Thursday, 14 October 2010

All or nothing?

The man was intelligent - his objection wasn't...

He asked the Christian if he believed in certain reports of alleged miracles from other religions, from Roman Catholic tradition, or from modern charismatic "faith healers".  The Christian replied that he didn't believe such reports.  Ha!  The atheist thought he had triumphed!  If you reject those miracles then you must reject all miracles - you can't pick and choose.

I thought this was a most bizarre objection from a most brainy man.  Why can't you pick and choose?  It's a bit like someone saying that if you don't believe the stories in certain tabloids then you can't believe any news from any media outlet, or if you think there are counterfeit bank notes then you can't believe there are genuine bank notes.  You pick and choose based on the availability of the evidence, the reliability of the witnesses, and the suitability of the context, (i.e. do the "miracles" serve a legitimate purpose?)

When we consider the availability of the evidence we find that we have four accounts of the miraculous ministry of the Lord Jesus in the Gospels, as well as the preaching of the apostles recorded in the book of the Acts, in which they testified to His miracles.  Consider the huge following the Lord gained and the massive stir He created in Israel in just three years of ministry - this is strong evidence for the fact that He did have a unique and amazing ministry that went beyond His teaching.  In addition we have to remember that the enemies of the Lord acknowledged His miracles, they just credited His power to coming from the prince of the demons (Matthew 12 v 24).  The Jewish Talmud, which is very hostile to the Lord Jesus, admits that He had a ministry of miracles, but it calls Him a sorcerer - it doesn't say the stories are made up, it says He was tricking people.  It is simply not credible that these accounts of the miracles of Christ came about with no historical foundation.  Remember too, the supreme miracle is the resurrection of Christ, and the evidence for that is overwhelming.

Well, how would the unbeliever account for the evidence of Christ's miracles?  It seems they will have to say that either the Gospel writers made it up, or that Jesus tricked them.  In regard to the first suggestion, we need to consider the character of the Gospel writers.  If these men made this up then it must have been a group effort because some of the miracles occur in more than one Gospel, but if it was collaboration then why are there the alleged "contradictions" all the surface readers and shallow sceptics jump on?  Surely they would have ironed them out!  But another point on this is, if they made it up then it is obvious they had no fear of, or faith in, God, because they deliberately manufactured a story about a messiah they knew to be a fake, and they sought to lead others to believe it.  When you read the Gospels they wrote, listen to the message they preached, reflect on the religious rituals they relinquished, consider the comforts they gave up, and contemplate the deaths they died, it tells me these men weren't making this up.  To think they would produce a false messiah and then spend their lives, and give their lives, proclaiming a false gospel is beyond belief.

But were they tricked?  We now have to consider not the character of the Gospel writers, but the character of the Lord Jesus.  Can anyone really bring themselves to believe that this was someone working in the power of the devil - the effect He had on people then and the effect He has on people now totally rules that out.  Again, can anyone really countenance that this was a magician cleverly deceiving people into believing he was the Messiah, and then cruelly encouraging them to forsake all to follow him?  Why would He have done it?  It certainly wasn't for personal gain.  What did the Lord gain from His itinerant ministry?  He was homeless, despised, and crucified.  He gained nothing materially from His ministry.  There is no way any honest or reasonable person can maintain that the Lord Jesus was a deceiver.  The evidence is available, and the witnesses are reliable - Christ's miracles stand out from all other reported miracles and stand up to the closest scrutiny.

So I believe it's perfectly legitimate to pick and choose, in fact it's foolish not to!  To accept all reports or to reject all reports without consideration is foolish.  As you read through the Bible you discover that God is very economical with the use of miracles.  When you think of what they were intended to convey, it will come as no surprise to see that they were rare.  Miracles were not given to prove God's existence, (after all, Scripture says you would be a fool to deny the evidence of His existence!) They served rather as confirmation of new revelations and prophetic utterances, demonstrating that someone was speaking for God and from God.  The Word of God is complete and for that reason miracles are generally not required.  That's why I don't get too excited over reports of miracles - it appears to me that the majority of "miracles" don't serve any spiritual purpose, they are petty, bear no resemblance to miracles in Scripture, and very often detract from the authority of Scripture and the glory of God.  That said, I'm not prepared to dismiss every report of the miraculous (God is free to intervene in whatever way He chooses), and I will post in the not-too-distant future on why I believe there are legitimate reports in certain circumstances that fit in with the Scriptural context for miracles.

I have heard people ask about the significance of Christ's miracles and even of His resurrection, because His disciples performed miracles, and others were raised from the dead, so how do Christ's miracles and resurrection show that He was the Son of God?  I will address that in a future post.

I want you to know that the Lord Jesus Christ is still, on a daily basis, performing the greatest of all miracles!  He is saving the helpless, cleansing the defiled, justifying the guilty, liberating the bound.  He has lost none of His miraculous saving power.  He performed this miracle of grace in my life, and He can do it in yours too (Hebrews 7 v 25).