Miracles in the Bible—especially the miracle of the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead—are a problem for many people. To those who operate within a worldview of naturalism , a miracle is a violation of natural law (naturalism by definition excludes the supernatural). They don’t believe in miracles of any kind, most of all the resurrection.
The historical records of people seeing Jesus after the resurrection are meaningless to naturalists, because the events happened so long ago during a time when people were more prone to believe myths and fables. Of course, naturalists don’t have a problem believing in the existence of Julius Caesar, probably because he never performed any miracles.
Deists don’t go much for miracles either. Thomas Jefferson famously removed all the miracles from the New Testament and published what is known as The Jefferson Bible, or The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth. His goal was to present Jesus as a great moral teacher, without the miracles or the resurrection.
But as C.S. Lewis points out, Jesus doesn’t leave us the option of considering him a “great moral teacher” and then leaving it at that, precisely because His claims regarding his deity were so extravagant. Lewis writes, “He would either be a lunatic—on the level of the man who says he is a poached egg—or else he would be the Devil of Hell. Either this was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse.” 1
Even some theists would rather not bother with any “proofs” for miracles because they don’t consider them convincing. They would rather accept the miracles and the resurrection of Jesus by faith without any corroborating evidence.
So what do we do with the miracles in the Bible, particularly the miracles Jesus did? Can you prove they really happened? And can we appeal to miracles to argue for the existence of God and Jesus? We can, but we have to be smart about doing it. According to the philosopher Doug Geivett, when offering a defense for miracles and the life of Christ, it’s not a good idea to put a lot of weight on just one kind of evidence (in this case, miracles) for the simple reason that it’s hard to overcome “worldview commitments” people have that exclude supernaturalism.
That’s why Geivett offers an approach that may stimulate your own thoughts about miracles and the supernatural. Start with the probability that God (who is supernatural) exists, and then look for anomalies (another word for miracles) that cannot be explained naturalistically (such as the resurrection of Christ). If you start with the premise that God exists, you can then proceed to the idea that miracles are not only possible, but exactly what you would expect from a supernatural being.
And think about this question: If a supernatural being wanted to reveal Himself to His created beings, would He not do so in the form of miracles, which are by definition supernatural events? When you look at miracles in this way, Geivett writes, they act like a kind of “divine signature, confirming God’s actual sponsorship of a particular revelation claim.” 2
Does this mean we should expect miracles in our own lives? Lewis doesn’t think so. In his book, Miracles, Lewis writes, “God does not shake miracles into Nature at random as if from a pepper-caster. They come on great occasions: they are found in the great ganglions of history—not of political or social history, but of that spiritual history which cannot be fully known by men. If your life does not happen to be near one of those great ganglions, how should you expect to see one?” 3
Lewis has a point. Certainly I’ve seen things that can’t be explained naturalistically—the healing of a friend from cancer, the timing of an event that could never have been manipulated—but are these really miracles, or are they simply demonstrations of God working through natural means to accomplish His purposes?
Perhaps we are too quick to call something a “miracle” when it is in fact a normal outpouring of God’s sovereign work in the world. On the other hand, I’ve heard eyewitness accounts of miracles more on the order of what happened in the Bible. In fact, these are consistent with what Lewis says about miracles being found around “heroic missionaries, apostles, or martyrs.” If we were any of those, writes Lewis, “it would be a different matter.”
I suppose it would be exciting to witness a miracle of biblical proportions, but I’m okay if I never do, for two reasons. The first reason is that the most significant miracle in history—the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead—is as real as to me as anything I could see with my own eyes because both the external evidence and my internal experience are real.
The second reason I’m okay if I never witness an actual miracle is because, as Lewis points out, martyrdoms tend to follow miracles. Maybe that’s why God is pretty selective when it comes to miracles. He knows only a few people can handle them. I for one don't know if I could.
1 C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1996), 56.
2 R. Douglas Geivett, “The Evidential Value of Miracles,” in In Defense of Miracles, ed. By R. Douglas Geivett and Gary Habermas (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1997), 179.
3 C. S. Lewis, Miracles (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1969), 174.