I’m not here to answer that question.
If you know me or know this blog then you know what my answer would be.
Rather, I’m here to analyze the question itself and determine why it’s even a question in the first place. After all, if miracles really did happen, wouldn’t it be such a shocking display of God’s power that no one would ever question it again?
Right now I’m reading a book called How Jesus Became God by a UNC Professor named Bart Ehrman. It’s a very informative book, even though many of his arguments and historical speculations come from a one-sided, secular view of things. I might discuss some my reasons for thinking this in a later post, but that’s not my purpose this time. For now, I want to discuss something I read that I actually wholeheartedly agree with. That is his assertion that miracles cannot be historically proven.
For my fellow Sherlock fans out there, it does not come as a surprise that most historians determine what is the truth by eliminating the impossible. This is simply a logically easy way of determining what happened in the past in a world with very few written sources for historical events.
We live in a world that follows certain laws. For example, humans are usually the ones in political office, and not alligators. For this reason, we assume historically that Alexander the Great was not an alligator. Of course, we have no proof of this, but we can safely arrive at this conclusion based on our observations of the world. We can establish strong probability and possibility.
But how does one go about proving something that is neither probable nor possible? A miracle is the breaking of the natural orders of things, and so we cannot use this method to study them. All of our methods of study fall apart because we live in a world where dead people stay dead. So what, then, do we do with a claim that one dead person from 1st century Palestine was too stubborn to stay dead?
There are two ways of having confidence in a claim like this.
There are many more examples of miracles than just the resurrection of Jesus. In fact, even the people of Jesus’ time had examples they could look to, such as Jonah and the big fish or Daniel and the lions’ den. So we could supposedly affirm the probability and possibility of Jesus’ resurrection by other historical examples of miracles and by the outcome of his resurrection (that being the explosion of the early church). However, these other examples, even modern day miraculous events, still cannot be confirmed or denied as possible or probable, because by their nature they are neither. They are a intermingling of the spiritual world with the natural world, a breaking of some cosmic separation between God and us, which God is known to break often (He doesn’t like to be separate from us). But as Bart Ehrman himself has said: “Historians have no access to the spiritual realm.” So even if a miracle happened today on international television, it would be insufficient for the proof of miracles, I’m afraid.
The fact of the matter is, Ehrman is wrong. Historians do have access to the spiritual realm. Not because they went to school for three childhoods’ worth of time or because they have more degrees than Fahrenheit, but because the God of that spiritual realm has made a way for them to know Him. The Holy Spirit reveals himself to us in supernatural faith. So we can look at the impossible and improbable and say with confidence that while the natural world is dumbfounded, the God who made it says we ain’t seen nothing yet! Of course, this kind of supernatural claim can’t be proven with natural evidence (duh) so historians throw it our as having some kind of bias. A bias of faith is no bias at all. As long as one is sober minded and not quick to be deceived, faith is merely a looking at all the evidence available, including the supernatural.
So when we hear people speak or write who have misgivings about the resurrection of Jesus or any other miracle, we don’t need to rush to judgement or hatred or hide from them. We need to understand that they are missing a key piece of evidence that, apart from the work of the Spirit, they don’t have access to. And that’s not their fault, they are doing the best work possible with the facts they have. We need only to pray and show through love that the God of grace and glory is not just real but wants to be with them. After all, putting up with us is the greatest miracle that God ever performed.