fulfilling His purposes. Same God, same goal. We see things like gravity as being “natural” and the fact that we do not fly off into space when we jump as being a very unexceptional reality. But why do we think that way? Gravity and a whole host of other laws are life permitting signs and wonders. Sometimes the slogan is brought out that “extraordinary claims,” such as the existence of God “require extraordinary evidence.” Perhaps the ordinary all around us is far more extraordinary that we realize. So while some will want to see God writing his signature in the sky, God has given us the sky, which is, after all, the greater work and sign, for it is life permitting. People erupt in gratitude when they think they have received a miracle. We could really erupt in gratitude at every step, and every breath, which themselves point to the Miracle Worker.

When we consider the nature of the miracles recorded in the Bible, are we moved to have confidence in the miracle reports or moved to dismiss them as fabrications? The miracles in the Bible are not a case of “here is a god doing all kinds of impossible things,” but instead have a very down-to-earth and purposeful feel about them. They serve a purpose, such as forming and forging a nation for God’s salvation purposes through the exodus, or providing legitimacy and audience for prophets like Elijah and Elisha, or focusing attention where attention really belongs, on Jesus. And the miracles of Jesus are never just amazing feats for the sake of being amazing, they are signs of God’s impending Kingdom, with healing, feeding, and saving. Also, there are really not as many miracles in the Bible as a lot of people think, they really are concentrated around the ministry of Jesus just as the Bible itself finds its focus in Jesus.

For a moment, let us turn our attention to the resurrection of Jesus, for the resurrection of Jesus is the most important miracle of Christianity. If a miracle is defined as a unique superseding of natural law, is the resurrection of Jesus really a miracle? If we all experience something, we would not tend to call such an experience a miracle, but a normal part of the way things are. The interesting thing about the resurrection of Jesus is that resurrection is something all people look forward to. Some will be raised to eternal life with God, others will be raised to eternal separation from God, but all will be raised. On that day, the most empirically informed among us will be saying something like “we have some new data, we must find a new model for the ways things are.” With the resurrection of Jesus, the new data for the ways things are is already in our hands, in fact it is marked on His.

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Is God an Idol? How Christians Often Treat Him Like One.

Is God a mere idol? If you look at current thinking in churches across Canada you might think so! We take a break from questions asked by the folk at Calvary today to consider a question Isaiah asks: “To whom then will you liken God, or what likeness compare with him? An idol?” (Isaiah 40:18-19 NRSV). This is a question posed to a people who would be feeling defeated, having been invaded and sent into exile. “What happened to the promise to Abraham to bless Your people and to bless all nations through us? Or what happened to Your promise to David to always have his descendant on the throne?” Such would be on the minds of God’s people as the Temple lay in ruins, and the citizenship is scattered across foreign lands.

And we can feel pretty defeated as Christians in Canada today. While some churches are growing, overall the numbers don’t look good. Prayer in school and other public places is a thing of the past. Values espoused in most tv shows are getting further and further from those we hold as Christians. Media portrays Christianity in a negative light at every opportunity, and anything educational assumes naturalism as the starting point. With all this the Canadian Christian can feel as defeated as an American hockey player.

Isaiah’s prophecy in Isaiah 40 brings a message of comfort to a defeated people beginning with:

“Comfort, O comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that she has served her term, and her penalty is paid, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins” Isaiah 40:1,2 NRSV.

In other words, the time of exile was over, it is time to come home. The chapter ends with

but those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not grow weary, they shall walk and not faint” Isaiah 40:31 NRSV.

Far from feeling defeated, God’s people will feel comforted and encourgaed. But what do we find in the middle of this encouraging chapter? We might expect something like “you will become strong,” but when we take a look we find the encouragement does not come from the strength of the people, but rather that of God. Couched in many verses extolling God as Creator and Sovereign over all nations we find Isaiah’s question “To whom then will you liken God, or what likeness compare with him? An idol?” (Isaiah 40:18-19 NRSV). The answer is an obvious ’no’ for an idol is a mere creation (see verses 19-20) as opposed to God who is The Creator. Since God is who He is, God’s people can take courage and look forward to an exciting future despite their depressing circumstances.

A few years ago I had the opportunity to see a report from a denomination (not my own) which predicted the exact year the combined membership of that denomination’s churches would reach zero if it continued on its current trajectory. To even think like that is to liken God to an idol! Little wonder people outside of the Church have difficulty taking the reality of God seriously when those inside the Church fail to do so themselves. God cannot be likened to an idol, He is the Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer. And he has given us a significant task with a promise:

And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Matthew 28:18-20 (NRSV)

It is time to challenge the assumption among Canadians that God is a human invention, but we first need to confront our own sin of treating Him like an idol ourselves. Take courage, his presence is with us, and as we are obedient to His call, He will act. While we might fuss over declining church membership and influence in society, the only statistic that really matters is how many people around us are living without the hope of God’s salvation in Christ. God will be God, just as he always has been, and He will continue His mission of salvation, just as He always has.

“Smart People Outgrow Christianity” or so Some Like to Think.

“I outgrew Christianity when I was fourteen years old.” So said an atheist during the course of one of my favourite podcasts recently, bringing us to an idea held more commonly than we might think, that intelligent people will figure out that belief in Jesus is no different than belief in fables like Santa Claus. The claim is made that foolish people may cling to that old rugged cross or lame people might cling to Christianity as a crutch, but the smart person will know better. But is this true? Is this a valid argument as to why one might leave, or never come to the Christian faith? Let me propose two reasons why I don’t think so.

First, Christianity is a faith that has stood the test of time, coming up shining under various tests of legitimacy. Does the Christian faith clash with science or does science support it? While some people will think science is destructive to Christianity there are many scientists who see it as supportive. Does historical enquiry demolish Christian claims? While some will think so, there are many historians who will point to historical enquiry as being very supportive of the Christian faith. How about philosophy? Or archeology? Cosmology? Biology? Or anyotherology? Christianity has been poked and prodded through every possible field of enquiry and it has been defended as reasonable in every one. While fables, like the modern myth of Santa Claus, come up as mere myth under such enquiries, Christianity stands up as reasonable under scrutiny across academic fields. Therefore a smart person can outgrow belief in Santa and the Easter Bunny, while growing even closer to Jesus.

Second, there are a lot of really smart people who are Christians. It would be great if people who say things like “smart people don’t believe in Jesus” could sit down for lunch with the likes of C.S. Lewis, John Lennox, and William Lane Craig. We’d soon see just who is out to lunch! To say “smart people outgrow Christianity” is a statement usually made without any evidence to back it up. Become familiar with some of the great Christian thinkers past and present, and one will realize that the evidence goes against such an assertion. Since a good many people with a higher iq and greater education than you and I are in love with Jesus, to say “I’m too smart to be a Christian” comes across as rather foolish.

Personally, I’m glad to have had the opportunity to grow into the Christian faith, and for the role higher education has played in that.