Monday, December 30, 2013

T.T. 59 - Understanding Biblical Miracles.

T.T. 59 - Understanding Biblical Miracles.

One thing that puzzles me is how some people say they believe in God, but then go on to say that they don't believe in some of the Biblical miracles because they are "impossible". As most of my readers will know, I was an atheist for most of my life. However, when I did start believing in God, it naturally followed that I believed in His miraculous acts. After all, by definition, God can do anything.

To me, the most significant verse in the Bible is the very first one "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth." (Genesis 1 v.1). You either believe that or you don't. If you do believe it, it is easy to believe the rest of the Bible.

All the Biblical miracles have been criticised by skeptics, but it appears to me that in most cases they haven't actually read the Biblical texts for themselves. Rather, they have just heard an erroneous version of the Bible story and criticised that.

When giving people a "reason for the hope we have within us" , firstly it is important to know what the Bible actually says. By knowing this, it will be much easier to refute critics. Secondly, we need a clear understanding of how God usually works in performing His miraculous acts. For His first miraculous act (Creation), God spoke, and the Universe came into being. However, for nearly every recorded miraculous act since then, we note that God uses material that is already present. Here are a few examples:-

Noah's flood. God could have chosen to create new water to achieve this. But instead He almost certainly used existing water from the canopy that He had put around the earth on Day 2 of the creation week, and water trapped under the surface of the earth.

Crossing of the Red Sea. God could have levitated the Israelites so that they could walked across above the sea. Instead He used air to cause a wind to blow the waters apart and produce a land bridge for the Israelites to cross over (See below).

Feeding the 5,000. Jesus could have created new fish and bread to feed the crowd. Instead He chose to multiply existing fish and bread that was willingly given to him.

Note. God still works in the same ways today. For example, I believe He can heal people without the involvement of His creation, human or otherwise. However, His usual method is to use the skill of people such as Surgeons and Doctors, together with drugs or medicines made from existing sources, all in combination with our body's inbuilt defence and repair mechanisms. 

We will now look at three Biblical miracles more closely.

1. The parting of the Red Sea.

Skeptics have scoffed at the idea of a wind being strong enough to part a deep sea. But what does the Bible say actually happened?

"Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and the Lord drove the sea back by a strong east wind all night and made the sea dry land, and the waters were divided." (Exodus 14:21).

According to this clear text, the means God used to achieve his end (goal) of the Red Sea parting was a powerful air current flowing for many hours. It’s well known in physics and chemistry that one can often trade intensity of an effect (heat, electrical current, and in this case air flow) for time. Because of the long time frame, less intensity was needed. This would keep the wind bearable for the people on the ground.
Modern science has caught up with the Bible, since recent experiments suggest that a long and strong wind could indeed have formed a land bridge:
Now computer simulations show that a stiff wind blowing from the east for 12 hours could have given the Israelites a land bridge that allowed them to escape Egypt over 3000 years ago.
The 5-kilometre width of the cleared mud flats might have offered enough space for a few hundred thousand Israelites to cross, but against winds raging at 100 kilometres per hour, they probably would have needed most of their 4-hour window to walk the 3 or 4-kilometres to the opposite shore.
2. Jonah swallowed by a large fish.
Most children believe that the Bible says that Jonah was swallowed by a whale. However a correct translation of the Bible reveals that it was a "large fish."
Critics have questioned whether a whale or other sea creature, such as a shark, could have had jaws large enough to swallow a whole man, and whether a man could actually survive such an experience. In response, defenders of this Biblical miracle have produced samples of sharks' jaws showing that they could be large enough, and have even cited historical stories about one or two fishermen who have actually survived such an experience!
Interesting as all this is, it is really missing the point. What does the Bible actually say?
"And the Lord appointed a great fish to swallow up Jonah". (1:17).

The words imply either a special act of creation, or of modification of an existing sea creature to accommodate Jonah safely. Thus, while there are a number of both living and extinct large sea creatures that could swallow a man whole, the text says that God 'appointed’ or ‘prepared’ the great sea creature. The important point is that God was completely in control.

3. The long day.

One of the most tremendous miracles recorded in the Bible is the long day described in Joshua 10 vs.11-14. It is stated that the Lord fought for Israel in their battle against the Amorites by two related miracles. 1. Causing the sun to stand still in the middle of the sky for about a whole day to give the Israelites time to defeat their enemies completely before they could escape and regroup under cover of darkness. 2. Sending a devastating hailstorm to slay large numbers of the enemy.

Since the sun and the moon both "stood still" for an extra day it seems clear that the earth stopped rotating on its axis and the moon also stopped its rotation around the earth.

Critics have pointed out that if the earth suddenly stopped rotating everything on the earth would be violently dislocated and probably destroyed. However, the Bible does not suggest that the stoppage was sudden. If a car travelling at a high speed is instantaneously stopped great damage ensues to its occupants, but if it gradually slows to a halt, they feel no disturbance.

It is true that if the earth did slow down, the circulation of the atmosphere would be drastically affected, since it is largely controlled by the earth's rotation. This fact may well account for the tremendous hailstorm that accompanied the miracle.

There are evidences that the land surfaces may indeed have been greatly disturbed at this time. A vision by the prophet Habakkuk reflects back on the time that 'the sun and moon stood still' when there were great disturbances on the earth. (Habakkuk 3 vs. 6-11).

Obviously, such a miracle would have affected the whole earth but, as with the case of Noah's flood, it is significant that suggestions of a long day (or long night in the Americas) are indeed noted in the mythologies of many peoples from various parts of the earth at that tine (about 1400 B.C.) For example, many of the American Indian tribes have a legend about the theft of the sun for one day.

Note. God could also have brought about the 'Long Day' phenomenon by two other methods. 1.  Some form of refraction (bending) of the light from the sun and the moon. According to this view, God miraculously caused the sunlight and moonlight to continue in Canaan for ‘about a whole day’. 2.  A wobble in the direction of the Earth’s axis of rotation. For a more detailed analysis, check out the "Creation Ministries International" web site.


We need to be able to answer two questions:- Can God perform miracles? and Did God perform a particular miracle?

The answer to the first is given in Genesis, Chapter1. A God that can speak the Universe into existence can to absolutely anything. People who don't believe that God can perform miracles certainly don't believe in the God of the Bible.

Secondly, as with the miracle of the long day, a careful analysis would show that each Biblical miracle is supported by both adequate theological justification and by adequate historical evidence.