I’ve been reading through The Reason for God by Tim Keller as a requirement for my evangelism class. But I must say, I love this book and the reasonable and winsome way the Keller addresses Christianity and the counter-claims to it. The first half of the book he tackles the common arguments against Christianity as evidenced by the chapters titles. In the chapter entitled Science Has Disproved Christianity, he deals with the rational-oriented arguments against miracles and concludes with an important note;
I don’t want to be too hard on people who struggle with the idea of God’s intervention in the natural order. Miracles are hard to believe in, and they should be. In Matthew 28 we are told that the apostles met the risen Jesus on a mountainside in Galilee. ‘When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted (vs. 17). That is a remarkable admission. Here is the author of an early Christian document telling us that some of the founders of Christianity couldn’t believe the miracle of the resurrection, even when they were looking straight at him with their eyes and touching him with their hands. There is no other reason for this to be in the account unless it happened.
The passage shows us several things. It is a warning not to think that only we modern, scientific people have to struggle with the idea of the miraculous, while ancient, more primitive people did not. The apostles responded like any group of modern people – some believed their eyes and some didn’t. It is also an encouragement to patience. All the apostles ended up as great leaders in the church, but some had a lot more trouble believing than others.
The most instructive thing about this text is, however, what it says about the purpose of the biblical miracles. They lead not simply to cognitive belief, but to worship, to awe and wonder. Jesus’ miracles in particular were never magic tricks, designed only to impress and coerce. You never see him say something like: ‘See that tree over there? Watch me make it burst into flames!’ Instead, he used miraculous power to heal the sick, feed the hungry and raise the dead. Why? We modern people think of miracles as the suspension of the natural order, but Jesus meant them to be the restoration of the natural order. The Bible tells us that God did not originally make the world to have disease, hunger, and death in it. Jesus has come to redeem where it is wrong and heal the world where it is broken. His miracles are not just proofs that he has power but also wonderful foretastes of what he is going to do with that power. Jesus’ miracles are not just a challenge to our minds, but a promise to our hearts, that the world we all want is coming.
As I wrote about in Healing and the Resurrection, the significance of Christ’s testimony in the early church rested in the resurrection, which is what garnered much opposition from the religious rulers. Healing points to the resurrection and the reality of the ultimate redemption (Rev. 21). Now some have concluded this means there is a divine right to healing now. But I think that misses the point. Implicit in Keller’s statement (and elsewhere in the book) is that our salvation is not simply to rescue us from sin which was atoned for on the cross, nor is it to simply go to heaven, but it is rooted in redemption and Christ restoring what was lost. But I think this necessitates considering God’s intention in creation (Gen 1-2) as opposed to simply the rectification of our sinful condition (Gen 3).
Lately, I’ve been pondering this in our gospel presentations and wondering if we circumvent the gospel without a discussion of the new heavens and new earth, resurrection of our bodies and ultimate redemption – when death is destroyed, sin demolished, pain and suffering gone, banqueting with Christ in our midst. We all, Christians and and non-Christians alike, feel the tension of living in a broken world. Often people describe religion as a panacea for relieving that tension and finding our “happy place”. But for Christians, that happy place cannot fully be here because our hope is in the redemption that comes through Christ, which involves the resurrection of our bodies and the time when every thing will be set right (see 1 Cor. 15). If in proclaiming the good news of Christ, we make Christianity about relieving that tension here, that undermines the reason that it exists…because this is not all there is. That’s not escapism but a realism of where our ultimate hope lies – restoration through the resurrection.
But for the here and now, God does bring a glimmer of this eschatological hope through his various interventions because Christ does reign, seated in his heavenly throne aside the Father. He works through his people as we join our hands with our mouths of Christ’s redemption, which points to a greater reality. He exhibits common grace to those who reject him, yet at the same time point to his handiwork. Indeed, we get a foretaste now but nothing compared to ultimate redemption.