“If only God would give me some clear sign! Like making a large deposit in my name at a Swiss Bank.”- Woody Allen
Miracles play a significant role in Christian theology. Obviously, if miracles can’t happen the Christian claim is false (see 1 Cor. 15). What is the definition of a miracle? Theologians and philosophers have offered numerous definitions. But we might say that a miracle is a special act of God in the natural world, something nature would not have done on its own. Let me state from the outset that I am all for a healthy skepticism towards the miraculous. Obviously, we can’t just be gullible and accept every claim that is out there. “If only God would give me some clear sign! Like making a large deposit in my name at a Swiss Bank.”
When we look into the Bible, there seems to be a pattern of how God works in the history of Israel. Every time he is doing something new in their midst, he confirmed what he was doing through a prophet. Signs are used to provide evidence for people to believe the message of God through a prophet of God.
We see this is an important feature with Moses and Jesus:
1. God says to Moses, “I will be with you. And this will be the sign to you that it is I who have sent you” (Exod. 3:12).
2. When Moses asks God, “What if they do not believe me or listen to me?” the Lord gives Moses two “signs”: his rod turns into a snake (Exod. 4:3) and his hand becomes leprous (Exod. 4:1–7).
3. Moses “performed the signs before the people, and they believed; … they bowed down and worshiped” (Exod. 4:30–31).
“Sign”(sēmeion) is used seventy-seven times (forty-eight times in the Gospels). Remember that the prophet Isaiah spoke of a time where miraculous deeds would be the sign of both the spiritual and physical deliverance of Israel (Isa.26: 19; 29:18-19; 35:5-6; 42:18; 61:1). Also:
- The word “sign” is reserved for what we would call a miracle.
- “Sign” is also used of the most significant miracle in the New Testament, the resurrection of Jesus from the grave.
- Jesus repeated this prediction of his resurrection when he was asked for a sign (Matt. 16:1, 4). Not only was the resurrection a miracle, but it was a miracle that Jesus predicted (Matt. 12:40; 16:21; 20:19; John 2:19).
- Nicodemus said of Jesus “We know you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the miraculous signs you are doing if God were not with him” (John 3:2).
- “Jesus the Nazarene was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know” (Acts 2:22).
So the pattern for miracles is the following:
Sign/Miracle—–Knowledge is Imparted—–Should Result in Obedience/Active Participation
The Skeptics Complaint
Craig Kenner has written a two volume set called Miracles: The Credibility of the New Testament Accounts. Naturally, some skeptics aren’t satisfied with Keener’s work. They complain that it is not enough to appeal to religious texts that contain miracle accounts. Also, Keener doesn’t give enough documented cases of miracles in our present day. In the end, (as always), many skeptics demand that God will show them a miracle. They seem to assume if God really does that one big miracle, they will bow their knee and profess Jesus as Lord and give their life to him. I find this to be very presumptuous. It is interesting that Jesus ran into the same issue.
At one point, the Pharisees attributed the miracles of Jesus to Satan. And in some cases the miracle is a witness against those who reject this evidence. John grieved: “Even after Jesus had done all these miraculous signs in their presence, they still would not believe in him” (John 12:37). Jesus himself said of some, “They will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead” (Luke 16:31). One result, though not the purpose, of miracles is condemnation of the unbeliever (cf. John 12:31, 37). (1)
This is why we need to remember the following. In their book Handbook of Christian Apologetics, Peter Kreeft and Ronald K. Tacelli give a summary of faith.
Kreeft and Tacelli say we must distinguish between the act of faith from the object of faith- believing from what is believed. The object of faith means all things believed. For the Christian, this means everything God has revealed in the Bible. This faith (the object, not the act) is expressed in propositions. Propositions are many, but the ultimate object of faith is one. The ultimate object of faith is not words, but God’s Words (singular), indeed-Himself.
Without a relationship with the living God, propositions are pointless, for their point is to point beyond themselves to God. But without propositions, we cannot know or tell others what God we believe in and what we believe about God. There are several aspects of faith:
1. Emotional faith: is feeling assurance or trust or confidence in a person. This includes hope (which is much stronger than a wish and peace (which is much stronger then mere calm.).
2. Intellectual faith: is belief. It is this aspect of faith that is formulated in propositions and summarized in creeds.
3. Volitional faith: is an act of the will, a commitment to obey God’s will. This faith is faithfulness, or fidelity. It manifests itself in behavior, that is, in good works.
The bottom line is that even if a skeptic got their miracle, it doesn’t mean it will help #3 here. In other words, miracles don’t guarantee it will change a person’s will. We can’t overlook the fact that sin and a hardened heart can dampen a person’s receptivity to the evidence that is already available to them.
1. Geisler, N. L., BECA, Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book. 1999, 481.