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Do Miracles Happen?

Story after story of miraculous healing.  That’s a good description of a two-volume book Craig Keener has written.  Keener is a very well respected, mainstream Scripture scholar who, for much of his life, wondered what to make of miracles.  He grew up as an atheist and tends, especially as a scholar, to be skeptically minded.  So, over the years since he became a Christian and began pursuing biblical scholarship, he’s wondered.

A little over ten years ago, he decided to apply his scholarly training to this question.  While his faith inclined him to believe that he might find a number of credible miracle accounts, the number he was able to vet far exceeded anything he expected.  After eliminating those which could be explained some other way—fraud, delusion, psychosomatically, an anomaly, etc.—he was left with thousands of credible modern accounts that could either be documented as medically inexplicable or pass the test of rigorous historical examination.  Each uncannily happened somehow in the context of faith and prayer, which leads to his conclusion of supernatural causation.  You can read all about his research in Miracles: The Credibility of the New Testament Accounts.

I confess that I’ve always been skeptical of miracles.  The only miracle I need in order to believe in Christ is the Resurrection.  In fact, to be totally honest, I find both Jesus’ miracles as recorded in the Gospels and modern miracle reports problematic.  The main reason is that, as a modern person living in a scientific world, they’re hard to accept. 

I would prefer to believe something like the Jefferson Bible.  As a child of the Enlightenment, Thomas Jefferson was terribly uncomfortable with the miraculous.  So, he rewrote the Gospels but took out all the miracles!  That’s my kind of Bible. 

When I came to faith, the only reason I entertained Jesus’ miracles in the first place is because the other evidence for Christianity—especially for the miracle of all miracles, the Resurrection—is so good.  Of course, I kept looking for naturalistic explanations for them.  It’s only because the historical evidence for Jesus’ miracles, I later found, is so good that I feel compelled to believe in them.  And, it’s only because of Keener’s book that I now feel compelled to believe that modern miracles are possible and that, while most miracle reports don’t prove credible, credible ones do happen with some regularity.

The biggest objection that is leveled against the miracles of Jesus isn’t that the historical evidence isn’t there—it is, and it’s too good, too overwhelming, to refute.  The biggest objection is philosophical: Science has shown that the supernatural, miracles, are impossible.  In other words, because we don’t have any empirical evidence for the miraculous it’s not possible for Jesus to have performed them, no matter how good the historical evidence is.  

But, Keener’s book provides that empirical evidence!  It shows that the miraculous is possible.  It shows that credible accounts are made with some regularity.  It effectively erases or, at the very least, neutralizes the  philosophical objection.  And, given the historical evidence, it makes Jesus’ miracles entirely credible.

There’s another reason I’m uncomfortable with miracles: They happen too arbitrarily.  Why doesn’t everyone who seeks a miracle receive one?  This arbitrariness doesn’t seem consistent with a loving God.  Next week I’ll address this question.

Where do you stand on this question?  Do you have trouble accepting miracles?  You can share your thoughts with me on the “Contact E.J.” page of the Raising Jesus website.  I look forward to hearing from you!

About Me

E.J. Sweeney is a true skeptic. He needs to see to believe. Hard Evidence. Compelling Proof. Solid Logic. This is what he believes in. In college, he encountered questions that the superficial faith he was raised on couldn’t handle. So he began a quest for Truth, a quest for the answers to life’s ultimate questions.

EJ Sweeney

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