[Stay tuned for the references at the end 😛]
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I remember a while back, my right ear began to hurt because I was exposed to the loud noises in a workshop. It was hurting all week, and I was hearing weird high pitched sounds. Then I went to church that Sunday. The sermon was about healing and at the end people were called forth to be prayed for healing. The pastor mentioned that someone in the crowd needed healing for the right ear. I was thinking God is that you? Oh great what should I do, should I go forward? My friends encouraged me to go. I thought Oh but Lord what if it’s not me? Am I just imagining things? Why would you pick me? After praying hard I decided to go down for healing. I went, got prayed for … it felt slightly better? I was so confused. I thought maybe it’s just me. It can’t be God can it? After all it’s just a slight pain that could technically just wear off without prayer.
God spoke to me during that time, and as usual I’m slow at getting the point. Faith is so important. Even faith in Jesus Christ as small as a mustard seed can move mountains. But that experience also led me to question who’s work is it? God or ours? Are we just imagining things, being delusional or is He really speaking to us today? If God is a personal being, and he interacts with us through His works, how can we know for sure? Can we actually believe in miracles?
Today I’ll address what faith is. I will mainly be talking about how the observation of miracles can be a pathway or a confirmation of faith. Miracles are an important aspect of faith because it can reveal more of God to us. I’ll first highlight the differences between a miracle and illusion, then I will show that the God-is-an-illusion argument can also oppose secular views as well. Finally with lack of time, I’ll end briefly with how faith can be anchored by rationality as well. I hope by the end I will demonstrate how reason is used to confirm the miracles that our faith is based on.
So what is faith? Faith can be defined as having confidence and trust in a person, thing, situation, deity, doctrines, teachings or views (Yes I got this from wikipedia). But I want to delve more into this and establish the difference between secular faith and biblical faith. Secuarlism means denoting attitudes without spiritual or religious basis, so secular faith would be inclined to be visually reliant. So in a secular world, you can have faith in people, political ideals, science, money, technical progress etc. Biblical faith on the other hand, is having confidence and trust that the Scripture is true, that there is a personal God who can be trusted, and who created the world and sent Jesus Christ to be our saviour. For a secular person, one would have ‘faith’ in his own strength to pull him through hard times or in the people around him. Whereas if I trust in God, I would pray and rely on God’s strength to move that mountain. Secular faith would seem self-reliant and at times unstable because the future is unknown. Biblical faith would seem firm because trust is placed in God who is believed to fulfill promises and is all-powerful, but isn’t that just blind faith?
So isn’t faith blind? Is the biblical faith that we believe in not supported by cogent arguments and thus the belief is resistant to counter-evidence? No, biblical faith is not about believing blindly. The bible says: ‘faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see’ (Hebrews 11:1) So where does our conviction and assurance come from? It comes from our knowledge and evidence that strengthens faith. Our knowledge is the understanding of God’s love and care towards us, which gives us assurance. The evidence is for example in the Old Testament where God sends Moses to the Pharaoh to convince the Pharaoh to release God’s people of Israel. After the 10 plagues, the Pharaoh surrendered and it is evidence of God’s might that allows the people of Israel to put their faith in God. God can sometimes test our faith by putting us through difficult times but why? Because faith is something precious and important to God as He wants us to rely on him on all times. It literally spells out that our faith is a faith full of knowledge of who he is and what he can do. To say we love and trust in Him. Sure, if we have all the evidence laid out like uncovering the truth and evidence of Scriptures, of Christ’s resurrection and so on, you would say that one would come to Christ through an intellectual route. Really, the evidence is what grabs attention, but that is not what brings us to have a relationship with Christ. Faith is what transforms and builds the necessary relationship for the experience of God. Faith defined in any dictionary is much related to the ideas of truth and reality. You need to have confidence and trust in your best friend who is real and authentically true to their word because they have kept it. Therefore you know they will not betray your confidence. Faith seeks the truth and is backed up with evidence.
The bible also says: “And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.”
[Michael Ramsden] If you want to please God, you must have faith. Biblical faith is defined as to know God exists. It’s a statement of reality. Not you want him to be, you hope him to be, you wish him to exist. Secondly, he rewards those who do diligently seek him.
Does that mean that we can’t doubt? God wants us to believe in Him because he cares for us. When Jesus’ disciples were questioning him about his identity, Jesus said ‘believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me. Or at least believe because of the work you have seen me do’. Jesus appealed to evidence to establish that he is who he claims he is so that our faith would be deepened and assured.
But things are still not very convincing. Jesus worked miracles! Miracles (according to C. S. Lewis) is an interference with Nature by supernatural power. Unless there exists something more than the confines of Nature, like the Supernatural, there can be no miracles. What I want to highlight here is the possibility of miracles because without establishing this first then no amount of historical evidence would be able to convince us of God. Therefore if you are now sitting here still feeling not convinced of all the biblical evidence, it is perhaps because you don’t believe in miracles and cannot believe that the Word of God came from God himself!
So do miracles actually exist? How can we tell what is a miracle and what isn’t? Miracles do not happen all the time, if they did then they wouldn’t be miracles. That suggests a miracle is something rare and special. A miracle is something that cannot be scientifically proven. So how can we tell that a miracle occurred? Well I believe there are two ways: you witness it happen or you yourself have experienced the miracle. Ironically, it seems that miracles can be just a psychological projection, after all what about people believing and seeing ghosts? C. S. Lewis talks of a woman who claims to have seen a ghost. Seeing a ghost in itself is a miracle because it is not of nature, nor is something explainable by science if it were true. The woman has disbelieved in the immortal soul before seeing the ghost and still disbelieves after seeing it. She feels that whatever it is that she had witnessed was merely an illusion or the trick of the eye. She’s right because seeing is not believing. After all our senses are not infallible. Because technically if it is just our neurotransmitters running weird or because *insert sciency explanations here* then miracles do not exist since they can be explained by Nature.
There exists reality and illusion. There exists the external (outside of us) and the internal (the mind). True reality is when the mind is being coherent with the external, when it doesn’t, it seems that we have created something in our minds causing us to believe or experience something. After establishing the criteria of illusions, I wish to point out that some claims of supernatural experiences may indeed be false, but also natural experiences may be false (e.g. you thought you took a shower but you were in fact half asleep). So simply put, the only difference is one seems realistic and the other not.
SO IS IT ALL THE THE MIND? Can it be that what we believe is delusion? After last year’s wake up call from God, it’s led me to explain to some of my friends what happened to my relationships, why I made the choices I made and how I’ve placed my trust in God and am no longer influenced by those past negative emotions. They look at me and go, ‘that’s great you’ve found something to help you!’. In their minds it seems that religious faith is a ‘good thing’, that it’s some sort of psychological crutch in a sense to help the mind that is not actually real in any objective sense. Therefore if what someone believes only exists in the mind and isn’t real, that would be an illusion. God now seems to be a psychological projection for comfort. However, this can work the same way for atheists. Psychologist Paul Vitz has studied the minds of atheists from the past and current and has in his book Faith of the Fatherless revealed they were driven to believe no God exists because they themselves did not have a good relationship with their father and thus are in denial of a heavenly father.
But this argument of illusion thus brings us to precisely no where. Disregarding God by saying it’s an illusion is not a good use of our time since the argument seems to work both ways.
Let’s take a case study: Tony Nam from Hong Kong had a tumour in his bladder. Unless Mr Nam received radical radiotherapy or surgical removal of the bladder within the next month, the cancer would break out of his bladder and spread throughout his body. Following the news, he came to agreement with his wife to trust in the Lord and not be overcome by fear. He was referred to a top consultant urologist when he chose the removal of the bladder. During a pre-operation interview the consultant told him it must be removed as soon as possible. But Mr Nam told the consultant he believes Jesus is alive and works today, healing within the medical profession. Mr Nam said that he will continue receiving powerful prayers for the miraculous removal of the cancer, and also that he wouldn’t want the doctor to remove a perfectly healthy bladder so Mr Nam requested to have his bladder checked before operation. This doing was based on Mr Nam’s faith and not the doctors. Before the operation, the bladder was checked and there was no sign of cancer.
To satisfy the urologist 7 months after the check, Mr Nam was examined again with internal camera and samples were taken from his bladder for biopsy, the urologist was perplexed because there was no sign of any tumour or malignancy.
So how can this be delusional? Is this proof? Because if a miracle can be disproved there will always be a scientific explanation. The only possibility for this miracle to not be true was if he was lying and is in fact some evil man. Or he’s insane and delusional, or the more rationally plausible option is that he’s speaking the truth.
You can say you saw some spiritual thing, it might be fake. You can say you felt the presence of something overwhelming, it might be the placebo effect. But how can you say that you feel better after some thing is threatening to end your life and it just so happens to disappear? Just because you disregard some miracles as impossible, you cannot throw the whole idea of miracles out the window.
If we can come to grasps with the fact that even today miracles are real, this would really mean that there is just more than us out there. I come from a Chinese background where a lot of my other Chinese friends have some kind of supernatural ghost stories drifting around. If you haven’t read True Singaporean Ghost Stories, there are some seemingly impossible ones there.
To summarize my points about miracles: we shouldn’t believe in every supernatural thing that happens, there is a basic criteria to know between an illusion and miracles. Most importantly, I have shown that we cannot disregard the whole existence of God without carefully looking at the miracles just because some things claimed supernatural is clearly false. Not everything supernatural can be asserted to be false.
Finally, let’s move on to how can faith have that element of rationality. If miracles do happen, then why the so-called blind faith in the cross? If God is so loving and kind why doesn’t he just forgive? Why the moral atrocity at the centre of our faith? Why does God need to give some form of punishment? People tend to think that mercy and punishment is incompatible. For example if you punish your friend out of retribution you are not being merciful. However, God punishes because he is merciful and just. In Christian faith God does not set aside his justice in order to exercise mercy, he exercises his mercy through his justice, through the cross. That is where sin is dealt with and not swept aside. God fulfills all the requirements of justice. Justification by faith not ‘mercification’ by faith. Some may ask why can’t he just forgive us without the resurrection, here’s an example to answer this question: if a criminal was on trial and if the judge let him off disregarding all the wrong he had done, is the judge being just? Can we say that the judge is a lover of justice?
I know the notion of the supernatural is a very uncomfortable area for us, but God is omniscient and we are not. It is obvious that we will have to face things we won’t understand fully. For example Isaiah 29:16 says You turn things upside down, as if the potter were thought to be like the clay! Shall what is formed say to the one who formed it, “you did not make me”? Can the pot say to the potter, “You know nothing”? Again, God equipped us with rationality so that we do not just blindly believe. Faith is very important. God has given us an account of His power throughout the Old and New Testament such as Christ’s resurrection and also in our current world. What is important is for us to seek and to investigate these cases, not to give up on God’s existence on the assumption that all miracles are ridiculous.
1 John 4:1 — … do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.
References and Thanks:
- Ravi Zacharias’ talk on ‘Is Faith Delusional‘
- Michael Ramsden’s talk on ‘Is Faith Really blind‘
- Paul Vitz’s research: ‘The Psychology of Atheism‘
- C.S. Lewis’ book Miracles
- Amy Orr-Ewing’s book But Is It Real?
- Josh McDowell and Sean McDowell’s book 77 FAQs About God and The Bible
- Tony’s testimony (I remember it being told and documents shown in the service) => http://realpeoplerealgod.wordpress.com/2013/09/05/tony-daichopstixs-story/
- God’s Holy Spirit and the Bible ❤