“But do you really think the miracles in the Bible happened?”
This question was posed to me by my friend Edith. She is courageous, generous, kind and open. She’s also an atheist. She’s fine with me having a faith, but in her experience, Christians are not well-considered, thoughtful people. I think until she met me she had not really met a Christian who could ‘give an answer for the hope they had’. So she’s curious about how I can be a Christian and interested in the sciences, popular culture, and feminism, and she asks me questions about things like miracles in the Bible.
This is not an article about apologetics – defending the faith to outsiders – or evangelism. It’s about doubt. Because it’s not just Edith who has trouble believing that miracles happened. It’s me too.
When she asked me the question about miracles, everything within me wanted to say, “Oh no, of course I don’t believe they actually happened!” Because it does seem kind of far-fetched doesn’t it? Feeding five thousand people from five loaves and two fish? Instant healing for men whom everyone knew to be paralysed, or blind from birth? Not to mention a resurrection after three days in a tomb! What kind of modern person believes such things?! Surely the more reasonable thing is to believe, as she does, that the Gospel stories are more like legends, fantastical stories that have emerged out of true events, but blown well out of proportion.
There are lots of great books you can read on why the Gospel accounts are reliable, but I have found few things as good as reading the Gospels themselves when I am confronted with questions like these.
The first reason it’s good to read the Four Gospels is because it’s hard to see the people ‘back then’ as all that different to us. Words like ‘amazed’ and ‘astonished’ litter the Gospels. Jesus’ miracles seemed fantastical and unreal to them as well! This gives a ring of authenticity to the Gospels — it’s not like people were taken in by any charlatan who came along. The Temple leaders planned to destroy Jesus not because he was a fake but because he was all too credible.
In the Gospels, there are also people who don’t believe. Doubting Thomas gets a bad rap for refusing to believe Jesus unless he could could see the nail marks and put his hand into his side, but he seems pretty reasonable to Doubting Tamie, asking for a bit of evidence for such an outrageous claim. Like us, faith without seeing was a big jump for the people of Jesus’ time.
Seeing what the people of Jesus’ time were like helps me to see that my doubts are actually pretty normal, and that I likely would have had them even if I had been there at the time. But when I read the Gospels I not only see the people who were there, I also see Jesus. I am confronted with Him.
The One who provides for hungry people.
The One who is calm as the storm swirls around him — and quells it along with his disciples’ fear.
The One who heals women and men made outcasts by their afflictions, and dignifies them in the process.
The One over whom death has no hold, and who takes me with him from death to life.
And I realise He is not just someone I can believe in. He is someone I want to believe in.
When Jesus died on that cross, the world went dark. But it is dark no longer, and I don’t want to live as if it continues to be dark. Because Jesus is the bringer of life, and life to the full.
There are many people in the world like my friend Edith, who manage to be ‘good people’ even though they do not know Jesus, but for me, it is about far more than being personally good. It is this Jesus who invites us to build a beautiful new world with him, one from which one day He will sweep the remaining sin and brokenness and tears and tarnishes and ugliness and chaos. His miracles not only tell me that He can, but that He will and He will delight to. So in my doubt, I fix my eyes on Him.
Tamie hails from Adelaide and lives in Tanzania with her husband and two sons. In partnership with CMS Australia, they work with the Tanzanian Fellowship of Evangelical Students (TAFES). Tamie and Arthur's blog can be read here