In support of sitting on the fence about miracles

Tim Chester | July 7th 2020

Do you believe that miracles occur today? 

Perhaps your response is, ‘Yes, of course. I often pray for miracles and I pray with expectation. Not only that, I think we should value people with the gift of miracles. We should make miracles a central feature of our mission so we demonstrate God’s power to the world.’

Or perhaps your response is, ‘No, of course not. I believe that Jesus walked on water, fed the hungry and healed the sick. But that was then. The miracles of Jesus and his apostles demonstrated that Jesus was God’s Saviour King. But that job is done. Now we have the Bible and today it’s the Bible that convinces people.’

Do Miracles Happen Today?

Do Miracles Happen Today?

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An engaging and accessible guide to the Bible's teaching on miracles and whether they happen today.

Or perhaps your response is, ‘Perhaps. Yes, sort of. But I have my doubts about some of the stories I hear. I’ve seen some amazing answers to prayer, but I’m sceptical about the tele-evangelists who hold healing meetings. I think God can perform miracles, but I’m not sure he does so very often. I’m “open, but cautious”.’

Open, but cautious.

One of my friends mocks this position. ‘Sitting on the fence,’ he calls it. A half-hearted position that is neither one thing or the other. A position for people who can’t make up their minds. A self-defeating position in which nothing is expected from God so nothing is sought from him in prayer.

Is there anything to be said for the ‘open, but cautious’ position? I think there is. Let me suggest one reason to be open and three reasons to be cautious. Here’s my reason to be open.

God is the living God

Christians are not deists. Deists believe God made the world and then sat back to let us get on with it. They believe in some kind of creator, but their god doesn’t involve himself in the world. There’s a danger that Christians can be functional deists. We believe God intervened in the world 2,000 years ago when he sent his Son as our Saviour. But these days God doesn’t get involved in our lives. Our secular culture thinks there is nothing beyond the material world that we can see and touch. This prevailing attitude can all too easily infect our thinking so that our expectations of divine activity become minimal. 

But God is the living God. He speaks today through his word by his Spirit. In this way he brings new life to dead hearts. He hears and answers prayers. He rules our lives, working all things together for our good. The miracle-working God of the Bible is the same God that we worship today. He hasn’t changed his nature and he hasn’t lost interest in his world. God can still perform miracles.

So why not pursue miracles by every possible means? Let me suggest three reasons to be cautious.

1. Satan also works through miracles

It's not only God who works miracles; Satan also performs miracles. In the book of Revelation John sees Satan represented as a dragon. And the dragon gives authority to two ‘beasts’. Here’s what said about the second beast: ‘And it performed great signs, even causing fire to come down from heaven to the earth in full view of the people. Because of the signs it was given power to perform on behalf of the first beast, it deceived the inhabitants of the earth.’ (Revelation 13:13-14) In other words, Satan uses people to perform miracles with the aim of deceiving people. That fact alone, it seems to me, is a very good reason to be cautious about miracles!

The Christians in Corinth were not cautious about miracles. They loved men with dramatic ministries, with the gift of the gab, with displays of power. Paul calls such people ‘super-apostles’. They were the first-century equivalent of tele-evangelists. But Paul says they’re bad news. His verdict is damning: ‘Such people are false apostles, deceitful workers, masquerading as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light.’ (2 Corinthians 11:13-15) In other words, these people are Satan in disguise; Satan disguised as an angel.

2. God also works through suffering

God works through miracles, but God also works through suffering. We see this throughout the Bible – in the stories of Joseph with his years in prison, Moses with his years in exile, David with his years on the run, Job with multiple afflictions, Paul with his mysterious ‘thorn in the flesh’ (plus a shed load of other troubles) and John exiled to Patmos. These people and many others like them were equipped and shaped by their afflictions to be the men of God they became. Ultimately we see this in Jesus himself whose sufferings were God’s means of redemption.

‘We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him,’ says Paul. But that doesn't mean Christians always end up with what they want. Paul goes on to define the ‘good’ that God is working in us: it is that we might ‘be conformed to the image of his Son’ (Romans 8:28-29). In the same vein the writer of Hebrews says, ‘Endure hardship as discipline … No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.’ (Hebrews 12:7, 11). 

So if my prayer for a miracle is qualified or tentative it’s not because I lack faith in God’s power. Quite the opposite. I realise God has the power to work both around suffering and through suffering. I’m tentative because I’m wondering whether it might be God’s plan to use this affliction for some greater good. I don't want to miss what God is doing through this suffering by praying as if the only good outcome is a miracle.

3. God always works through weakness

We all love a good miracle story. And why not? It's great to hear stories of God at work. But if we’re not careful then we can make the pursuit of miracles central to our lives or ministries. 

But our focus needs to be on the cross. That’s where the real power of God is found, albeit in the must topsy-turvy way. What we see is a man dying in shame and weakness, but this is the power of God for salvation. ‘For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing,’ says Paul in 1 Corinthians 1:18, ‘but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.’ 

‘Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom,’ Paul goes on, ‘but we preach Christ crucified.’ (1 Corinthians 1:22-23) We need to be careful we don’t become people who demand signs instead of people who preach Christ crucified. Throughout the Gospels there are plenty of people who see the signs that Jesus performed, but who don't then follow Jesus. The point is: signs don’t save; it’s the message of the cross that saves. And the drama of the miraculous can all too easily distract from the cross. And, since it’s the cross that is the power of God for salvation and the pattern for Christian discipleship, that’s a good reason to be cautious about miracles.

Do Miracles Happen Today? is part of the Questions Christians Ask series. This growing series is ideal for helping you get to grips with some of the biggest questions you may have found yourself asking. To celebrate the launch of the latest title on miracles we're offering a special mix and match deal—Any 2 books in the series for £5 when you use the code bigquestions at checkout. Offer runs until July 31st.


Tim Chester

Tim Chester is a pastor at Grace Church, Boroughbridge, UK; a faculty member of Crosslands Training; and is the author of over 30 books. He has a PhD in theology and was previously Research and Policy Director for Tearfund UK. He has been an adjunct lecturer in missiology and reformed spirituality. Tim is married to Helen and has two daughters.

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