Evidence of God in an unbelieving world
“At least six people have died of AIDS after evangelical churches in Britain told them that God had cured their HIV and that they could stop taking medication", according to a Sky News investigation.
Sky News sent three undercover reporters to the “Synagogue Church of All Nations” (SCOAN) in London. The reporters told pastors there that they had come to be cured of HIV, and they were told that the church's prayer services were 100 percent effective.
Similar practices were found at churches in Birmingham, Glasgow and Manchester. A pastor at a church in north London "told me I'd been healed." An HIV-positive man, Emmanuel, told Sky News. "[He said], 'You've got to stop taking the medicine now. I'll keep praying for you. Once God forgives you, then the disease will definitely go." http://news.sky.com/story/902541/churches-linked-to-hiv-deaths
The above incident happened in England and, unfortunately, is still going on. No-one is going to be prosecuted and the churches in question are still allowed to make the claims they make. It is little wonder then that many people consider religion a damaging influence on society and some have even called for the abolition of religion.
The above highlights one of the most serious problems with many religious leaders in the world today, the claim that they can perform miracles, despite the majority of cases investigated proving false. Does this mean then that there are no such things as miracles? Does it also mean that the most famous miracles in history, those recorded in the Bible were also fake and didn't happen? Logic tells us that simply because one is fake, that does not mean that the other automatically is as well. Suppose someone was selling fake medicines which actually harmed people instead of healing them, would that make all medicines fake? Would the authorities remove all medicines from circulation? Of course not. What they would do is investigate to establish the real from the imitation.
Ironically, there is a parallel between drugs and religious miracles that is, unfortunately, all too obvious and is often exploited by modern charismatic healers. Some patients respond positively to placebos, inert imitation drugs which have no medicinal value but represent something from the perspective of the patient. These often have an effect due to the power of suggestion in the brain. Supposed religious miracles can produce similar effects.
Before reaching a conclusion on the subject of miracles, I invite you the reader to consider some of the “miracles” recorded in the Bible and compare them to those in our modern era. But first, it is important to establish what we mean by the word “miracle” and why many, particularly in the scientific world, object to the term.
Science and Miracles
A miracle has been defined as something that happens outside the known laws of physics, in other words, a supernatural event having no scientific explanation - http://www.thefreedictionary.com/miracle. Many scientists and, particularly critics of the Bible, argue that these things are impossible and therefore, false. But their logic may be flawed from the outset. The objection they raise is really that “miracles cannot happen because they are miraculous.” That is circular reasoning, to state that something cannot occur because, if it did it would contradict this statement.
Consider the concept of “Black Holes.” These astronomical curiosities are widely accepted by scientists as existing. Furthermore, many scientists claim that, if matter, even living matter, were to be drawn into one of these holes, it would break down at the sub-atomic level. They claim that, under those conditions, time itself would be affected and the laws of physics would break down, leading to some very strange events. But, hold on just a moment, aren't they describing a miracle, “something that happens outside the known laws of physics”, in other words, “a supernatural event having no scientific explanation”? Further consider the idea of “Abiogenesis,” the idea that inorganic chemicals randomly came together and became a living cell. This proposal, as far as all the known laws of physics are concerned, is impossible yet, nonetheless, we are confidently informed, it did happen. Isn't that a miracle? The same experts who would have us believe in these impossible miracles, then go on to ridicule the idea that the creator of the universe could cure a sick human; a doctor can, but, not God.
The following letter was published in “The Times” of London and signed by a number of scientists, It reads:
“It is not logically valid to use science as an argument against miracles. To believe that miracles cannot happen is as much an act of faith as to believe that they can happen. Miracles are unprecedented events. Whatever the current fashions in philosophy or the revelations of opinion polls may suggest, it is important to affirm that science (based as it is upon the observation of precedents) can have nothing to say on the subject. Its ‘laws’ are only generalizations of our experience. Faith rests on other grounds.”
The letter was signed by 14 professors of science in British universities. They went on to write “We gladly accept the virgin birth, the Gospel miracles, and the resurrection of Christ as historical events.”
Methods and Motives
Let us now focus on the events recorded in the Bible. First consider the miracles claimed to be performed by Jesus. In particular, let us compare them with those claimed to be done today.
At the evangelical gatherings today where so-called miracles take place, there is a definite, choreographed procedure. It is an art form, accompanied by music, dramatics and lively participants. People are wheeled up onto the stage, for all in attendance to see. They relate publicly, over a microphone, what they are suffering from. They are then subjected to a loud chant or prayer, after which, the curer makes some kind of emphatic physical contact with them. The “sick” person then stands while the curer dramatically announces that the person is cured and a wave of emotional celebration grips the frenzied audience who then are urged to give generously to the attendants with buckets. This, they are told, will bring them the Lord's blessing. When a “sick” person is not cured, or makes a complaint later, they are dismissed as not having enough faith. Now compare this with the miracles performed by Jesus himself, the man these miracle workers claim to represent and imitate.
Jesus always responded to people, ordinary people, as he traveled the land preaching. He never set up a stage show or arranged a venue. He cured people wherever he found them, at a moment's notice (The Bible - Mark 1.40). Furthermore, Jesus did not have props, attendants and music. He did not shout or make dramatic scenes (Matthew 12.16-19). He did not perform these things for the benefit of fans. Often Jesus took the sick person away from the crowds and healed them in private (Mark 7.33). Jesus acted on impulse, on occasions where people least expected it. He stopped a funeral to raise a widow's only son (Luke 7.11). He entered Jairus's daughter's room without any crowds around him, upon Jairus' request (Mark 5.40). Strangely, Jesus actually told many of those he cured not to tell anyone about it! (Mark 7.36). Why did he do this? Because Jesus wanted people to put faith in him through his teachings, his Gospel, not just his acts of healing. There were many who came to see Jesus perform miracles but they were not moved to follow him. Jesus saw through them and denounced them (Luke 10.13). For some people, even a miracle is not enough to convince them to follow God's ways.
Consider the people that came to Jesus. The events recorded in the gospels usually happened in, or near, the small towns and villages of Palestine. This was a close knit community, where everybody knew everybody. If there was a blind man in the town, he was well known and, under the Mosaic law, people would have looked after him. If there was a cripple in the town, he would be familiar to the whole neighbourhood and he would be assisted to get around because there were no wheel chairs or buses in those days. And, if there were a leper, everyone would know them and shun them. The point is that, when these characters approached Jesus, they would be known to the audience, so would their ailment. This was no “plant” in the audience, like many of the fake events happening today. These illnesses were genuine. One man is described as “being blind from birth” (John 9.1). Another had “a withered hand” (Matthew 12.10). No-one could fake such illnesses. Jesus would cure them, quietly and with dignity.
Was there ever a case he couldn't cure? No, anything Jesus promised, he delivered. He never accused anyone who was ill of lacking faith. Interestingly, on one occasion, where his Apostles tried to cure someone, but couldn't, Jesus explained to them the reason, it was Their lack of faith, not the sick person's! (Matthew 17.19,20). Regarding the claim that the sick person needed complete faith for the cure to work, this was not true. Many of those that Jesus cured and revived were not even aware of him or did not know him. A dead person cannot put faith in his healer!
Unlike today's dramatic healers, there was apparently no limit to what Jesus could do. He is reported to have actually brought the dead back to life. I am sure that we are not likely to witness such events at the evangelical meetings of the modern world. But, why not? If they have the power of God, as Jesus had, and if they would “perform greater works than I,” as Jesus promised (John 14.12), why can't today's healers raise the dead? Incidentally, the promise that Jesus' later followers would do greater works than his was referring to their ministry, the preaching of the good news. Jesus was restricted to three and a half years of preaching and he did not have modern transportation. Today, a person could spend their entire life telling others about the good news, and some people do. The gospel (“Good News”) has indeed reached every nation on earth, just as Jesus predicted it would.
It is an inconsistency today that healers claim to do the things they do, giving glory (or at least some of it), to Jesus, yet, whenever Jesus performed miracles, he always gave the glory to God, his Father, in Heaven. In fact, Jesus often prayed to God for power, before performing a miracle (John 11.41,42).
What is the motive for someone to perform miracles and cure people? Today, all too often, it appears to any onlooker that the rewards for performing such a miracle are money and prestige. The organisers and the curers are usually rich and prominent. Furthermore they enjoy cult status and sell many books.
What of Jesus motives? He earned no money from his acts of kindness. He often asked people not to tell others about his miracles (Matthew 9.30). He always directed praise and thanks to God. He never owned anything. Rather than make him powerful and popular in the land of his birth, he was seen as a threat to the leaders and he was eventually executed for his “crimes.” How different and unselfish the miracles of Jesus were, whether one believes them or not.
But now, let us ask the most important question, did those miracles really happen, is there any evidence to support them? To answer that question, we will consider some of the fantastic claims made in the Old Testament and then examine two miracles recorded in the gospels.
Moses and the Exodus
Recent archaeological discoveries in Egypt and Palestine have now been confirmed that prove that the events recorded in the Bible book of Exodus did actually happen. The discoveries, by the world's leading archaeologists and historians, include the following;
Evidence of Israelite settlers in Northern Egypt, as guests of Pharaoh
A sudden change in circumstances, becoming slaves
Mass murder of infants of the Israelites
An honoured leader named Joseph who wore a multi-coloured coat
A series of disasters affecting only the Egyptian population
The sudden release of the captive Israelites and their plundering of the wealth of Egypt
The conquering of major cities in Canaan, with little resistance
Archaeologists who deny the authenticity of the Bible can offer no explanation for the sudden release of hundreds of thousands of slaves by the ancient Egyptian world power. One ancient Egyptian priest, wrote of miseries and plagues that tore through Egypt, including the significant and chilling detail that “The river is blood.” He added that “God is angry.” Note that He says “God” - singular, rather than “gods.” The ancient Egyptians believed in multiple gods, not a single one.
One particularly amazing discovery is the location of the city of Jericho. The renowned archaeologist, Kathleen Kenyon found some strange discoveries among the ruins of the city. She reported that the city walls were breached without battle. The massive walls and defense ramparts appear to have simply fallen. But the strange thing is that they didn't crumble inward, as if besieged by battering rams or trebuchets but, that they collapsed outward. Kenyon did not believe that the cause could have been an earthquake because the walls fell in uniform, outward, not in a chaotic manner. Also, the city had immediately been burned after the walls fell down, suggesting that an enemy was waiting, as the walls were destroyed.
Even stranger was the fact that the houses in the city contained abundant supplies of fresh grain. Along with this was freshly baked bread and prepared meals. This meant that the city was not under siege for a long time, as is always the case in the capture of cities, but that the city must have been captured very quickly. The fact that grain was not plundered but was instead burned by the captors is unprecedented in the history of sieges. Also, there was one notable absence in the city - metals of all kinds. Yet these findings are easily explained by the Biblical text which tells us that God commanded the Israelites to burn everything in the city, except the metals. These would be taken for the temple construction.
One other bizarre fact she found was that one small section of a wall was untouched, along with the house built into it. It was not even attacked or burned like the rest of the city. She could offer no explanation for any of these anomalies. Yet, in the Bible book of Judges she could have found the answers to these puzzles. There it tells us that the Israelites entered the city after God made the walls crumble outward. This happened in one day, without siege or struggle. The Israelites then burned the city but, spared one family, the house of Rahab who lived next to the wall.
These archaeological findings have been dated to the exact time that the Bible says that the Exodus and capture of Canaan took place. No expert can offer a reasonable explanation of how these events could happen. But the Bible clearly states that this was due to the power of God, using miracles.
A principle of law states that a fabrication is much more open to detection when the number of conspiring fabricators grows. The parting of the red sea was witnessed by a whole nation of millions of people, along with thousands of Egyptian soldiers. Furthermore, this account has been faithfully recounted through generations of Israelites (and others). How does one convince that many people to maintain such a whopping lie for thousands of years, in the face of ridicule and disbelief? If the parting of the Red Sea was a myth, it would have died a death within years if not months.
The publication ”New Scientist” reported that two physicists at the University of Tokyo applied an extremely strong magnetic field to a horizontal tube partially filled with water. The water rushed to the ends of the tube, leaving the middle section dry. The phenomenon, discovered in 1994, works because water is weakly diamagnetic, repelled by a magnet. The established phenomenon of water moving from where a magnetic field is very high to where it is lower has been dubbed “The Moses Effect.”
New Scientist noted: “Pushing water around is easy—if you have a big enough magnet. And if you do, then nearly anything is possible.” Is it possible that God used such a technique, having control over atoms?
The Miracles of Jesus
Lazarus was a friend of Jesus, he did not make that a secret. Jesus had friends, he loved people. Once he was described as feeling pity for the people he saw because “they were skinned and thrown about like sheep without a shepherd” (Matthew 9.36). When Lazarus died, Jesus was called by Lazarus' sister. It is surprising that Jesus actually delayed going to Lazarus for another two days. When he arrived it was too late, Lazarus was dead. His sister, Martha, expressed her sadness, and Jesus himself “gave way to tears” (John 11.35). But Martha also expressed her belief that, if Jesus had been there, her brother would not have died. Yet even now, Jesus tells her to have the tombstone removed from the grave.
Consider the background and context of this event. Funerals, in those times were very public affairs. The whole neighbourhood would be involved. It was a time for public mourning. The fact that Lazarus was Jesus' friend shows that he was a good man and would have been very respected in the community. When Jesus instructed for the stone to be taken away, there would have been a considerable number of onlookers there, just as the gospel writer says there was (John 11.42). Many of these people would have been friends and acquaintances of Lazarus and would have seen his body and paid their respects.
It may come as a surprise to many but, there were doctors in Jesus' time and they weren’t as ignorant as some might think. Luke, who wrote one of the gospels, was himself a doctor, and his gospel does tend to focus on the medical details of illness and conditions more than the other gospel writers. Now, someone could argue that a resurrection (bringing someone back to life) could be stage-managed if the person had only been dead a short while, but Lazarus was dead for four days. In those temperatures of the Middle East, his body would already have begun to decay. Yet there, in front of a crowd of local people, Jesus calls Lazarus out from the tomb. So notable was this incident that it was one of the catalysts for the religious leaders of Israel to begin to plot Jesus' downfall (John 11.46-50).
Probably the most famous miracle in the gospels is the resurrection of Jesus himself. Jesus had foretold that he would be executed, in fact, the ancient prophecies in the “Old Testament” had also, in great detail, described the death, manner and date of the Messiah (Isaiah 11.1-3, 53.3-9; Daniel 9.24-27). Even Roman historians record the death of Jesus as a fact (The Annals, by Tacitus, Book XV.44) http://www.sacred- texts.com/cla/tac/a15040.htm.
In any court of law, the most commonly used form of evidence is testimony - witnesses. The law states that a witness is assumed to be telling the truth unless evidence suggests otherwise. A principle of law states that the more witnesses to an event, the easier it is to detect fraud. The Bible contains many testimonies from different people, who testify that Jesus Christ was killed and came back to life. One of the witnesses to this event was the disciple Matthew. Matthew was previously a Tax Collector, a profession despised by Israelites. He would have been trained by the Roman authorities to detect fraud. What a perfect witness to oversee the death and resurrection of Jesus. This man, once a villain in the eyes of his own people, gave up a lucrative and prominent career to follow a man who was poor and destined for death. What was Matthew's conclusion? - that Jesus came back to life, after being impaled and having a spear inserted into his lungs.
Jesus had promised that, after three days, he would rise again. The gospels record that on the third day, the tomb was found empty. In order not to perpetuate this growing influence of Jesus, the religious leaders would have gone to great lengths to prevent any claims of a resurrection and, this is exactly what the Bible says they did (Matthew 27.62). The gospel writers all claim that, despite the presence of a Roman guard unit, the tomb was empty. Was that true? If Jesus body had still been there, his fame, and all his accomplishments would have died there and then. Yet no-one in history has ever denied that Jesus body was not in the tomb on the third day. Even the later Jewish writings, the Talmud and Mishnah, while rejecting Jesus' claim to being the Messiah, do not deny that he performed miracles or that his body was missing from the tomb.
About a century after Jesus’ death, Justin Martyr wrote a work called “Dialogue With Trypho.” In this, he said: “You (the Jews) have sent chosen and ordained men throughout all the world to proclaim that a godless and lawless heresy had sprung from one Jesus, a Galilæan deceiver, whom we crucified, but his disciples stole him by night from the tomb, where he was laid.” http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/text/justinmartyr-dialoguetrypho.html. Trypho was a Jew, and this work, “Dialogue with Trypho” was written by Martyr to defend Christianity from accusations made by the Jewish leaders. Martyr would not have accused the Jews of saying the things he says they did, if it weren't true, because they would immediately have condemned him as a slanderer and a liar. So they must have said what he claims they did. So the Jews must have sent out messengers, just as he said. And why did they send them out? Because the tomb of Jesus was empty. All other religious leaders in history have a grave or have had their bodies identified. Jesus is the only exception to this. His body vanished forever.
Paul, another man who changed his life to follow Jesus (after Jesus death!), wrote that, among those that saw Jesus alive again was a crowd of over 500 people (1 Corinthians 15.3-8). Did the writers of the Bible believe that this had really happened? The apostle Paul said: “If Christ has not been raised up, our preaching is certainly in vain, and our faith is in vain. If Christ has not been raised up, your faith is useless” (1 Corinthians 15:14,17). Does that sound like the words of a man who is lying when he says he has seen the resurrected Christ? Among those Jesus appeared to was his half-brother James. Could anyone really have fooled this relative of Jesus?
The Apostles were scared and scattered after the death of Jesus. Peter was so afraid that he denied knowing his master. They hid out for days after the death of Jesus. Yet, not long after, this small band of men were courageously facing persecution and death before the religious leaders of Israel and the Roman Empire itself. How did this happen? What changed their outlook?
It is matter of recorded history that most of the Disciples of Jesus, immediately after his death, and in the early centuries, gave up everything to follow Jesus. They were almost all persecuted, reviled, rejected, imprisoned, flogged and executed. Many Christians were tortured and killed in the Colosseum of Rome. Why would they expose themselves to this? If Jesus had not been raised, would they have broadcast his message everywhere, knowing the risks? To proclaim his resurrection was a death sentence! The only logical explanation for their changed behaviour, zealous commitment to Jesus, and their courageous acts in the face of death, is that Jesus really had come back to life.
The doctor and historian, Luke, actually records Jesus' words (spoken after his death) in the opening pages of the book of Acts, where Jesus tells them, “You will be witnesses of me to the most distant part of the earth.” History resoundingly endorses that they carried out that assignment in such a manner that the whole world has been profoundly affected by their message. No-one spends their life serving a lie and no-one gives their life for a lie!
The Bible tells us that miraculous deeds would end with the death of the Apostles. The miracles had served their purpose in giving evidence that Christianity had God's backing and power. This is explained at 1 Corinthians 13.8-13. Since then, people have been required to put faith in the written Bible alone, not miracles in their lives. Jesus said “Happy are those who believe without seeing” (John 20.29). That does not mean that a believer should be gullible and trust in God without any evidence. The Bible, and creation contain enough evidence to satisfy any reasonable mind.
Whatever people may think of Jesus Christ today, it is pretty safe to assume that they do not consider him to be a liar. Few men have inspired and encouraged such love and dedication in others. Jesus is considered by many today as the epitome of love and wisdom. Would such a man, who knew that he was provoking an agonising death sentence for himself, fabricate any part of his life? No. The Bible records Jesus honest words, and they are as true today as they have been through all history, “I am the way, the truth and the life” (John 14.6).
The Bible also contains many passages which reveal future events, exactly long before they happened. These include the birthplace of Jesus, the place He would be raised in, the exact year of His ministry, the details of His betrayal, death, burial and resurrection, and the impact He would have on the whole world. The Bible also contains scientific revelations, centuries before they were known, including the shape of the earth, the fact that nothing supports the earth, the process of the water cycle and the formation of mountains through tectonic processes. It also contains superlative, universal wisdom that is still widely recognized as unmatched, and detailed accounts of the beginnings of life on earth, all in the correct geological stages. These passages are inexplicable and they defy both time and physics. In other words, they are miraculous.
Fantastic though it may sound, there were once miracles in this world.