The other day somebody on Twitter asked me how I manage to write so many articles. My response included noting the many sources of inspiration … like Twitter. As a case in point, consider this tweet that Michael Brown posted yesterday:
When a reliable, trusted friend shares with you how God has worked a miracle on their behalf, is your first response to question them rather than rejoice with them? God deliver us from skepticism!
— Dr. Michael L. Brown (@DrMichaelLBrown) April 3, 2018
When I read that, I knew I needed to offer a reply. My initial reply was a quick tweet:
“Whoa, Michael, are we not called to be good Bereans? Do we not give greater glory to God when we are careful about the details and seek corroborating evidence?”
While that captures the gist of my response, I decided to write an article to unpack my concern.
To begin with, when Michael refers to cases where God “worked a miracle” I assume he means substantial cases of divine intervention that preclude explication by natural causes alone such as a seemingly supernatural healing from cancer. This is important because people use the word “miracle” in many ways, including relatively mundane bits of good fortune (e.g. “I found a great parking spot at the mall on Saturday! That’s a miracle!”) and substantial providential blessings which do not necessarily exclude natural causal explication (e.g. “Our son was admitted to Harvard on a full scholarship! It’s a miracle!”). I take it that Michael is not referring to those types of cases.
To sum up, the miracle claim focuses on substantial cases of divine intervention that preclude explication by natural causes. These definitely are noteworthy claims. So how should we respond?
It is important to note that Michael stipulates the testimony of a miracle comes from “a reliable, trusted friend”. So we’re not talking about some fellow you never met before who runs up to you at a Benny Hinn rally and tells you God just gave him a gold filling in his molar. You’d surely be right to be skeptical of that claim. In our case, we’re talking about a person that we know personally and who has been proven as a reliable and trusted friend (and thus, witness). In that case, Michael is advising that we ought to accept their claim to a substantial case of divine intervention and we should not express skepticism.
I am generally sympathetic with Michael’s point. If we are Christians then we believe that God can perform miracles (as defined) and if we trust our friend then we have a good prima facie reason to trust their specific miracle claim.
But that doesn’t mean there is anything wrong with questioning. On the contrary, when a person makes a miracle claim (as defined) we should question them. We question not because we doubt God’s ability to perform miracles. Rather, we question for the following two reasons:
First, while our friends may be generally reliable, the fact remains that they are also fallible human beings. Given that fact, it is perfectly sensible to undertake some preliminary questioning of their claim, all the more so if that claim is on some highly emotional or subjective topic. And here’s the key: if this person really is a good friend, they should not be offended by a friend who takes their story with enough seriousness to seek corroborating evidence for it.
Second, insofar as God is indeed engaging in substantial cases of divine intervention that preclude explication by natural causes alone, we should want those actions carefully documented with corroborative evidence so that that evidence can give glory back to God; conversely, if the supporting evidence does not exist, we should be very diligent about falsely attributing instances of divine action to God that he did not in fact, perform.