Wednesday, July 12, 2023

Twelve Points For Proving Christianity - Points Four & Five: Since God exists, miracles are possible and can confirm His message


    In today's post we shall treat the fourth and fifth points together in our series "twelve points for proving Christianity. In this series we have been exploring a twelve-point outline, devised by the late Christian scholar Dr. Norman Geisler, that serves to prove the truth claims of Christianity. The first three points that we have explored so far are as follows:

1. Truth about reality is knowable.

2. Opposites cannot both be true.

3. The theistic God exists.

    The fourth and fifth points deal with what follows from the fact of God's existence. Point number four tells us that since God exists, miracles are possible. Point number five asserts that a miracle can attest or confirm a message as coming from God.

    We had spent some time in the last post showing why Christian theism is the only valid view of Theism. Christian theism is the only version of theism that proposes God's intervention and preservation of the creation. Islam denies any real involvement of God in the affairs of people. Judaism tends to relegate God's involvement to the past, with a general sense that God is no longer involved in the affairs of life. Neither religious system has a well developed theology of what is called "Providence". 

    Although Judaism, Islam, and Christianity have beliefs about creation, only Christianity has a well worked out teaching of Divine Providence, which asserts God's continuing involvement in the governments of the world, history, physical laws, and personal lives.

    As noted, point number four tells us that since God exists, miracles are possible. Point number five asserts that a miracle can attest or confirm a message as coming from God. We will now move forward with a further discussion about God's providence and flesh out three implications which follow from points number four and five.

A. Christian theism establishes God created the universe and intervenes in our world.

    It is in the teaching on Providence that theologians speak of three subdivisions. There is what we first call "general providence", which refers to God's involvement and use of governments, history, physical laws, and personal lives. We could say God works indirectly through these to achieve His most wise ends. The Westminister Confession of Faith defines what this General Providence is in chapter five, section one of its statement on the subject

"God the great Creator of all things doth uphold, direct, dispose, and govern all creatures, actions, and things, from the greatest even to the least, by his most wise and holy providence, according to his infallible foreknowledge, and the free and immutable counsel of his own will, to the praise of the glory of his wisdom, power, justice, goodness, and mercy."

    As we think on general providence, scriptures such as Psalm 97; Psalm 104; Romans 11:33-36 are examples of this overall method by which God governs and sustains our world. 

    The second subdivision is termed "special providence". In general providence, God works indirectly through all things, as described further in chapter five, section three of the Wesminister Confession of Faith

"God, in his ordinary providence, maketh use of means, yet is free to work without, above, and against them, at his pleasure."

    In so-called "special providence", we find God working to a degree to specifically guide a particular portion of His creation or in a person's life in specific circumstance. If the key term for general providence is God's working "through things", special providence is God working "upon things". A prime example of this in the Bible is God interrupting the flow of the Jordon River in Joshua 3. We find God using natural events (spring-time flooding) and the circumstances of the Jewish people (they crossing into the promised land) to act upon a specific guiding of the Jordon to cease its flow. In personal life, God's answers to prayer, especially exceptional instances of answers to prayer, provide further examples of God's special providences. Roughly speaking, a "special providence" straddles the line between "general providence" and what theologians refer to under a third subheading - "extraordinary providence".

    Extraordinary providences or miracles involve God directly intervening in affairs that alter, enhance, modify, or suspend the course of physical laws and things. It is in this realm that God doesn't merely act "through" things, or "upon things", but "in things". As physical laws go, they describe a given state of affairs apart from the intervention of an intelligent agent. 

    If I drop a rock for example, the law of gravity tells me that the rock will hit the ground. However, if someone reaches out their hand to catch the rock, we see the altering of the rock's path. It is not that gravity is cancelled out so much as it is an intelligent agent intervening directly on the given situation. Miracles or extraordinary providences cover this final area. Theologians call this final category by this name, since this third route is the least frequent way that God operates in our world.

    In having surveyed briefly these three subdivisions of the subject of Divine providence (general, special, and extraordinary providence), what remains is to offer a definition of miracles (i.e extraordinary providence), define how we can tell when a miracle has occured, and then understand how this can prove a message has come from God.

B. Miracles are infrequent events done by God that are naturally impossible and identified within a particular spiritually and religiously significant context.

    In this above definition of a miracle, we find embedded the criteria by which to judge when a miracle has occurred and for discerning a given message. Let's proceed step-by-step through the definition.

    First, "Miracles are infrequent events done by God". According to the late H.L. Wilmington's book "The Complete Book of Bible Lists", we find roughly 85 main miracles in the Bible, along with an additional nearly 40 miracles done in the lives of other Biblical personalities. On average one miracle every five years occurred over the course of four millennia of redemptive history in the Bible. Of those, 35 were performed by Jesus. 

    A miracle's infrequency almost implies the inability to repeat it or replicate it. If certain miracles are found to occur in similar fashion to past ones, it serves to certify the same source for the miracle. We can think for instance of Jesus healing the blind, making the lame to walk, and performing exorcisms as proofs of the source of His ministry - God.

    Secondly, the definition states, "that are naturally impossible". The premier example of this is Jesus' physical resurrection. All agree that human beings do not rise naturally from the dead. The claim of Christianity is not that Jesus raised naturally from the dead, but rather "God raised Jesus from the dead". When historians are determining what best explains a certain event of history, they usually have a variety of rival explanations. In the case of the empty tomb, there have been roughly one-half dozen explanations offered throughout history (stolen body explanations, switching of Jesus' body, mis-identifying of the tomb scenarios, and others). Such explanations are rooted in naturalism - the assumption that all that exists is space, matter, physics, and chemistry. 

    Over time, each of the naturalistic explanations have failed to account for how a crucified Jesus could have any empty tomb, coupled with the testimony that God raised Jesus from the dead, as well as the emergence of Christianity in the midst of a pagan world hostile to it. Once we have established that a given event is "natural impossible", this leave room for accepting the truth of the miraculous.

C. Miracles can confirm the truth of a message or messenger from God, but cannot compel belief in God.

    Thirdly, in our definition of miracle, we note "and identified within a particular spiritually and religiously significant context." This last feature is crucial, since without a context, miracles could be viewed as nothing more than anamolies. All the miracles of the Bible always occur at particular moments, connected with particular persons, and in religiously important situations. This feature of the miraculous is important to note, since skeptics will claim that it is impossible to identify a miracle from a natural anamoly. 

    Yet with this final feature, identifying God's direct, extraordinary involvement nearly certain. Further, by connecting a miracle to its source (God) and its situation (something He has revealed in previous revelation in His Word), we can then identify its message.

Closing thoughts

    Today we looked at points four and five of our series on "twelve points that prove Christianity"

4. Since God exists, miracles are possible. 

5. A miracle can attest or confirm a message as coming from God.

    What these two points do is get us from "God in general" to the specific God of Scripture that intervenes in our world and performs miracles. In our next post, we shall look at point number six: The New Testament is historically reliable.

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