The Problem of Miracles Part II

I was going to look at this topic from a variety of perspectives. However, even addressing it from a Christian standpoint alone will be daunting. Therefore, all my discussions would be how the issue of miracles play out in that Christian realm.

First, I want to discuss definitions. Like I said in my previous post, when I talk about miracles, I’m talking about something that is clearly supernatural, unexplainable via natural laws. I am not talking about “sleight of hand” kind of tricks, things that could easily be explained by natural forces.

The questions for the Christian are:

  1. Did miracles ever happen?
  2. Do miracles happen today?
  3. Are miracles common?
  4. What is the problem in not believing in miracles?
  5. What is the problem in believing in miracles or that they are not real?

The reason that we are warned to never discuss politics or religion is that both have deeply held opinions with a lot of attached emotions. In the area of religion, specifically Christianity (although I’ve seen the same in Islam) its followers often feel they have an overwhelming responsibility to make sure the ideas presented are orthodox. I call it unorthodoxophobia. Who is the true believer? Evangelicals say only evangelicals are true believers. Many other sects do the same. The implications are that those who are not following “orthodox” beliefs, are in danger of eternal punish of hell’s fire. I’ve been warned many times that I’m in danger of such peril. I keep marshmallows in my pocket just in case ;>).

When I talk of orthodoxy, I will point out very few churches, if any, have a statement about miracles as part of their church’s dogma. Most do have some statement about the Bible being God’s word and without error and the Bible does speak of real miracles, historically.

The Magician Who Astounded the World by Conjuring Spirits and Talking with  Mummies | Collectors Weekly
Magic, sleight of hand.

But there are two overarching realms that governor how Christians think in general, the dogma of the church they identify with, but more encompassing, the unwritten rules of their specific brand of Christianity. That latter category I will call colloquial Christianity. It is colloquial Christianity that told us in the Bible belt not to say, “damn, shit, or pissed off.” While colloquial Christianity does reflect to some degree the particular church denomination, but more so, it mirrors the Christian culture of that physical, cultural location. Protestant Christians think differently than Catholics on some topics. However, American Catholics think more like American Protestants on many issues than they do with their Lebanese counterparts. For example, their view of Israel.

It is within this area of colloquial Christianity that the issues of miracles are most prominent.

The one area about miracles that is influenced by the written church dogma, is the inerrancy of scripture. Did miracles ever happen? I believe the Bible is accurate when it describes miracles that happened two thousand or five thousand years ago. Those were true miracles, more than a sleight of hand. Completely outside the realms of a natural explanation. Things like dividing the Red Sea, people suddenly becoming fluent in languages they never studied, or raising someone from the dead. A very few Christians who would say that supernatural miracles never happened, explaining that the Bible is using metaphor when it describes miracles. I want to make it clear that I am not in that camp. I am orthodox when it comes the major written tenants of both the Catholic and protestant churches. The real question I want to raise is do miracles happen now, and if so, are they common?

The Children of Israel Crossing the Red Sea
Moses Parting the Red Sea

The next caveat I want to be clear about, this is not about the issue of God’s ability to do miracles. Sure, when “higher criticism” first arose in Europe in the late nineteenth century, moving into the Americas by the twentieth, they questioned if miracles ever happened because God wasn’t really there, or, he was not involved. There was also a movement (small) that came out of that larger movement called the theothanatology or “God is dead” idea. This is thinking that God did do miraculous things a long time ago, but since had literally died or disappeared and is no longer relevant. This is not at all the issue I’m raising. Most of the time when I have had this conversation with my old evangelical friends they assume that I’m suggesting that God is not big or powerful enough to do miracles. As I hope to point out later, it is almost the opposite.

The next cavet I must point out is that my discussion here and my interest in the topic of miracles has nothing to do with my cancer. More than once I’ve had well-meaning friends, who started coming to my blog after my diagnosis with cancer, assume that everything I write is me reacting to that diagnosis. I wrote a similar article about miracles more than ten years ago in my blog titled “The Christian Monist.” This is an issue I have thought about for thirty years. I wrote about it in my book Butterflies in the Belfry, which I started writing in 2002.

Lastly, the reason that I think this topic is important isn’t because I want to argue with anyone. I have no desire to try and persuade someone to change their minds about the topic of miracles. But I think this topic is important because of two reasons. First, Christianity is hemorrhaging devotees at this point in history. The church is dying in the west. There are several reasons for that but one of the common reasons is that the believer realizes one day that the miracles that they had believed in are fake. They therefore assume that all of Christianity is fake . . . and walk away. In Philip Yancey’s book, Disappointment with God, he starts with a story of a theology student leaving his faith, burning his Christian books, when he discovers that a “miracle” turned out to be hoax.

The second reason that our view of miracles is important, is because it is deeply woven into our concept of God and our relationship with him. For some people miracles means as much to their relationship with God as sex does in a marital relationship. Remove the miracles and their relationship with God is dead.

A 2020 Pew Research survey showed that 80% of Americans believe in miracles, and that they happen frequently. That is more Americans than claim any affiliation with religion. When I cast doubt on a miracle, people often see me as the mean, harden atheist because even the worst of Christians, still believe in miracles. To even raise the question if miracles are real is equated to them, as me walking into a preschool and doing a lecture that Santa Claus isn’t real. Am I the Grinch? If I wrote a book titled, Real Miracles I’ve Witnessed, I could see many publishers interested in that book and it would sell well. But if I wrote a book in the spirit of this article, titled Many Miracles are Fake, no one would want to publish it and if published, no one would buy it.

I’ve given away some of my position already, but I will add that while I do believe that supernatural miracles occured in Biblical times, I’m not positive they do today. However, I do not hold this position with certainty. I still hope for miracles and pray for them every day, but I’m not disappointed with God when they don’t occur. I have spent hours begging God to deliver me from my cancer and hoping that he will. So far, he hasn’t. But my faith is not based God doing miracles.

If God is there, He lives in reality. The more we live in reality, the better we can see God.

I have reached my conclusion about miracles from 65 years of observation of the real world . . . and a very honest observation. If you think I never gave the belief in miracles a chance, then you don’t know my history. I spent the first 33 years of my life in an evangelical world. The last 15 of those years in a very serious evangelical discipleship organization. We believed miracles happened daily. I also spent a year in college around a charismatic group where spectacular miracles were believed to happen daily . . . and I believed them. Then I came to a crossroads, created by several factors. But one of those factors was the knowledge deep within my soul that these so-called miracles were all fake. We lied about them. We lied to ourselves and to others. At that juncture I was very close to leaving Christianity altogether. This is what I’m attempting to prevent in others.

When it comes to truth, the good Christian should say that God reveals truth through his word, the Bible, and through reality. After all, God created reality. I have said many times that If God is there, He lives in reality. The more we are live in reality, the better we can see God.

I will be back for the final installment, Part III. I hope to tidy things up there and make my final points. If you have a disagreement with me so far and you want to voice that, please wait until you hear the end.

My posting frenzy is coming to an end as my sauna will be done by this week-end, my beta-readers for my next book Retribution, are done. So, soon I will be getting back to writing my novel in earnest.

Mike

Published by J. Michael Jones

J. Michael Jones is a writer and PA who lives in Anacortes, Washington. He is the father of five children, who are now grown and out discovering this wonderful world on their own. He has previously focused his writing on non-fiction including medical topics and issues of the philosophy of Christian thought. With the success of his last book, Butterflies in the Belfry, Michael is now moving into fiction with his first novel, The Waters of Bimini.

2 thoughts on “The Problem of Miracles Part II

  1. I read your posts with interest because I was brought up in a family with a complete absence of any religious discussion or practice even tho’ from an early age I had a fair share of questions around religion and an inclination, never realized, toward some kind of religious practice. One little word jumped out at me in your post today about which I’d be interested in hearing a discussion – related, for me, to our times, current politics as well as my daily life. The word is – He (or him) – in reference to God. Is or must be God a he or is this pronoun just a literary practice?

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    1. It is literary practice and custom. You could make a rightful argument that it is patriarchal cultures that have produced the pronoun for male. There should be a good gender ambivalent pronoun that would work. However, I use the masculine pronoun because if I use “She” immediately the majority of my readers, who do have some Christian affiliation would immediately make assumptions about me that would cause them to not even read what I write. But, to be clear, God does not have a penis.

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