I was inspired to write this post because of discussions that I’ve recently had with a new blogosphere friend. The subject of miracles came up, and I had some thoughts about it that I wanted to put down. What are we to do with the miracles that we read about in the Bible? Should we believe they actually happened, or are they simply tales that are intended to convey an idea or lesson?
Rudolf Bultmann was a prominent German theologian about a century ago, and he argued that if we are to discover the truth about Jesus in the Gospels, we have to eliminate any reference to miracles or supernatural activity, because such accounts are made up, mythological. In 1961 he wrote,
“It is impossible to use electric light and the wireless and to avail ourselves of modern medical and surgical discoveries, and at the same time to believe in the New Testament world of spirits and miracles.”
While his thoughts may be shared openly by some today, what is perhaps more widespread in Christian circles is the position of those who don’t outright reject the possibility of miracles, but instead simply don’t quite know just what to do with them. Many people would never admit that they don’t believe the miracles happened back then, yet in reality they would never expect that a miracle could happen today. I would guess that many (Western) Christians are in this position today, even though they wouldn’t necessarily admit it.
What I’m interested in is why we’re tempted to deny that these miracles really happened. On the face of things, it’s actually quite understandable, because most people haven’t had personal experience with a definite miracle. This means that we have to trust the testimony of others, and it’s always a bit harder to fully commit to something without personally experiencing it. But at the same time, when you think about it, very often we do believe things solely on the testimony of other people; take, for example, everything you’ve ever read in a history book!
But there’s clearly another element that makes miracles harder for us to swallow: we can’t explain them. We’re privileged to live in an age where so much of the world around us can be explained, and for this reason, it is becoming harder for people to believe anything that can’t be verified with evidence. But the fact that we can’t find a scientific explanation for miracles is neither here nor there, because science only operates within the realm of what is naturalistic and repeatable, and miracles, by definition, are outside its scope.
So, whoever might be reading this, if you’re in a place at the moment where you’re unsure about whether miracles really occur, I can’t give you any evidence to convince you (if I could, we wouldn’t be dealing with a miracle). But I certainly can encourage you that you need not fear those who might claim that science has ruled out the possibility of miracles – those who make such claims are merely showing their ignorance about the limits of what science can tell us.
But back to the Bible – does it matter if we believe that Jesus’ miracles actually happened? It certainly does. For one thing, if we can’t trust the miracle accounts, what parts can we trust? But fundamentally, we run into massive problems if we deny the miracles because to do so is inextricably tied to a denial of the supernatural as a whole. And if we deny the supernatural, we deny God.
The fact is, we don’t actually have any good reason to doubt that miracles can happen. And as for me, if there were any questions about whether or not miracles still happened today, they disappeared from my mind last September (2012). It’s a long story, but I had a fractured wrist – only five days old – and a good friend of mine, Garrett Dool, put his hand on it, prayed, and asked God to heal it. It was healed instantaneously. That’s something I will never forget. There are no doubts in my mind. God works miracles.