Must Christians Believe in Miracles?

The four Gospel narratives are filled with examples of Jesus performing miraculous acts.  According to Matthew’s version, even his life began supernaturally, in that his conception was not the result of a sexual union.

For most Christians, the picture of Jesus working miracles seems to be exactly what one would expect of a divine being -the Son of God. These supernatural acts “prove” that Jesus was no mere man. For many others, though, these miracle accounts are not easily swallowed and deter them from accepting much, if not all, of the Gospels as truth.  Probably the most famous of these skeptics was Thomas Jefferson, who went through the bible with scissors and glue, removing all the supernatural accounts. His truncated version, the “Jefferson Bible” is more like a collections of Jesus’ sayings than the story of his life, death and resurrection.

I talked with a friend not long ago, an ex-Roman Catholic, now an Evangelical Protestant, who said that the idea of the ‘virgin birth’ was very important to him, as this underscored the idea of Jesus as God.  Without the virgin birth Jesus would be just another man.  But is that a fair assumption to make? Do we need miracles to sell ourselves on the idea that Jesus is in some way ‘other’ than us – that he is divine?

If miracles are the (super)natural by-product of divinity, then Jesus’ life must have been full of them.  This is suggested in the various apocryphal Infancy Gospels. There the boy Jesus is said to have made clay birds fly and he magically kills a naughty playmate (who he later brings back to life).  No serious scholars give these folk stories much credence, although bestselling horror writer Ann Rice has written a novel based upon them.  There is something appealing as well as appalling to these tales. (I have a theory that they were the inspiration for  that old Twilight Zone episode where the young Billy Mumy uses his awesome supernatural powers to terrorize his family and neighbors.)

Recently our church considered the story in Mark’s Gospel where Jesus stilled the stormy Sea of Galilee.  While asleep in the boat, a squall rose up and his disciples, who were for the most part experienced fisherman, began to panic and they awakened Jesus.  But why?  Did they expect Jesus to provide them with nautical advice?  He may have been a carpenter, but Jesus was certainly no sailor.  Did they expect him to magically calm the storm, as he does before scolding them for their hysteria? Their reaction to this event would seem to suggest otherwise.

Was it the purpose of this miracle account to prove that Jesus was God, or at least in touch with supernatural power? Is that the purpose of all of Jesus’ miracles? Because if we look at them in that way, adding them to the pile of evidence needed to make a “case for Christ”, then we may risk losing other, deeper meanings hidden within the stories.

Perhaps, as our pastor suggested, the main thrust of this story is to portray Jesus as a powerful presence that can calm the storms that rage within us.  Rather than joining us in our stress and hysteria (which we have invited others to do) Jesus projects calmness upon what we often perceive to be the ‘perfect storm’.

Isn’t this usually what happens when we call upon Jesus for help? Really, how often is it the case where he has literally changed our circumstances, fixed our external problems or calmed the storms we are caught in? Isn’t it more likely that he help will help us to find the strength we need to deal with our crises? Jesus gives us a glimpse of things from his infinite perspective, a glimpse that tends to diminish our own earthly struggles.

Do we need to believe in miracles in order to be in communion with God?  Are miracles necessary proof that there is a God?  Conversely, does a disbelief in miracles, an ‘inability’ to see them, indicate a lack of faith? When we question the historicity of Jesus’ miracles, are we diminishing his divinity?  What kind of faith is it that must depend upon evidence of miracles in order to survive?

I don’t know.  Personally, I don’t think it is necessary for me to believe that the  miracles actually  occurred to hear what God is telling me,  something that when put into practice, underscores the divinity of Jesus.  Something that Thomas Jefferson might have missed.

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  1. #1 by logiopath on June 25, 2009 - 7:05 pm

    Hmm.

    Maybe Barth is correct–that Word does not consist of the words of Scripture.

  2. #2 by Jheffley on June 25, 2009 - 8:04 pm

    There is no way possible to address many of the points brought up here because there are too many!

    My view is that the bible is the inspired word of God. And I do think that believing in miracles is essential. The apostle Paul tells us that if we deny the resurrection then our faith is made void and we are still in our sins. What is the ressurection? It is a miracle.

    Now, as for the miracles of Jesus, I do think that they are slightly different. The bible gives us a few reasons why miracles were present in the life of Jesus. First the overarching mission of Jesus was to come and destroy the work of the devil (1 John 3:8). I believe this means the work of redemption but also in healing the sick because sickness is a result of the fall and a result of evil.

    Secondly, the miracles established Him as one who was sent from God. Going all the way back to the old testament, the test for judging a prophet to see if he was from God was to examine his character and then to see if his prophecies came true (a miracle that could not be caused by human hands). If the prophecies came true, then the people knew he was sent from God. The same way with Jesus. It is not enough to walk around saying ‘I am the way the truth and the light’ or to tell people that the only way to God is if they accept your teaching without some proof. Without proof, you are blowing hot air. The miracles established Him as a true messenger of God. With this established, His teachings could then be seen as true.

    John Locke even addressed this point in his essay ‘the reasonableness of Christianity.’ I would encourage you to read it because it makes a very good case for why we should believe in the moral message of Jesus. His basic point is because we see him as one truly sent from God evident by the miracles that were performed. No mere human could do these. He would have to be from God.

    One last bit of food for thought. If miracles are not an essential belief, then why do you even believe in Jesus? What separates Him from other ‘good teachers’ through history like Buddha, Confucius, or even Muhammad: none of which performed any miracles. If miracles truly aren’t that big of a deal then why not follow one of them?

    • #3 by Christian Beyer on June 26, 2009 - 12:51 am

      Welcome Jheffley. Good points.

      So, without the miracles, there is no reason to consider the words, life or death of Jesus? (Keep in mind that I do believe in the resurrection and do not discount the other recorded miracles) Cannot Jesus’ message, his Good News, stand alone?

      As for Buddha, Confucius, Mohammed – I don’t follow them because I follow Christ. I do think that one could follow them AND follow Christ as well. But again, I do believe in the Resurrection, although I do not know precisely what that is or what that means, only that it is God’s promise of unbridled grace. It does give Jesus a little bit more oomph! As for some of the other miracles (particularly the virgin birth) I don’t buy them. And they are hardly conclusive prophetic fulfillments (especially the virgin birth). As far as prophetic prediction goes, much those were coupled with warnings – “Do this or face that”. They didn’t exactly predict winning lottery numbers. ;)

  3. #4 by Christian Beyer on June 25, 2009 - 10:24 pm

    The Gospel is that God created the world in six days, literally six days,

    Really? That’s the “Good News”? Because the Jews already had that part down pat. It seems to me that the Good News that Jesus came to proclaim is found more commonly in the words of the prophets, not in Genesis. In fact, Genesis seemed to emphasis more of God’s ‘bad news’ – the Fall, the Flood, S & G etc.

    • #5 by literalbible on June 26, 2009 - 5:25 pm

      Um, Christian, you took my words out of context. :) Of course the Good News isn’t just that God created the world, but that is a part of it. You can’t just say that Jesus died on a cross and rose again. He had to die for something, right? Just don’t take me out of context again! ;)

      • #6 by Christian Beyer on June 26, 2009 - 7:11 pm

        Sorry that you feel that way L.B. I am not disregarding the second or third parts of what said, but…

        I don’t think that the particular details of how God created the universe is part of the Good News. Suffice it to say that he did create everything and that is good news but it does not matter whether it took 6 days or 600 billion.

        Jesus did die for something. Was he the sacrificial substitute for us? The payment required to make us right with God? I don’t see it that way. This idea of Penal Substitionary Atonement has the stamp of mankind on it, not God’s. WE cannot suffer the idea that God’s grace is just that – grace. No payment necessary.

  4. #7 by Christian Beyer on June 25, 2009 - 10:30 pm

    BTW,Gentlemen (and the occasional lady), if I haven’t told you, I really appreciate this conversation. I want to thank you all for your thoughts. This is the only reason why I do this blogging thing. These kinds of controversial yet civil engagements are not easy to find in my neck of the wood (although I still have Jack and Bev, since Bruce deserted me). Please, let’s keep the ball rolling. Even though we might disagree – no especially because we disagree – I find myself learning. (Even from Logio)

  5. #8 by netprophet on June 25, 2009 - 11:13 pm

    Thanks Chris. I enjoy and learn from these discussions also. I believe you are right that the good news is that Jesus is the Christ and His kingdom is at hand. At least He said that an awful lot of times. Also I believe that the Word of God is not the Bible but Jesus himself… the word made flesh. The “Word” of God after all is what created all things. In the beginning was the Word. There are just too many references to Jesus being the Word of which the Bible speaks and the Holy Spirit is our guide through the written word not the Church or the Pastor. Jesus and His comment that He is the truth, life and the way says it all there is no need for debate over the Bible and I think it is made too much of, and even worshipped, by many Christians. Indeed they use it as a sword but not against Satan, but against non believers or those who don’t believe as they do. It is refreshing to be able to voice our opinions without condemnation. :-)

  6. #9 by logiopath on June 25, 2009 - 11:30 pm

    Deserted you?

    Sheesh. Maybe I deserted Doc, but you?

    P. S. All Doc had to do was give me a $14,000 raise, and match 4% of my 403B, and I may have stayed.

  7. #10 by Christian Beyer on June 29, 2009 - 11:44 am

    Love:

    I do however try to hold an ‘overriding’ awareness inside my own being that the Bible IS perfect

    Sure. But perfect in what way? Are you a literalist like LB? That’s cool, but if so, then there is no dog in this hunt for the two of us.

    But if you believe that some of scripture is metaphor then you have already conceded that it is possible that others are as well. The slippery slope that fundamentalists fear.

    Scripture can be ‘perfect’ without being factual. Just like perfect ‘love’. ;)

  8. #11 by literalbible on July 2, 2009 - 9:51 am

    Dear Christian:

    I’ll start with the Penal Substitution. The reason why God had to send Christ to the Cross was because He demanded a punishment for sin. God is perfectly loving, and He is also perfectly just. God is the creator, ruler, and sustainer of the universe; the King of the Universe, if you will. When humans sin, they rebel, they disobey the King of the Universe. The reason for salvation is to glorify God; if it were for any other reason, then salvation wouldn’t be through the grace of God alone. The same reason for salvation is the reason for condemnation; to the glory of God. Just as God recieves glory from the salvation of men according to His will, so does He recieve glory from punishing sinners and sin. However, even in salvation, the justice of God demands an answer for sin; that answer is the blood of Jesus. This doesn’t nullify free grace, though. Since Jesus Christ was God, then God in fact was paying the debt of sin (“For the wages of sin is death but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 6:23). So God is still giving us a free gift in that we didn’t have to pay what was justly our due; God, through Christ, did it for us. But I want to know Christian, you said that Jesus died for something, but not for sin. So what did He die for?

    Now the Creation and Gospel. The reason why these are interconnected is because we must see why sin is such a big deal to God. You can’t start out saying that Jesus died on the cross, right? You have to say what He died for, that is, our sin. But then what is the importance of sin? We have to see the glory of God, the majesty of God as creator, ruler, and sustainer in order to get a complete, a right view of sin. That is why I start with Creation. That is why I say that God created the world and everything in it, including man, whom He created in His own image. From there we say that man was at one time perfect, but then he rebelled against God, he sinned against God and God cursed him to mortality and removed him from Paradise. Then we can see just how serious God takes sin; not only were Adam and Eve evicted from the Garden, but they were also condemned to die, they had to work the ground to grow crops, and then we have the pains of childbirth (and then the first prophecy of Christ, might I add). Then we go to Christ, and the free grace of God who, while we were yet sinners, gave us His Son. Christ came to earth, was tempted by Satan himself and yet never sinned. He died on the cross to pay the price for our sin, and on the third day He rose from the dead to crush Satan and death under His heel. So repent and believe in the good news of Jesus Christ, through whose blood alone sinners can be saved.

    I’m not saying that you’re wrong, just to be clear. But there’s more to the Gospel than the death of Jesus (even though that is, perhaps, the most important part).

    Dear netprophet:

    You’re right in that Jesus is the living Word of God. But how did you learn about Jesus? It may have been through direct divine revelation, like Paul, but more likely it was through the Bible. Jesus is the Living Word, but the Bible is the Written Word. And what word does Jesus bring us? That God has grace to give to sinners such as you and I, right? That’s the same message of the Bible, the whole Bible! All the Scriptures are about is the history and unfolding of the redemptive plan! I’m not trying the say that the Bible is Jesus or that Jesus is the Bible. However, they both have the same Word of God.

  9. #12 by literalbible on July 4, 2009 - 9:37 am

    Dear Christian:

    You said “As for Buddha, Confucius, Mohammed – I don’t follow them because I follow Christ. I do think that one could follow them AND follow Christ as well.”

    This statement is a denial of Jesus Christ. Jesus said in John 14:6 that He was the only way, the only truth, and the only life; no one comes to the Father except through Christ. Saying that you can follow Buddha and Christ is like saying that you can worship both God and Zeus. You cannot be a Christian and say that you can follow anyone else except for Jesus Christ.

    • #13 by Christian Beyer on July 4, 2009 - 1:25 pm

      LB – are you an U.S. American? If so, do you not also ‘follow’ Thomas Jefferson and James Madison?

      Or do you believe that JFK could not have been a good president because he was a “papist”? Are Roman Catholics off the narrow path? Seventh Day Adventists? Pentecostals? Are they all following the same Christ?

      Did Martin Luther King Jr follow Jesus? Did he not also follow the lead of Gandhi?

      Conversely,I could say that you cannot ‘be a Christian’ and be a capitalist, as Jesus’ teachings certainly were socialist in nature. Or have you given all you have to the poor? Do we rationalize how much we should do for the ‘least of these’? Maybe one cannot be a soldier or a policemen, wielding a ‘sword’ and still be a Christian. Indeed, Jesus’ way is narrow.

      I do not have the answer to those questions, and am more concerned with working out my ‘own’ personal salvation while also very much interested in the ‘salvation’ of my community, culture and country. Absolute theological statements, by their very nature, are usually misleading and often just plain wrong.

      There is a lot of wisdom in the teachings of Buddha and Mohammed. One can follow their teachings, as long as they do not conflict with the Gospel, and still follow the way of Jesus. I am again reminded of the centurion of great faith; there was no mention of him forsaking his oath to Caesar. Unless we are going to read that into the story, which would not be taking scriptures very literally, would it?

  10. #14 by Alex on July 19, 2009 - 10:44 pm

    Christian

    – For an altogether different twist on this, check out this article: http://fatherstephen.wordpress.com/2009/07/11/miracles-and-creation/

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