Arbitrary Miracles and Steve Jobs

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Are miracles arbitrary?

Imagine with me an ordinary guy named Bob.  Nothing too exceptional ever happens to Bob, so far.  Bob considers himself a bit unique as he is the proud owner of a MacBook.  Yes, it was more expensive, but personally, Bob finds Mac more desirable than Windows.  Then one day everything changed for ordinary Bob.  It began on a Monday in August.  Bob met what he assumed to be a Steve Jobs look-a-like.  At his doorstep. First of all, it would be flattering but highly unlikely that Steve Jobs would drop by average Bob’s house.  Secondly, this was shortly after the terribly sad news of Job’s death.  Certainly this could not be the real Steve Jobs.  Surprisingly, the man introduced himself as “Steve Jobs” and “pleased to meet” one of his greatest fans.

“B-b-but you can’t be Steve Jobs. He’s-”

“My death was highly exaggerated. Mind if I see your MacBook?”

“Maybe… but why?”

“Aren’t you just a tad curious?”

“Okay, sure. Just don’t break it.”

The man grew a smile that was ready to erupt into laughter.  He brought up screens Bob had never seen before, and he sped through programming lines like a serious hacker.  Just about the time Bob was able to move his limp jaw to interrupt, the man sat back with his arms folded up behind his head.  He pushed away from the table where the new MacBook sat.  Well, it may as well be brand new, for the improved programming put into it.  The welcome screen had realistic jets flying crisscross until their jet-lines spelled WELCOME BOB in Bob’s favorite color and Bob’s favorite font, jets being Bob’s second favorite thing (His first favorite was Apple products).  And the startup sound, well, that would be Bob’s favorite song, Stayin’ Alive.  The MacBook started up faster than ever, and every one of Bob’s programs ran better than ever.  In fact, his jet-fighter game had more definition and unlocked extras.

After looking through everything on the MacBook, Bob was impressed to say the least.

“How?! How did you even know what I like?”

“Well, that part was easy.  It’s found in your computer’s memory.  Besides, you are one of my biggest fans.  Remember when you signed up to give feedback?  Well, you certainly had a great deal of input, and I took notice.”

So goes the story of average Bob and Steve Jobs.  Were this to actually happen to a real-life Bob, he might just believe that he had truly met Steve Jobs.  Let’s temporarily work with the assumption that Steve Jobs did make this special visit, and let’s agree with Bob that it’s a miracle.  If nothing else, Bob’s visitor has given strong proof of his identity as Steve Jobs.

Now let’s ask ourselves how a God who created the universe might prove His existence.  Could He work through miracles?  Wouldn’t that mean breaking His own laws, the physical laws of nature?  Well, isn’t that what Steve Jobs did in our story?  Bob’s MacBook came pre-programmed with the rules coded by Apple.  But in order for Mr. Jobs to prove himself, he overwrote some original lines of code and set new rules.  How else would he have proven himself?  Even if there were some other way, doesn’t Mr. Jobs have the right to choose a personal touch?

What about the arbitrary factor of miracles?  Doesn’t that fly in the face of a God of laws?  How can we even know His works if He might just suspend all His own laws and do whatever He wants?  Again, let’s ask the same of our Steve Jobs.  Imagine Steve tried to prove himself as the founder of Apple by making a rabbit appear out of a hat.  Although that might impress Bob, it wouldn’t help answer his pressing question.  The apparent miracle of spontaneous appearance has nothing to do with MacBooks.  Breaking Bob’s reality – the reality that rabbits only appear from holes in the ground – is arbitrary.  However, breaking Bob’s preset coding in his MacBook is very meaningful (the opposite of arbitrary.)  So why can’t God suspend His laws of natural law to prove His existence, so long as He does so in a meaningful way?  Perhaps we are the arrogant ones, when we suppose that God should be firmly restricted to the laws with which we humans are comfortably knowledgeable.

So what then would be the non-arbitrary miracle that God would perform?  The answer depends on the expressed nature of God.  Just like our Steve Jobs candidate, where he would have to live up to the reputation of the man behind Apple.  Now the God of the Bible expresses His power in many ways.  Nevertheless, we find His attention focused on a humbling place – human life.  As the Psalmist said, “What is man that You are mindful of him, And the son of man that You visit him? Psalm 8:4 NKJV

Since the God of the Bible is focused on human life, we would expect to find His miracles focused on human life.  Of course, God doesn’t have to meet our expectations, but this expectation would make the most sense.  When we read the New Testament, we are reading about “Immanuel” meaning  “God with us”.   Jesus, if He were living up to the claim of being God in the flesh, should be performing miracles that reflect the intentions of God.  What we find is no doubt consistent with this assumption.  The majority of Jesus’ miracles involve healing, returning life to human limbs, human sight, human flesh, and so on.  And then we find Him building up to the crescendo of resurrecting the life of His friend Lazarus.  It’s very interesting to note what Jesus says in anticipation of this miracle.  He does not say,” Well, I just feel like doing a resurrection today”, nor does He say, “I happen to do resurrections as a side gig.”  Instead He says, “I am the resurrection and the life. Anyone who believes in me will live, even after dying.”  John‬ ‭11:23, 25‬ ‭NLT‬‬.  So Jesus actually defines Himself to be the source of life, just as Steve Jobs would define himself to be the man behind Apple.

Furthermore, there are a few occasions in the New Testament where Jesus refused the requests of religious leaders and His own disciples.  Apparently these flash-in-the-sky miracles didn’t fit a pattern, a directive that Jesus sought to accomplish.

I encourage you to also study and consider the Anthropic Principle.  If the God of the Bible did create the Universe, we could reasonably conclude that He is the engineer behind the Anthropic Principle.  Since the Anthropic Principle is focused on human life, this would coalesce with the God of the Bible, and thus with the “non-arbitrary” premise.  We could say there is a higher law, and it is non-arbitrary.

God being the Creator of the Universe, has the right to intervene in any way He chooses.  If you read the whole Bible, you’ll see He does take lordship of His broader domain.  Between God, life, and the entire Universe, things can get complicated.  Furthermore, God is interested in our whole being, our spiritual life.  But when we see God intervening by restoring physical life, the message is loud and clear.  When Bob asked who the stranger was, the stranger showed himself as the author of Apple.  When we ask God who He is, He showed Himself as the author of life.  Perhaps the best way to find clarity and meaning is to see the personal interaction going on here.  God has knocked on the door of your heart.  You may not be sure He’s a real God, or even living God (His death has been highly exaggerated), but you’ll never know unless you let Him in.  He knows all the comfortable rules you’ve set for your own life, but He wants to restore your life for the better.  The pressing question is not whether God can break His own rules, but whether you’ll surrender yours.

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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.

Intro – How Did We All Miss It?! (Jesus & DNA)

Friends, thank you for following apoloJetics – apologetics with a capital ‘J’.  You might also enjoy a new blog I’m starting that discovers the amazing connection between Jesus and DNA.  At first, the two don’t seem to mix in any rational way.  My background in both Bible studies and Mathematics gives me a unique vantage point.  I’d like to challenge each of you to go beyond your memes and bounds.  There’s more to Jesus than a nice teacher giving fishing tips.

Intro – How Did We All Miss It?!.

In Christ,

Tim

WHO is this Doctor?

The deepest mystery of the universe stepped into time.  He called himself a Doctor, and healing flowed from his touch.  Though alien from the high heavens, this bright star traveled to planet Earth.  His vessel disguised as a wooden box, otherwise a feeding trough, contained in its tiny place more than time-space revealed to the eye.  Frequently grabbing companions for his worthy quests, this Doctor seemed determined to save humanity.  The non-human invaders who sought to take over the human form, the darkness that greedily swallowed the life-giving light, stood no match against the Doctor.  And no matter what fate pursues the universe, though sun, moon, and stars collapse, he offers us salvation through immortality.  He’s seen your future, your appointments in time, the choices you hold in the recesses of your heart.

So WHO is this Doctor?

From Heaven’s throne to our dirt roads comes Jesus.  The Great Physician offers to save your heart and your planet.  New creation on a New Earth.

Luke 2:16 (NKJV)” And they came with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the Babe lying in a manger.” (manger/wooden box)

Mark 6: 56 “Wherever He entered, into villages, cities, or the country, they laid the sick in the marketplaces, and begged Him that they might just touch the hem of His garment. And as many as touched Him were made well.”

Rev. 21:1 “[ All Things Made New ] Now I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away. Also there was no more sea.”  (No more sea or no more darkness of the sea)

See also Matt. 4:19 (companions) and Luke 5:31 (physician) and Romans 8:21-24

Why are we intrigued by the Dr. Who character on television?  Could it be that something inside us cries out for a healer, a rescuer from our devastated or mundane lives, or even from our disappointing highs?  So we look into colorful fantasies like Dr. Who.  But wait – just keep him on that side of the galaxy; he’ll do well to help those aliens; I don’t need him stepping into my business; I don’t mind help, but not some self-righteous, imposing lifestyle change.  The Doctor stays on the tip of our imagination but away from our heart.  Jesus gets way too close for comfort.  And yet our imaginations betray us; we long for better and we dream for higher.

Jesus is the Doctor that hits home.  He arrived in a state of poverty and yet with veins of royal blood.  Temptations of every kind, on every side, offered him “better than.”  Ignorant ridicule, flesh-and-blood suffering, quenched dreams, put Him at our epicenter.  Now He knocks at the door of your heart.  He diagnoses your sinful condition.  The Lord of all time offers you the cure that restores the immortality you were intended to bear.  The question is, will you open that door – will you welcome the Doctor?

As in Heaven

As in Heaven

 

As I’ve been reading Heaven by Randy Alcorn, somehow I harbored the feeling Heaven would be this exciting.  Actually, the Bible brings the excitement home to Earth, as in the New Earth.   No, I couldn’t possibly imagine what this place will look like ( 1 Cor 2:9), but that doesn’t stop me from trying.  Every time I think of something awesome, every bright colorful vision, is a tiny glimpse of something better and more enduring.

To help aid this blurry vision, I’ve started a Pinterest board ‘As in Heaven.’  Take a look and/or comment below.  Share your ideas and pics.  Don’t be content to let the vision crystallize, but don’t be afraid to imagine the possibilities.

 

 

 

The Undying Flame

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Ever wonder what happens to the Olympic sites after the fact?  After all the cameras have pursued, dreams have taken flight, Olympian hearts pumped to the limit, medals and flags lifted high, tears and cheers shared within a common ground.  Then the curtain is drawn, performers and spectators looking toward the next site to carry tomorrow’s torch.   The Atlantic Cities gives us a peek into former Olympic host Sarajevo.

“…After taking second place in the giant slalom race on February 14, 1984, 21-year-old Jure Franko stood on this concrete podium as the first and only member of the home team to receive an Olympic medal when the city of Sarajevo, then of Yugoslavia, hosted the Winter Olympics. Eight years later, this same podium would be the site of a more grisly event, the executions of countless victims of the Bosnian War and Siege of Sarajevo… Touring through the mountainous Olympic venues, Pack (photographer) has noticed a number of signs warning of areas likely containing still-live landmines; they’re a unique legacy for a former Olympic site, and understandably disconcerting.”

Sarajavo

Sarajavo

We see the inevitable drama of mankind unfold. A place once celebrated as a place of peace, the unifying of many nations reaching for a prize, later torn by the divisive hatred and empty sorrows that set nation against nation. We envision, we inspire, we meet, we shake hands, and for the moment all is well. Then the camera drops, and from behind the curtain come jealousies, self-righteousness, greed, and oppression. We would be right to label such evils as the curse of mankind. Romans 8:19 says it this way: “For the earnest expectation of the creature waiteth for the manifestation of the sons of God… For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now.”

As a Christian, we find consolation in the promise of future peace, the end of the curse.  Even as we follow the Israelites through their times of rising and falling, we get glimpses of an ultimate future promise.

Isaiah 2:4 “And he shall judge among the nations, and shall rebuke many people: and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruninghooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.”

Sinful as we are, God continually speaks to the human heart, planting seeds of brighter dreams. Sometimes history itself presents us with a glimpse of future hope. China’s former Olympic site perhaps presents an example.

“China opted for a different approach with its National Aquatic Center.  The space, dubbed the ‘Water Cube’ and the venue where in 2008 Michael Phelps won eight gold medals, is now the Happy Magic Water Cube Water Park. It’s got water rides, spa pools and 13 water slides, according to CNN. The bright blues and oranges and pinks — intended to denote an underwater theme — look almost psychedelic.”  – Today.com

Someday, God, the great engineer, will remake our world the way He intended it to be. Imagine a new earth, inhabited by transformed men and women with incorruptible bodies. Incorruptible means they won’t break down under weather, stress, gravity, age… Incorruptible also means the spirit doesn’t give way to anger, pride, jealousy, spite… I wonder who will reach the peak of Mount Everest first, and who will get the best time skiing to its foot? No matter, we’ll have plenty of time to practice. All cheering from the sidelines, no shattered bones, no shattered hopes. Whatever medals we earn, we’ll lift them up to the One True King, our eternal burning light for unending venues, in our eternal home.

Until then, it’s up to us who know Christ, to continue passing the undying flame, one torch to another, one heart to another.

Copyright 2014

Tolerance in Syria

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Beneath the surface of the political struggle, Syria is engaged with persecution. In a part of the world where Christianity is a minority, religious persecution gets a back-row seat to world powers.  But religious persecution is nothing new to the area.  On the way to Damascus, nearly 2000 years ago, a religious man with political ties determined to obey the laws of his God.  The man named Saul determined that these laws ordered him to wipe out a rising sect of Jews.  Later on, this sect would be known as ‘Christians’ – followers of Jesus Christ (A name still cursed internationally.)  On the way to Damascus, a power stopped Saul in his tracks.  The power was not political, chemical, or legal.  The power was a person, a person of divine nature.  Jesus himself revealed his glory and presence, blinding Saul.  Saul became physically blind but spiritually aware of a greater battle waging behind the scenes. The battle, as it has always been, is over the souls of men.  After his conversion, Saul took on the name Paul, not a follower of a new religion, but a follower of a living person.  His new vision of the powers we struggle against would inspire him to write:

Ephesians 6:12 King James Version (KJV) For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.

And from prison, Paul wrestled in a kneeling position, utilizing the great weapon of prayer.

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How different is the Western viewpoint, where ‘persecution’ is simply speaking one’s belief in front of an offended listener.  I see the TOLERATE bumper sticker, and I wonder if it’s in the wrong place.  Maybe these cars should be cruising through the Middle East.  Car-bombings, imprisonment, destruction of homes and churches are far from tolerance.  Start in the areas of the world where persecution is the harshest.  Then come back to America and take in the refreshing air of religious freedom.

http://www.worldmag.com/2013/09/persecution_in_syria_no_comment