The Proven-Miracle Paradox

Suppose a certain miracle does, in fact, happen. Now, every skeptic that hears of this miracle wants proof. So the miracle is repeated and proved. If the miracle is repeated to every skeptic that ever exists, is it still a miracle, considering that a miracle is a rare event?

I call this the “Proven-Miracle Paradox.”  After searching my mental database and Google’s, I cannot find this paradox; if you do find it elsewhere, please let me know.  When setting up a story-line in a previous post The God You Can See, I noticed this paradox creeping up.  Proving a miracle presents a problem by nature of a miracle.

tough questionThe problem is that miracles are defined to be an “unusual event.” Therefore, if enough people see it happening enough times, it is no longer unusual. It could even be argued that it is now a natural occurrence or phenomenon. But miracles are thought to supernatural, not natural! The Proven-Miracle Paradox reveals something about the skeptic, something about the miracle, and something about God.

About the Skeptic

For the skeptic, the Proven-Miracle paradox begs another question. Why did the skeptic ask for proof of a miracle in the first place, when universal proof only diminishes the miracle? The skeptic has not thought out the entire process. Is it fair that everyone gets to see the miracle, or does that one skeptic have a privileged advantage? But while giving proof to the one skeptic, he cannot confirm it to others without making the miraculous disappear. The skeptic is correct in saying, “I will believe in the supernatural when I see a miracle.”  But he cannot say, “I can prove to others that I have seen something besides a hallucination.”  Nor can multiple skeptics have a fair share in saying “I believe in the supernatural because I see a miracle.”  Perhaps the skeptic had already dismissed the possibility of a miracle, by making a predetermined, biased judgment. Perhaps the skeptic really did not want to accept a real God, so he devised a test that would knowingly fail.

About That Miracle

Let’s conclude that the miracle cannot be proven on a universal level. Then, in order for sensible people to accept the miracle, there must be something else about it that carries weight. One way for this to happen is to have enough witnesses gathered within the vicinity of a single rare event. Also, the miracle has to have significance; it cannot be arbitrary. If a skeptic demands to see a wooden desk float, what does it mean? Does it mean that the law of gravity is inconsistent, leading to the conclusion that physical laws are not always consistent? Does it mean that a demon is making the desk float, or a god? And which god? The god of wooden desks? Rather, if the miracle is said to be a sign, it should point to other facts or statements in a meaningful way, much like a traffic sign does. It should “connect the dots.”

Now About God

The Proven Miracle Paradox seems to be a problem for God. How can He prove Himself to be miraculous in a fair, universal way? And yet we’ve seen that miracles can carry weight through other means. If a real God arranged a miracle, how could that miracle be the most advantageous? We’ve ruled out universal proof with our paradox. Take the case of Jesus as God. The miracle of His resurrection was directly observable by more than 500 witnesses. (1 Cor. 15:3-8). Rather than dying again and again until everyone in existence could see, Jesus accomplished this miraculous feat once. The effective means was taking 500+ good witnesses, people who would testify even through the pains of death. We know for certain that the witness of the resurrection spread globally and continued to be accepted for 2000 years.

The miracle of the virgin birth of Christ takes the effectiveness of significance. It puts the “sign” in “sign-ificance.” We are not asking “What is the significance of any virgin birth,” but rather “What is the significance of the virgin birth of Jesus Christ?”

Isaiah 7:14 “Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.”

This verse is one of many prophecies.  The “sign” points not only to a virgin birth, but to the name Immanuel, meaning “God with us.”  So this was one sign pointing to Jesus as God revealed.

Luke 2:12 “And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.”

The significance of shepherds coming to see Jesus is two-fold.  Bethlehem was known as the city of David, the shepherd who became king, an ancestor king of Jesus.  The shepherds were also looking upon the one to be called “Lamb of God,” who would take away the need for animal sacrifices.

Prophecies preceded the virgin birth, and signs led the shepherds and later the wise men to worship the baby.  Then, when the baby had grown to maturity, he spoke of such things as being “born of the Spirit.”  Jesus’ many miracles were not discounted by witnesses, but they were not accepted by all.  The miracles of healing were not good enough for the more religious people.  Some were too legalistic to accept what Jesus’ miracles signified; others would have preferred a ‘miracle’ of victory in war.  Jesus’ miracles focused on life – by means of healing, feeding, and resurrection.  So the virgin birth of Jesus is not any random virgin birth.  It is not the first freak incident of parthenogenesis in humans.  Neither is it a miracle simply for the point of proving the existence of the supernatural.  The virgin birth is the birth of a sinless, immortal human fashioned in the original image of God.  Jesus would go on to exhibit his incredible trait of being immune to staying dead.  And He would make this trait available to be transferred to any who accept.  Who is the giver of life?  Who originally made a man without the use of a man?  The God of the Bible, who creates with His word. (See John chapter 1.  The perfect will of God is shown to be active both in the original creation and the special creation through the virgin birth.) This God is the supernatural agent to which all signs of Jesus point.

Summary

Let’s recap.  Based on the Proven-Miracle Paradox, we get the following conclusions.  If you repeat a miracle enough times in front of enough people, it’s no longer unusual.  A skeptic, hoping to provide proof of a miracle, would never accumulate enough empirical evidence.  A God who relies solely on miracles for proof of His existence is apparently doomed to fail in His revelations.  A God who ties miracles with logic, history, and meaning is the God who will succeed.  The God of the Bible uses all these to prove His existence.

The God You Can See

god in sky2

A young man named Josh sat on a park bench with his frazzled head in his hands. “If only I could see God right now. Then I’d believe in Him.”

A gentle voice responded. “I can do that for you.” The flustered man sat up. An old lady had taken a seat next to him. “I have good connections. If you want to see God, just let me know how.”

Josh laughed at first, but noticed the woman was serious. “Heck, I’ll give it a try.” He thought for a moment. “Lightning. I want to see a good lightning show, in my backyard, tonight.”

“Very well. Consider it done.”

Josh was still laughing later that evening as he eased in his recliner; still, he couldn’t help but pause and check out the back window. “Yeah, right,” he told himself after an hour. Just as Josh was about to fall asleep right there, he heard a rumble and jerked his head around. His back yard was pitch-black. CRACK! He ran to swing open the back door. CRACK! BANG! BOOM! For a good half hour, lightning danced in earth-shattering power. Josh’s jaws hung open for most the show. For the next half hour, he called everyone he knew, friends, family, neighbors, waking everyone he knew in the middle of the night just to tell them what he’d seen. “I must say, I do believe in a God,” he added. Very tired, Josh went to sleep and dreamed that lightning resumed its show for the rest of the night.

The next morning, Josh turned on the news as usual. There was quite the story. “Dan Smith reporting here from Europe. What started in Ohio has spread across the globe in a matter of hours. Lightning has covered the world. Some people think it’s because they’re asking God to put on a lightning show – This is obviously an unfounded claim. Meteorologist Steve has determined that there is a new weather phenomenon, called global lightning chains, where all lightning storms join into one global network. Steve can see the friction in the clouds, the electricity in the lightning, but he can’t see God. Psychiatrists believe that a coincidence happened in Ohio where one man linked lightning to God. After that, everyone coincidentally linked these lightning storms to God. It’s now been scientifically proven; whether you pray to God or not, there is 99% chance you’ll see lightning within two hours.” Just as Dan said this, lightning struck in Josh’s back yard.

Back at the park, Josh sat on the same bench with his head in his hands. A voice next to him inquired, “So what happened, my friend?”

Josh wouldn’t sit up this time. “I don’t understand. Lightning should have proved God’s existence, but now there’s lightning all the time. Lightning is a natural, normal, common event now. Noone thinks it has anything to do with God.”

“You couldn’t help but tell all your friends, could you? I’ll tell you what happened next. Your friends, thinking it only fair that God should answer their same prayer, demanded He put on a lightning show for each one of them. As God complied, the news spread to their friends, relatives, and neighbors. It didn’t take long for lightning to cover the world.”

“I thought I dreamt it went on all night.”

“Those rocket scientists on the news don’t see our hearts speaking to God. All they can see is the movement of water droplets and the movement of people’s mouths.”

“I bet if they saw God’s face sharp across the sky, they’d have to believe.”

“Tomorrow they will.”

“Really? You can really do that?”

Sure enough, the next day, God’s face was on the news. “I guess we have to believe in God now.” Josh jumped and clapped his hands for joy. “Thank you, God. That should shut them up for a long time.”

Josh went about town, whistling and proudly wearing a new cross necklace. The evening news would change his tune. “Dan reporting…” The somber anchorman could not seem to face the screen in the background. From a war-zone, a reporter spoke in between bombings. “It all started when one ethnic group said … God looked more like… them. The other group claimed… they saw God’s lips say… ‘No, they don’t.’ This is Amber… coming to you from Cuba.” Then another reporter came on. “What you’re seeing in this Japanese sky is another god. Some believe a new kind of hologram has been developed, a 3D hologram that puts a giant face in the sky. If this were true, it would cast doubt on the other famous ‘face of God.’”

The next day found Josh back on the park bench. He looked like the Thinker statue. “Why doesn’t it work? You’d think God showing his face would solve everything. Instead, epic fail, global backfire. Maybe I just need a god that makes me happy. Who cares what anyone else thinks?”

“Here you go. Rub it and make as many wishes as you’d like.” She placed an ancient oil lamp into his hands.

The next day, Josh came back, frustrated as ever. “You told me to rub this lamp and make wishes. Nothing happened. Nothing at all. I’m beginning to really doubt this God thing.”

The old lady seemed to be holding back a burst of laughter. “Are you looking for a God, or are you looking for a genie? Anyone with that much power isn’t going to serve at your beck and call. I knew the lamp wouldn’t work when I gave it to you. God is real, but genies are a myth.” A dog sniffed Josh’s hand, startling him for a moment. The old lady had brought a stray dog with her. “I brought something else today.”

“A dog?”

“And two choices. Two choices for our buddy Rusty here.” She handed Josh a paper bag with two items inside. One was a hunk of steak, the other a paper-back book. Josh held out an item in each hand, and Rusty didn’t take a whole second to decide on steak. The woman smiled. “As far as Rusty is concerned, you’re his God. He can see you, and you give him good things. Rusty has used the highly scientific tool of direct observation.”

“Oh, I get it. I’m just like a dog, because I want to see my Master and get my wishes granted.”

“No. God wouldn’t treat you like that. Yes, Rusty has a good sense of sight, a better sense of hearing, and a fantastic sense of smell. You, on the other hand, have been given other heightened senses. Your senses of conscience and rationality have been designed so that you can perceive God. And somehow I feel that you’re looking to God for more than a steak for satisfaction.” She nodded toward the book.

Josh held up the book. “The Case for Faith. We’ll just have to see how good this is. That steak didn’t look all too bad.” He shared a smile with her.

For a month, Josh didn’t return to the park. Five weeks after receiving the book, Josh came back with a woman and two small children. The old lady sat contentedly with Rusty. Josh got her attention. “Ahem. I never got your name.”

“Just call me Florence.”

“Well, Florence, I’d like you to meet my wife, Kate, and my children Ethan and Emma. Family, this is Florence. This wonderful woman helped me see God. I thought I would find him in the bright flash of lightning, or smiling across the sky, or in magical wishes. Come to find out, God did reveal Himself in human history, but it was the way He wanted to reveal Himself – when and how He wanted. The people who saw Him back then found their own crazy reasons to reject Him. So then I used my heart, mind and soul. I discovered the greatest power ever known to me, my own will-power. It was selfish but strong, inward but unchanging. If my own will could be changed, if God is indeed more powerful than that, it would be proof to me that a higher power exists. When I gave my life to Christ, I saw generosity replace selfishness. Joy replaced depression. Hope replaced fear and doubt. Passions, choices, and old habits changed. I saw God do the impossible.”

As old Florence spoke, you could hear the years of experience in her voice. “God is more concerned you know who He is than you know that He is. You find Him by developing a relationship and understanding His character. You, Josh, saw God in a way that can never be erased by anyone else. Of course, God is infinite. You’ve only seen the tip of the nose on his face, so to speak.”

“And, thanks to God’s changing power, I got back what I really wanted deep inside. The wholeness of getting my family back, and this time I really care about them more than myself. Thank you so much, Florence.”

“Oh, no problem. I’m just passing along the vision of God.”

God-is-more-concerned QUOTE


This story is mostly hypothetical – a thought experiment.  The moral of the story is found by comparing two Gods: a “seen” God who consequently bends to our will, and an “unseen” God who is more powerful than even our will.

If Santa’s Not Real, Who Took the Milk and Cookies?

cookies milk

A young boy, upon finding his present under the tree Christmas morn, paused on the floor.

“Is everything okay, Michael?”  His father asked.

“Father, I’ve never seen Santa.  How did he get the presents in the house?”

“Well, he slides down the chimney, of course.”

“But this is a big present.  How could Santa and the present both fit down?”

“Oh, it wasn’t easy.  Magic dust can shrink things down a size.”

“Then, Father, how does Santa get back to normal?”

“By hopping up on the chair next to the table and eating the cookies we left.”

“But what about the present growing back to size?  And what about kids who don’t have a chimney in their house?  And how does Santa do it all in one night?”

“My dear son, I see you’re getting older and wiser than you were a year ago.  But if Santa didn’t take the milk and cookies, then who did?”

Michael proceeded to open his present very slowly.

“It’s wonderful, Father!”

“I’m glad you like it.”

“How did it get wrapped?”

“Son, you are a young man of many questions.  The gift-wrap was cut to the right size, folded around the right-sized box, folded at the ends and then taped.  Nothing would give away its contents.”

“I love this robot!  How does it work?”

“Here.  You use this remote to give commands to the robot.”

“But there are no wires.  How does the remote send commands?”

“Invisible waves are sent through the air as signals.”

“Sent to where?”

“A receiver on the robot’s head takes the signals and delivers them to a circuit board.”

“Father, what’s a circuit board?”

“My dear Michael, you are a very inquisitive five-year-old, but I’m afraid a lesson in circuit boards will have to wait.  Now, listen.  This robot can bring you a cup of water.  It can alert you when someone is sneaking up on you.  It can read for you, warn you of danger, and retrieve some of your things.”

“Father, I know who took the milk and cookies.”

“And who would that be?”

“Someone I’ve never seen.  But someone very wise.  Someone who knows all about wrapping presents and robots and remote signals.  Someone who picked the perfect gift for a boy like me.  And that someone is you.”

“Son, I knew this robot would be a great help and that you would figure out how to use it.  For a boy born without sight, you have a great deal of insight.  Merry Christmas, and thank you for helping with the milk and cookies.”

large or in charge

The shrinking God of the gaps.

Thus ends the Christmas tale of Michael, the non-superstitious boy.  He’s sharp in spite of his disability.  Michael had a barrage of questions to press into his father, but there was still a gap in understanding his gift.  There’s a philosophy that holds God is as mysterious as Santa, better known as the God-in-the- gaps concept.  Not only has the God-in-the-gaps mentality stuck, it has stuck hard.  The idea is that we use God to explain only the things we can’t explain through science, and science is the only explanation of how the universe works.  You can foresee this kind of God shrinking every time a new scientific discovery comes out, kind of like the fictional Santa shrunk to fit down the chimney.

 Atheists have grown impatient lately, accusing Christians of believing in this type of Santa-like God.  For all appearances, science has explained so much that we don’t need to fill our gaps with a miraculous God.  The flaw in this thinking could be seen if little Michael made a further assumption.  Michael’s first hypothesis was that Santa left the present under the tree.  His second hypothesis was that his father left the present under the tree.  A third hypothesis could be that the present came together by natural processes over time.  Considering the complexity bundled into the robot, Michael would have a whole new set of questions to propose.  As long as Michael excluded the second possibility, his father, the boy might be forced to conclude the third possibility of natural causes.  Atheists and theists must be careful not to go for a fallacy where either God is all mystery or science explains everything.

Of course, knowing the second option satisfied Michael.  Even though there were gaps in his understanding, the wise boy accepted an intelligent giver.  The giver wasn’t as mysterious as magical Santa.  Father worked through physical means, and he also put heart and thought into his work.  This meant that Michael could be more engaged, approaching the giver with intelligence and not trust alone.  Much could be explained to Michael, but not everything could be explained at that time.  As long as Father remained wiser, Michael could gain more understanding but never reach a full understanding.  A correct view of God means that we can understand how he used intelligence to frame the universe.  Furthermore, we can see God clearer when we don’t restrict Him to either all-naturalistic or all-spiritual means.  God is a spiritual being who created and governs the physical domain, earning the right to suspend the physical laws when a higher law is required.

Michael couldn’t see Santa because Santa is a fictional character (or an exaggerated description of the historical Saint Nicholas.)  Michael couldn’t see Father because of his blindness.  There are many good reasons we can’t see God.  I recently began reading a book by Ravi Zacharias, where he gives such reasons.  A God with physical features permanently affixed would attract superstitious traditions rather than worship, ethnic claims of supremacy rather than reverence, and commercialism rather than relationship. 

From my years of Bible study, I would say that God wants us to approach Him at a level deeper than flesh and blood.  Although we may have some encounters in this manner, God is a Spirit.  Our spiritual blindness blocks not only a deeper existence of the Divine, it blocks our view of a deeper part of ourselves.  In Matthew 22:37 Jesus brings an old commandment to life.  “Jesus said to him, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’”  Nothing in there says to grab the lower end of God’s beard, or feel the bulge in His muscles.  Instead, there’s a pursuit that engages the heart, soul, and mind.  The soul-relationship gets mocked by the atheist for carrying fake emotions.  The heart-relationship strikes fear in the commitment-phobe inside every one of us.  The mind-relationship often falls away into explaining creation without a Creator.  And if you think the brain is merely a lump of chemical mass, you’ve committed another fallacy.

The milk and cookies showed gratitude, endearment, and respect.  Who took the milk and cookies?  Father.  Who receives our worship?  Somewhere outside a vanishing Santa, a thoughtless force of nature, and a religious statue, there stands a better option, a living God.  In a letter to the Corinthian church is a promise that we will know the greater side of an existence we don’t yet see.

1 Corinthians 13:11 “When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things. 12 For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known.”

We replace our childish ideas with a deeper perspective into the unseen.  One day we will clearly face the living proof, the Divine Spirit who set our material existence into place.  Remember when you were a child, and you began to put together the pieces and realize Santa wasn’t real?  But did you exchange that belief for one where the present was randomly selected and blown in by the wind on exactly the right time on December 25th?  Or did you deduce that another source  of intelligence, one who knew your needs and desires, selected and placed the present for you to find?

Some atheists are crying out to dismiss the Santa God.  But they have thanklessly excluded a wise Father as an alternate giver.  Instead, their trade-off is coincidental assembly as an explanation for the gift of creation.  Milk and cookies represent the sacrifice that disappears at the destructive hands of a mocking atheist.  Unless, of course, the Father already took the sacrifice unbeknownst.