Faith, Miracles, and the Kingdom of God.
David Hume once proposed: ‘Upon the whole, we may conclude, that the Christian religion not only was at first attended with miracles, but even at this day cannot be believed by any reasonable person without one’ (see David Hume, Of Miracles, in An Inquiry Concerning Human Understanding, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007, p.115).
While Hume may have been an atheist, a denier of the Christian God and of the real possibility of miracles, he does make an important point, one worth a little exploring.
How does one become a Christian? It’s an interesting question when one considers the idea of Christian evangelism and the effort Christians often put into convincing unbelievers of the rationality of their faith. It’s even a question that digs into the understandings and debates concerning the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper, but that’s for another time. The truth, however, is that winning people to Christ is impossible, for us that is. It’s an impossible task to convince anyone of the truth of Christ through our own efforts, no matter how brilliant and well executed our arguments may be, no matter how much polish we rub into the exterior shell of our lives. Without a person’s heart and mind being first inclined towards God, the task remains futile. It’s like watering a rock and expecting it to bloom, – well, you get the picture.
It is here that every Christian is eventually confronted with his own limits, the finitude of his own powers, as he learns to accept God as the only capable first and final cause of transformation, the only one able to take a heart of stone and make it a heart of flesh (Ezekial 36:26). For an unbeliever to become a believer, it takes a miracle.
The good news is that through the power of the gospel, God works miracles, it’s what he does, maybe through me, perhaps through you, but always through the dynamo of his living Word.
Perhaps the first miracle that must occur in the hearts and minds of unbelievers is the ability to have faith in miracles themselves. Of course this line of thought loses its validity if miracles are improperly defined. After all, finding a carpark on Christmas Eve or winning the lottery may seem to defy the odds, but that doesn’t qualify them as miracles.
From a theological point of view, miracles are not the result of secondary causes operating under the laws of nature. While secondary causes may be involved with miracles, it is still a supernatural act through which forces of nature are used outside of the ordinary that classifies it as miraculous.
A denial of miracles in this sense, would put into question fundamental Christian beliefs including the incarnation, the resurrection, special revelation, and the providence of God. These central aspects of Christian belief defy human rationality (see 1 Corinthians 2:14). They cannot be scientifically proven beyond any doubt and require faith that can only be born from the transforming work of Christ; the work of a faith-creating miracle.
It could be argued that in order to have faith in the Christian God, one must be enabled to believe in and embrace miracles themselves, miracles without which the Christian faith cannot stand. After all, faith in what can be known, faith in the absence of miracle and mystery, is really obsolete. If everything concerning God could be explained rationally and with scientific proof, faith in God and his work would no longer be faith, and God would no longer be God. Our minds in this sense would have become equal with the mind of God, no longer needing faith in anything outside of ourselves, that is, humanism.
There’s something very freeing in all of this, a weight off of the Christian’s shoulders. If the mysterious growth of God’s Kingdom is all in his hands (Mark 4:26-29), and if faith is a gift only available through the transforming power of Christ’s Word, we Christians can live free of this burden, and consequently also free to serve the God to whom our faith is tied and the people whom he loves.
Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them everything I have commanded you (Matthew 28:19-20a).
- Ben Swift