Much Ado About Miracles [Part 1]
Why I believe in miracles despite having never actually witnessed one in my life.
One of my favorite 20th century writers and Christian thinkers is G.K. Chesterton. In his classic apologetic work Orthodoxy, the English journalist once said this about miracles and the people who believe (and disbelieve) them:
“The believers in miracles accept them (rightly or wrongly) because they have evidence for them. The disbelievers in miracles deny them (rightly or wrongly) because they have a doctrine against them.”
Many Christians I know who claim to be “cessationists” (those who believe that miracles ceased with the death of the apostles) have very convincing “doctrines” or “arguments” to support their belief.
On top of the doctrine, each of these cessationist brothers and sisters say they have never “witnessed” a real” miracle.
Maybe some have seen things and gone through experiences that others would describe as “miraculous”, but cessationists will always find a way to “explain away” the apparently supernatural occurrences.
And in the event that they cannot explain the miracle, they will say that a natural explanation for the phenomenon exists and they are just not aware of it. They would rather settle for “it is naturally explainable even though I cannot explain it”.
On the other hand, I know brothers and sisters who have seen and heard and felt things that they could only describe as “miraculous”. They resisted every attempt to “naturally explain away” these occurrences using common scientific theories.
These Christians, as Chesterton would put it, believe in miracles because they have “evidence” for them.
Disclosure: I have swung back and forth between these two positions for some time now. I am not quite sure whether I am a cessationist or a “continuationist”.
I am able to make a good argument for cessanionism. But to me, it is just that, an argument; an intellectual exercise that does little more than win a debate about fine points of secondary biblical doctrines. Cessationism “makes sense” to me, yet I am not sure I believe it.
Even so, I am yet to encounter something that I would comfortably describe as “a miracle”. For me to begin speaking of miracles, I want to see a limb grow (or an equivalent event) rather than be told that someone’s headache disappeared.
The reason is simple: there are numerous known naturalistic explanations for the disappearance of a headache, but none has been found to explain a new limb growing ex-nihilo. In the face of a new limb, no “doctrine” would convince me to be a continuationist.
It is true that miracles are possible because God can do whatever He wants whenever He chooses and no human “doctrine” can get in His way. But the debate between cessationism and continuationism is usually not about what is possible but about what is actually happening.
Stepping out of the church building briefly, I have listened to numerous debates between Christians and atheists over this topic of miracles. Some atheists argue that belief in miracles is part of an archaic worldview that could not explain some natural phenomena and therefore chose to go the supernatural way.
While many of the ancient allegedly “supernatural” events can now be explained by the scientific discoveries made in psychology, other phenomena like the dead coming back to life or limbs growing out of stumps are seen as purely exaggerations. No such thing ever happened.
All atheists do not believe in the death and resurrection of Jesus. Yet, there are some who disbelieve in the resurrection because they have a doctrine against it (i.e. it is not possible for dead bodies to come back to life), while others disbelieve because they are yet to experience something like it (and will therefore attempt to “explain away” any historical claims of resurrection).
I have thought long and hard and wide about all these “miraculous” debates (amongst Christians and between Christians and atheists). I recently stumbled upon a third dimension to the topic that has rarely (if ever) been explored.
Please read this follow up post for this new view concerning the topic of miracles and what to think about them.
Disclaimer: this is not a new idea per se (since nothing is new under the sun), but it is quite novel to me and I am still working through many of these issues as I go.