You Can Lead a Horse to Water: Miracles as Proof or Evidence for God and the Role of the Christian Apologist

It is not unique to have a skeptic say words similar to those voiced by the dying Bertrand Russell who, when asked what he would say to God if after he died he found himself standing before the very God who he vociferously argued did not exist, said he would tell God in his own defense that God had not given him enough evidence. Skeptics say words to the effect of: "If God exists and wants all people to come to him, then why does he hide himself? If he is so great and so wonderful, why doesn't he just reveal himself openly so that we can all see and love him?" This is a really good question, and while I am not going to provide a complete answer here, I want to point out the comments of two great thinkers on the subject of miracles as evidence for God: Jesus and Fyodor Dostoyevsky.

The words of Jesus from The Gospel of Luke, Chapter 16, Verses 19-31:

Now there was a rich man, and he habitually dressed in purple and fine linen, joyously living in splendor every day. And a poor man named Lazarus was laid at his gate, covered with sores, and longing to be fed with the crumbs which were falling from the rich man's table; besides, even the dogs were coming and licking his sores.

Now the poor man died and was carried away by the angels to Abraham's bosom; and the rich man also died and was buried. In Hades he lifted up his eyes, being in torment, and saw Abraham far away and Lazarus in his bosom. And he cried out and said, 'Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus so that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool off my tongue, for I am in agony in this flame.'

But Abraham said, 'Child, remember that during your life you received your good things, and likewise Lazarus bad things; but now he is being comforted here, and you are in agony. And besides all this, between us and you there is a great chasm fixed, so that those who wish to come over from here to you will not be able, and that none may cross over from there to us.'

And he said, 'Then I beg you, father, that you send him to my father's house--for I have five brothers--in order that he may warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.'

But Abraham said, 'They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.'

But he said, 'No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent!'

But he said to him, 'If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be persuaded even if someone rises from the dead.'

From The Brothers Karamazov, Part I, Book I, Chapter 5:

. . . in my opinion miracles will never confound a realist. It is not miracles that bring a realist to faith. A true realist, if he is not a believer, will always find in himself the strength and ability not to believe in miracles as well, and if a miracle stands before him as an irrefutable fact, he will sooner doubt his own senses than admit the fact. And even if he does admit it, he will admit it as a fact of nature that was previously unknown to him. In the realist, faith is not born from miracles, but miracles from faith. Once the realist comes to believe, then, precisely because of his realism, he must also allow for miracles. The Apostle Thomas declared that he would not believe until he was, and when he saw, he said "My Lord and my God!" Was it the miracle that made him believe? Most likely not, but he blelieved first and foremost because he wished to believe, and maybe already fully believed in his secret heart even as he was saying" "I will not believe until I see."

It seems to me that one of the messages of the story of Lazarus (which is echoed in the text from The Brothers Karamazov) is that to many people the evidence is irrelevant. If non-believers are confronted with evidence that (to the objective listener) indisputably establishes the truth of God's Gospel, because God has given them the freedom to reject Him, they are free to disbelieve and reject such evidence.

This is, in part, why I never talk about proving God's existence or the truth of the Gospel; instead, I talk about evidence for these things. "Proof" is very subjective. What I find convincing -- or proof -- of a particular thing may not be convincing to another person. (Just look at some of the famous trials throughout history where it may be that the guilt of someone has been indisputably established to many people, but the jury returns with a 'not guilty' verdict -- or visa versa.) The best I can do is present evidence for the truth of God which includes the argument from miracles. However, even if I make a compelling case for the historicity of the Gospels, the veracity of the witnesses, and the belief that a miracle actually happened, the skeptic is free to rationalize or dismiss such accounts as "unreal" in some sense.

This may be what the Bible means when it says that faith comes as a gift from God. Perhaps the acceptance of miracles only comes after faith in God. But, of course, that does not mean that we should not talk about miracles because a skeptic will only dismiss them anyway. Instead, making a compelling case for God's existence and the good news of the Gospels that is difficult for the skeptic to dismiss may ultimately lead the skeptic to abandon their denial and allow God to give them faith. It seems to me that this is the very role of the apologist.


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