Wednesday, March 13, 2013

A God Who’s Not Big Enough to Do Miracles?

We have been studying the Gospel of Mark in our Bible classes, and we’ve repeatedly seen Jesus do things we’ve never seen before.  He calms a fierce storm at sea with only a word (Mark 4:35-41).  He takes a few loaves and fish and feeds thousands by multiplying it, more than once (Mark 6:33-44, 8:1-10).  He walks on top of water (Mark 6:45-52)!  The “miracle list” could go on and on.  The writers of the Bible clearly claimed and believed that Jesus did many miracles while on earth, not the mention the many other miracles recorded in other parts of the Bible. 

Whenever we study those miraculous events, I can sense our culture in the background making a face.  “You don’t really believe Jesus walked on water do you?”  “You don’t really believe God parted the Red Sea and Jordan River for the Israelites?”  “You don’t really believe God raised Lazarus from the dead?”  And so on.  Our culture – and strangely enough, sometimes even some of our fellow Christians – are tempted to dismiss the Bible’s miracles, perhaps thinking that we are too smart to believe such things today.  OK, so let’s dig into the assumptions behind that thinking.

Why might someone doubt that the miracles of the Bible actually occurred?

Has Science Disproved Miracles?

Well, one reason people may doubt is the (mistaken) belief that science has somehow “proven” there can’t be miracles.  Really?  How could science ever “prove” that miracles aren’t possible?  Yes, we have scientific “laws,” but all they can ever prove is “what normally happens.”  Scientific experiments can only be repeated to show what happens in a system as long as there is no interference from outside the system. 

That’s why, when you did your experiments in chemistry class, you had to be very careful to mix ingredients properly and not allow outside elements to mess up the outcome.  When you messed up your chemistry experiment, you weren’t disproving the scientific law, but you were showing that the scientific law didn’t work if there was interference from outside the system.  When the Bible speaks of miracles, it is speaking of a God – outside our world’s system – that reaches in to change the normal outcome of the variables.  There is outside interference. 

As Gregory Ganssle’s A Reasonable God says: “The concept of a miracle includes the concept of interference.  It is not that the laws of nature are suspended, but that the non-interference condition is overridden.” (p. 28)

 Ganssle concludes: “No matter how well the laws of nature are established, they cannot rule out the possibility of interference.  The metaphysical challenge, then, fails.  Miracles are not incompatible with the sciences.” (p. 28)

Science simply can’t rule out the possibility of the miraculous.  Anyone who says otherwise is trying to drastically overplay the hand of science.  There is no way for science to prove that in the entire history of the world a scientific law has never been over-ridden by an outside force.

So if we’re honest with ourselves, the claim that science shows there can’t be a miracle really comes down to this: “I’ve personally never seen what I knew was a documented miracle, and therefore miracles can’t be possible.”  Just saying “come on, you don’t really believe that?” is not exactly a strong logical argument. 


The Real Issue of Miracles

The fact is, whether miracles are possible or not depends almost entirely not on your view of science, but on your view of God.  If there is a God, miracles are most definitely a possibility.  I think Ganssle again says it well:

“If there are good reasons to think God exists, however, then there are good reasons to think it likely that some miraculous events have occurred.  God’s existence does not require that miracles have occurred, but it does make it somewhat likely.  A big part of determining whether any particular event is miraculous, then, is the background investigation into the reasonability of thinking God exists.” (p. 30)

You can only “prove” there are no miracles if you can “prove” there is no God, and I don’t think either can be done.

Which brings me to the silliest position of all, in my opinion: those who believe there is a God, but don’t believe that miracles are possible.  Some people – even some Bible ‘scholars’ – will argue strongly that the world shows enough evidence that there is a God, yet they will distance themselves from any claim that God could actually override His own laws to perform miracles.  A God who is big enough to create the world, and yet not big enough to do things inside of it?


The Missing Logical Puzzle Piece

One of our men at Great Oaks – who I really appreciate – studied and worked for years in a scientific background, and had wrestled for a long time with the idea of miracles.  Eventually, after a great deal of study and thought, he was baptized, is a faithful Christian, and has in fact taught several Christian Evidences classes here at Great Oaks.  In talking to him about getting over those intellectual hurdles to becoming a Christian, he shared this with me: “Once I realized in my mind that if God can create the world, He can do whatever He wants to do within it, that solved a lot of the issues.”  That makes a lot of sense to me.  Sometimes we all struggle to understand that important, relatively-simple-when-you-think-about-it concept.  If God is big enough to create the world, then He must be big enough to act within it as He chooses.

My friend Billy Ringold had a good analogy for this, I think.  He was recently watching Bill O’Reilly’s nightly news show, in which O’Reilly was apparently presenting his own version of faith in God but doubt in the Bible’s miracles.  As Billy reflected on what he’d seen on the tv show, he compared the entire issue to a website designer.  The designer of the website can do whatever he wants with the website; he can change it, intervene to make exceptions, whatever.  The website may stay the same for years, but then he can change the coding to make it react differently, even just temporarily if he wants to.  But how silly would it be for the website users to proclaim that it is impossible for the website to do anything different, simply because they’ve only seen it do the same things over and over?  They forget there is a designer behind the site who can do what he wants. 

I think the analogy is clear.  God made the world we live in.  How silly of us to say that things could never be different, simply because in our personal – and very limited – experience we’ve only seen the world react in the same ways over and over.  We forget there is a website designer.  And while He has given us a world that reacts consistently, He can still do whatever He wants to the system, whenever He wants to. 

If the God who created the world wants to bring a flood on the world, He certainly can.  If He wants to inspire men to write the Bible just the way God wanted it, He can.  If He wants to send His Son into the world to live a perfect life, He can.  If He wants His Son to walk on the water, He can.  If He wants to raise Him from the dead, He can.  If God wants to end the world by raising everyone, judging everyone, and creating a whole new heavens and earth, He can.  He’s big enough to do it.  Is my faith big enough to realize that? 

So don’t let anyone tell you that science has proven there can’t be miracles.  And definitely don’t be someone who takes the “soft atheism” idea that believes God may be real but miracles can’t be.  That simply doesn’t make any sense.  If God is big enough to create the world, He’s big enough to do what He wants within it.  And that’s the God we believe in.





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