I like the above image, because it’s so absurd. Not that the miracle itself is absurd, but that someone could see such a thing and still dismiss it.
A while back, we had a discussion on this blog about the effectiveness of miracles. Not the “oh, my aunt has a friend that knows someone who had back pain until it was prayed over and now it’s gone” variety, but amazing, in-your-face miracles that simply can’t be explained. Like seeing a man walk on the sea. Or seeing someone whose legs are atrophied because he was lame from birth suddenly begin running and jumping on legs that have been fully restored. Or seeing an ocean separate before you so that you could walk on dry land between two walls of water. In other words, the kinds of miracles talked about in the Bible.
What would it be like to witness something like that?
Before we tackle that question, let’s consider the actual purpose of miracles in more detail. Take, for example, the account of Peter and John healing the lame man in Acts 3. Here, Peter and John encounter a man at the gate of the temple who had been lame from birth. He asked for alms, but Peter replied that he had no silver or gold; instead, he commanded the lame man to walk in the name of Jesus. Of course, the lame man was then able to leap up and run around. This was a marvelous thing to do for a lame person — and obviously, one of the main reasons Peter and John healed him was because they had compassion on him.
But it’s also apparent that the miracle served another purpose:
And all the people saw him walking and praising God, and recognized him as the one who sat at the Beautiful Gate of the temple, asking for alms. And they were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him.
While he clung to Peter and John, all the people, utterly astounded, ran together to them in the portico called Solomon’s. And when Peter saw it he addressed the people…
— vs 9-12
Peter suddenly had the attention of everyone who saw the miracle or recognized the lame man. And that’s no surprise. Just imagine how you’d feel if you had witnessed such a thing — if you had seen the atrophied legs grow and take shape. Wouldn’t you be inclined to listen to whatever Peter and John might have to say? You’d already be inclined to believe something fantastic, because there’s no natural explanation for what you would have witnessed with the lame man. And as we see in verse 4 of the next chapter, many of the witnesses believed what Peter and John said and became Christians.
The Bible is actually fairly consistent in its use of miracles. For instance, John 20:30-31 says this:
Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.
In Genesis 41, when Joseph has an opportunity to decipher the meaning behind Pharaoh’s dreams, he first recounts the dreams back to Pharaoh (something he couldn’t have known on his own) as a sign that God is speaking to him. Centuries later, when God tells Moses to go to Egypt and deliver the Children of Israel, God performs miracles so Moses will have faith in his power. During Moses’ discussions with Pharaoh and the subsequent Exodus, miracles are used many times to show people God’s will. Gideon was shown miracles so he would trust in God’s instructions. In the New Testament, Jesus performed many miracles to show people that he had been sent from God, and his apostles later followed suit. Thomas was allowed to touch the wounds in Jesus’ hands and side, since he was having trouble believing what he was seeing. Paul was given a miracle on his way to Damascus to show him that his persecution of Christians was wrong.
Throughout the Bible, miracles are used as evidence. They are used to convince people who were not convinced by other means.
So if that’s how God operated in the Bible, why don’t we see miracles today? Again, I’m not talking about the anecdotes you hear about someone’s back pain going away. I’m talking about real, immediate miracles that can be witnessed. There’s a book and website called Why Won’t God Heal Amputees? It’s a great question. Just imagine what a game-changer it would be if you turned on the major news networks one day and saw a person’s limb grow back through the power of prayer. And not just that person’s, but many others as well. How could such an event be explained away?
So why doesn’t God do that? If he performed miracles in the past so that people would believe, why doesn’t he do it now?
Some believers will say God doesn’t do those kinds of miracles today, because they don’t convince many people. To illustrate this, they point to the episodes in the gospels where Jesus performed a miracle, but it failed to convince the Pharisees and other religious leaders of the day. But really, how likely is this? If you were to witness an amputee’s leg grow back, would you really deny it? What would you have to gain by doing so? If someone demonstrated that kind of power, wouldn’t you want to know whatever message they had to give?
And if that were true about the Pharisees and chief priests, etc, why did Jesus bother doing the miracles? And why does the Gospel of John say that the miracles were performed so that people could believe? Obviously, the miracles must have been at least somewhat effective — and if God wants everyone to be saved, wouldn’t even one additional person’s belief be worth doing those kinds of miracles today?
In fact, if you really think about it, when the gospels repeatedly say that Jesus’ miracles failed to convince the religious leaders of the day, it probably says much more about the quality of the “miracles” being performed than it does the mindset of those who weren’t convinced.
When it comes down to it, most people are not obstinate enough to deny reality when it’s staring them in the face. Think of every movie you’ve ever seen where one character is trying to convince another of something fantastic. Let’s take Back to the Future as an example, since most people should be familiar with it. When Marty was trying to convince Doc Brown that he was from the future, Doc was very skeptical. Even when Marty tried to prove it by saying who was President in 1985, etc. Those were all details that could have been made up. But once Marty could explain how Doc Brown got the bump on his head, Doc realized Marty could not have known that through sheer intuition. And finally, the most logical explanation for everything was that Marty was telling the truth and had actually come from the future. But if Doc had held out and refused to believe even if Marty showed him the DeLorean and took him on a trip through time, the story would have lost its believability — and not because of the time travel premise.
In the same way, if it became a known fact that prayer could visibly heal people of egregious injuries, there would be no rational reason to dis-believe it. In other words, to answer our original question, miracles would be very convincing. And there doesn’t seem to be any good reason why God would refuse to use them. So the fact that they don’t happen is very good evidence to me that the Christian god is simply imaginary.