I once asked a non-Christian friend of mine what it would take for him to believe in God. He replied that he would need to see undeniable evidence of his existence through an amazing miracle. I’ve often heard this question asked, and when pressed as to what this miracle might be, people say things like “God writing my name in the stars” or something equally spectacular. While this is a response no doubt familiar to Christians the world over, it reflects a concern shared by believers and unbelievers alike. Skeptics might state it as my friend did, but many Christians will echo a similar feeling when they ask questions like, “Why doesn’t God do incredible miracles today like he did in the times of the Bible?”
Despite there being various assumptions behind that question, such as the belief that God does not in fact do such miracles today–which many would argue he does–I believe it does raise an important issue to do with our desire for spectacular signs to support our belief in God. Isn’t it as easy as a click of the fingers for God to move a mountain or part a sea once again? If so, why doesn’t God do it? Wouldn’t it be more loving of him to show himself in miracles to everyone?
While dozens of books and articles have treated such questions with far more depth than I would be able to here, I would like to offer a couple of thoughts on this question. Firstly, arguing from an example we find in the Bible, I’ll suggest that miracles, even of the “undeniable” type, do not necessarily lead to faithful belief. Secondly, I will try to lead the question to its logical outcome by asking what particular miracle would be good enough to meet the demand. This post will be looking at the first point, and the second will be covered in part two.
My first point is this: we think that an incredible public or personal miracle would certainly lead to unshakeable faith, but this assumption is mistaken. Although I could talk about instances from my own experience, or indeed from the life of Jesus, let’s consider the nation of Israel as seen in the biblical book of Exodus as our example. It is a familiar story how God dramatically delivered the Israelites from Egyptian slavery through a series of remarkable miracles. Not only did God send ten separate plagues and part the Red Sea to ensure Israel’s safe escape, but in the desert he led the people with pillars of fire and cloud when they were lost, made water come out of a stone when they were thirsty, sent bread and meat from heaven when they were hungry and defeated their enemies when they were under threat. All in all, I think these are exactly the kinds of fantastic miracles that come to mind when we think of something that would make belief undeniable.
But how did the people that witnessed these unforgettable miracles respond? While the second act of the story is perhaps less familiar to many–the Prince of Egypt movie didn’t go on to that part–Psalm 78, sums it up well:
“In the sight of their fathers he performed wonders…Yet they sinned still more against the Most High in the desert. They tested God in their heart by demanding the food they craved. They spoke against God saying, ‘Can God spread a table in the desert?’”
In other words the result of God working some of the most awesome, seemingly undeniable miracles ever recorded was that they continued in sin and continued to demand even more miracles. This completely contradicts our assumption that even one such miracle would provide enough evidence for belief for modern day skeptics. For the people of Israel–and we shouldn’t fool ourselves into thinking our nature is any different than theirs–the miracles, incredible though they were, did not convince them because on the inside they didn’t really want to believe. In fact, when you read on, it was only when God took away the miracles and punished them for their rebellion that they really turned to God.
This is very revealing for the way in which things continue to work today. Isn’t it interesting that rather than in the times of peace and prosperity, it’s in the times of crisis that our culture seems to turn to God? Just think of church numbers shooting up in the wake of 9/11 for proof of this.
Perhaps the reason is this: miracles are not the basis for true relationship; desire for relationship is. If you desire relationship with God, you will appreciate his miracles and they will strengthen your faith. If you are resistant to relationship with him, then you can, and probably will, find a way to maintain your skepticism in the face of any miracle he could possibly work for you. In other words, although we think that by doing some incredible miracle God would finally convince us, the truth about the way we humans work is that there is really no guarantee that this will be the case.