Once I had thoroughly engorged myself on turkey, ham, mashed potatoes, pie, pie, and, well, some more pie, I spent some time talking with my brother in law about a slew of topics. We started in politics, moved into history, touched briefly on economics, sociology and, before I had even noticed, we landed in theology/apologetics. And the question of whether or not I believe in the literal-historical truth of the book of Jonah came up, as it usually does in these kinds of conversations.
It went something like this:
T: “So do you think the Bible is, like, allegorical or literal? I mean, do you believe that a man was really swallowed by a whale and lived to tell about it?”
H:“Yeah. I believe it to be literally-historically true.”
T: “Why? How?”
H: “Well, I believe in God. If God exists, the miraculous is neither impossible nor philosophically problematic.”
T: “Go on…”
H: “Okay. Well, you see…”
And what followed was a (roughly) two and a half hour discussion about the Bible, God, and the reason why Christ’s death was an absolutely necessary historical event.
But it began with the question of the miraculous. So I’ll pose it you:
On what grounds can we justifiably believe in the miraculous (specifically, the miraculous events of the Bible)?
My answer was twofold:
1. The existence of God
2. The self-revelation of God to Israel/in Christ
The Existence of God
Before fully engaging in discussion concerning the plausibility and/or possibility of the miraculous, I think it is necessary to acknowledge the fact that while we are at a loss to explain how the miraculous events of the Bible may have taken place, this doesn’t ipso facto negate the plausibility/possibility of the miraculous. Seeing as our scientific knowledge is severely limited – being at best a “working knowledge” of a fraction of the known universe, and being the product of inductive reasoning (i.e. being subject to constant revision, alteration, etc) – could it be that that the miraculous events of the Bible perhaps did not “break”, “defy”, or “bend” any known physical laws, but acted in accordance with such laws as they (i.e. those physical laws) operated under historically unique conditions?
Maybe. Maybe not. We aren’t in a position to make an absolute judgment on the matter – either affirmatively or negatively.
My point, to put it succinctly, is simply this: Because our knowledge of the universe is not exhaustive, whether or not the miraculous events of the Bible took place cannot be conclusively decided upon the basis of our knowledge of how the universe works. Our inability to conceive of a “natural” explanation of how these events happened doesn’t invalidate them. And although this fact may not be enough to fully establish that the miraculous events did occur, it does reveal the shaky foundation upon which naturalistic criticisms of the miraculous lay. The implausibility and/or impossibility of the miraculous occurring cannot be decided upon absolutely by reference to our limited knowledge of how things work.
Again: We aren’t in a position to make an absolute judgment on the matter – either affirmatively or negatively.
Although it does raise a question that begs for an answer from the skeptic:
If a “natural” explanation is, therefore, at the least plausible/possible, then denying the supernatural doesn’t ipso facto negate the possible historical reality (albeit under unique conditions that are irrepeatable in nature) of the miraculous events recorded in the Bible. And if this is so, which it is, then upon what grounds are the miraculous events described in the Bible denied?
See, how one responds to the question of the miraculous is not entirely dependent upon one’s knowledge of how things work, but also upon one’s metaphysical posture.
Does God exist?
If one concludes that God does exist, then the miraculous events recorded in the Bible are infinitely more plausible/possible.
If one concludes that God doesn’t exist, the plausibility/possibility of the reality of the miraculous still remains.
The Self Revelation of God to Israel/The Self Revelation of God in Christ
In Deuteronomy 4:32-39, Moses has something interesting to tell the nation of Israel just before he dies and they enter the promised land. We read:
32 “For ask now concerning the days that are past, which were before you, since the day that God created man on the earth, and ask from one end of heaven to the other, whether any great thing like this has happened, or anything like it has been heard. 33 Did any people ever hear the voice of God speaking out of the midst of the fire, as you have heard, and live? 34 Or did God ever try to go and take for Himself a nation from the midst of another35 To you it was shown, that you might know that the LORD Himself nation, by trials, by signs, by wonders, by war, by a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, and by great terrors, according to all that the LORD your God did for you in Egypt before your eyes? is God; there is none other besides Him. 36 Out of heaven He let you hear His voice, that He might instruct you; on earth He showed you His great fire, and you heard His words out of the midst of the fire. 37 And because He loved your fathers, therefore He chose their descendants after them; and He brought you out of Egypt with His Presence, with His mighty power, 38 driving out from before you nations greater and mightier than you, to bring you in, to give you their land as an inheritance, as it is this day. 39 Therefore know this day, and consider it in your heart, that the LORD Himself is God in heaven above and on the earth beneath; there is no other.
Moses is reminding the people that their history is intentionally unique. These miraculous events weren’t everyday occurrences, but were given for the purpose of God’s revelation of Himself to Israel, which is important because we often lose sight of why the miraculous is recorded in the Bible. It isn’t simply for the sake of making us “Ooh” and “Ahh.” Instead, the miraculous events recorded in the Bible point to God’s special/irrepeatable action in the salvation of the Israelites, and to His general/constant interaction with His creation as Creator- i.e. His identity as the only true and living Savior/Creator God.
Following the Biblical narrative, we learn that Israel’s purpose is bring forth the Messiah, who would fully reveal God to man.
And how would He do this?
By special/irrepeatable miraculous events, the greatest of which would be His resurrection from the dead.
So how does this strengthen the case for the historical reality of the miraculous?
By underscoring the purpose-specific nature of the miraculous events recorded in the Bible. If the miraculous occurred for the sake of God’s self-revelation to/through Israel and in Christ to the all of humanity, then where is the problem one finds with the irrepeatability of the recorded events?
Now, I’m not affirming or denying that miracles presently occur, but I do think that the Bible gives us reason to believe that such miracles, seeing as the canon of Scripture is closed/finished, are no longer necessary. This is especially so when we consider that the author of Hebrews tells us that God has finally spoken to us/revealed Himself in the Person of His Son – the Lord Jesus Christ. He writes:
1 God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, 2 has in these last days spoken to us by His Son[…]
If God exists and desires to express His identity as Creator and Savior, then where is the problem?
Wouldn’t the very limited, irrepeatable nature of the miraculous events recorded in Scripture give an even stronger basis for taking the given record (i.e. the Bible) seriously?