Gold Coast Bereans

Out of Ghana, West Africa; Christian hearts and critical minds seeking, speaking and writing the truth with love. This is a conversation of a group of friends, now living in the USA and the UK, who have known each other for more than 20 years.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

MIRACLES, SIGNS, etc. Part 1.

Where have all the miracles gone? by Gaius Columbus

A few weeks ago, my Pastor died after a long illness and despite much prayer by all of us. In my initial distress, I decided to search the internet to see what has been published on the topic of miracles. I googled the words, "where have all the miracles gone”. One of the earlier hits on the list, underscoring its popularity, perhaps, was this blog posting by an atheist

Ignoring for a moment the taunting tone of that piece, does the question posed by this blogger resonate at all? It reminds me of the contest between Elijah and the prophets of Baal, except that, this time, we Christians are the objects of the taunts. Is the core question a valid one? Remember that our Lord too was challenged to perform miracles by scoffers like the Pharisees and even by the thief crucified on the adjacent cross. While He refused to perform miracles on these occasions, there was at least the compelling testimony of His miracles performed among reliable witnesses of the same period.

You and I may rightfully say that most of the Lord's miracles were performed not for spectacle but to satisfy real human needs even though some miracles, like walking on the water, were more utilitarian in nature--the Lord needed to join the disciples, so walked on water--are harder to categorize this way. The point remains though, that miracles were performed fairly often.

In contrast, the modern era seems to be almost totally devoid of the miraculous both within the church and as a testimony to unbelievers. I am not claiming that they are not occurring in parts of the world--perhaps they are--but surely, you will agree that we are no longer seeing miracles at the same rate or of the same order of "unnaturalness" as those performed by Jesus and the Apostles? We all have our own stories of prayers uttered in faith, left unanswered? Can we honestly say that we are seeing today, miraculous intervention to the same degree as recorded by the early Church?

When does the inconvenient truth force a search for new explanations--even explanations as intellectually unsatisfying as, "we simply do not know why?" Like what some in the markets have called "almost trends", there is an "almost trend" towards a complete lack of the truly miraculous.

Increasingly, I am not sure whether I am being fully honest--both to myself and to others--when in a time of need, I urge myself or others to "have faith", to believe a miracle will occur if only I/they get down on knees, seize the promises of scripture and pray. To make such claims despite the overwhelming personal/corporate evidence of divine "silence" in recent times, at times seems self-deceiving or willfully naive. It does not square with the data at hand. Something has changed, folks--we are not now, nor have we for centuries been anything like the church of the first century. Isn't it far better to acknowledge that a "problem" exists so we can honestly start to seek answers to why our experience is at odds with the narratives that we read about in the gospels and Acts?

Now, before you send off some emotional knee-jerk response that satisfies a need to defend "the team", remember you will only be preaching to the choir. I am asking these questions very carefully. I still believe in God's grace to believers and unbelievers, but I ask that you remove your "Chrife” or conventional Christian lenses to look at this question with fresh eyes. Perhaps it might help to think about how you would answer this question if rather than a taunting skeptic, you had to grapple with an unbeliever or perhaps even a believer who was truly and honestly seeking a straight answer.

Where have all the miracles gone, and if you accept the proposition that the frequency and the "wowness" of miracles has diminished, I ask, why? And please don't side-step the issue by telling me how pondering these matters can or will make one go mad. Again, I will be satisfied with a mere, "I don't know" if that is the best (honest) answer you guys can come up with. - Gaius Columbus

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Anonymous TJM Admin said...

As the author of said post, I would like to clarify just a couple of things for you. 1) Yes, I am an atheist. This was not always the case. Truth be told, I am (was) an ordained pastor. 2) the post was written more as a comeback to some emails that I had received from some fundamentalists. Was it meant to be inflammatory? Not really, but it was written to incite discussion.

Miracles. A wonderful word. The problem that I think you are running into here is where we are as a society. We are growing more and more knowledgeable about the world around us everyday. Many things that may once have been thought of as miraculous in previous eras have simple answers to us today. Thus, the term "miracle" gets used less in our day to day terminology. The problem that I have with that term is that it tends to stunt further investigation, thereby impeding the possibility of gaining knowledge.

I do not believe, however, that you should allow a lack of visible miracles to sway your faith. What swayed mine was an insatiable thirst for knowledge.

Let us say that there is a god and that it is the Christian god, for argument's sake. To doubt is quite natural. Even Thomas, a close companion to Jesus, doubted. Not only did he doubt, but he made it quite well known that he did. Did god smite him down? No. Jesus simply offered him proof. If the Christian god is what is depicted in the NT, then certainly he would understand.

January 10, 2008 at 3:41 PM  
Anonymous Gaius Columbus said...

Thanks tjm admin, for your comment and for clarifying your position. Your post was thoughtful and kind and opened the door for dialogue. It appears to me that you have given this matter a fair amount of thought, so I hope you don't mind me asking why you gave up your faith. You mention "insatiable thirst for knowledge" and I am curious to know what you mean by that statement. Please expand.

I too was struck by the Lord Jesus' response to Thomas' question. Many, I think, have misinterpreted Christ's comment to mean Thomas should have "just believed". Like you, I have a slightly different take. I believe the Lord, in physically showing himself to the early believers, confirmed that our faith has to be based on solid evidence--it otherwise becomes merely myth. The evidence that undergirds our faith, however, is broader than what we can physically see with our eyes or touch with our hands. It includes what we can and should reason, infer, and deduce from all of the evidence--both direct and indirect.

Perhaps, then, Jesus' answer to Thomas anticipates a time--like now--when direct visual/auditory evidence is unavailable to seekers. Blessed (and may I add, reasonable), then, is the man or woman who does not insist on direct evidence, alone--"I will only believe, if I physically see Jesus and put my finger in his wounds"--but instead can see evidence more broadly, marshaling all the faculties of his/her mind and heart to correctly appraise what has been written and said about Jesus. For this reason and because I am convinced that God welcomes rather than frowns on rightly framed evidence-seeking, I too feel that Jesus understands my honest questions and wants to answer them. Indeed, the name of this blog arises from the attitude of Christians in Berea who rather than "just believe", critically appraised all that they heard from Paul and were commended for it.

My friends and I have written a few more posts on this matter which will be uploaded soon. These represent our own musings on this difficult topic. I hope you will continue to share with us your own views on this matter. Again, I appreciate the cordial tone of your post--often lacking these days--and hope we can share many more thoughts on this and other interesting topics in the future.

January 11, 2008 at 8:48 AM  

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