Should we use our own experiences with dubious miracles to prove God’s existence?

Questions about God, the Bible and the Christian culture 

(Click here to read Monday Musings ... the place where I discuss the thinking that went into this article.)

Question: Should our own experiences with miracles be used as evidence of God's existence? Throughout my life, in youth summer camps and Christian conventions or any situation where there are many Christians, I've seen countless claims of modern-day miracles, prophecies, visions, and demon castings. While I know that God is capable of all of these things, they still don't often strike me as credible. I'm more doubtful of some of these than others, and often I'll see overwhelming faith cause more harm than good.

Two years ago, one of my friends entered camp with a sprained ankle. At this camp, Tuesday is always a night of healing and Wednesday is Spirit night. After a powerful message, we entered prayer for those in the room with sickness or injury. A small group formed and “laid hands” on my friend; they prayed for his healing for over 10 minutes. People were on the ground, clinging to his ankle and praying that God will heal it. Eventually, he gave in and said it was better just so everyone would let him go, and he explained to me later that he wasn't actually healed like everyone thought he was.

For whatever reason, my church emphasizes the gift of tongues as proof of baptism of the Holy Spirit. I had never even heard of the gift of tongues until my first week at camp four years ago... and I've never been given an accurate description of what it is. I've heard countless stories of healings, demon-castings, and the working of spiritual gifts, but these always bring doubt in my mind. Our church emphasizes the gift of tongues and dedicates a whole night to receiving it, and there are countless kids that come to camp — year in and year out — expecting to finally get baptized in the Holy Spirit... and they end up walking walk away discouraged.

Two years ago, I gave up even trying to receive the gift of tongues. I've heard pastors and friends alike pray in tongues and it just sounds like babbling to me. They are just repeating made-up words that don't even sound like they belong in a language.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m never doubtful of God's grace, love, power, or holiness, but I'm almost always doubtful of modern-day miracles, prophecies, visions, and spiritual gifts. Here’s the problem: I've heard people use these first-hand testimonies to try to prove to non-believers that God exists, and I honestly think this is ridiculous! I understand that all of these miracles very well could be true and that many people witnessed Jesus performing miracles — yet we're still doubtful! Besides, we already have eye witness testimonies in the Bible and plenty of proof beyond that in creation.

If the stories of current-day miracles are hard to believe for me, I can't imagine them being very helpful in witnessing to an unbeliever. Would you weigh in on this issue, please?

Answer: Greetings friend. Thank you for touching down with us at Mainsail Ministries — and thank you for asking such an honest, mature and detailed question.

I had to double-check your profile information. Before I read your question, I thought I saw that you were a teenager. But after reading your question — and despite references to youth activities like camps — I said, “No way this guy is a teenager!” But I see that you are. Just let me say that I am glad that you are on God’s side! But also, I’m glad you’ve come here for an answer. I pray that you will continue to ask honest questions of God and his people. This way, you will grow into the man God wants you to be… not the man other people think you ought to be.

Let me commend you on your question-craft, too. You asked your question perfectly in the first line… so let me answer it right up front: we should not let our own experiences with miracles be used as evidence of God’s existence. Why not? You have answered this part of the question yourself. You reminded us that many of the Jews witnessed Jesus doing miracles first hand... yet that didn’t do the job. In fact, they killed him for his trouble.

So here’s the thing: miracles are as real as Jesus. But they are rare by number and often private (Luke 5:12-15). I doubt that Jesus had today’s charismatic church services in view when he sent out his disciples to preach and heal (Matthew 10).

You see, Jesus understood very well what his miracles would do — but also what they would not do. Nicodemus revealed that the Pharisees knew that Jesus had been sent from God (John 3:2). But we know the end of that story. They conspired to have him killed despite his signs and wonders (Matthew 12:13-14).

Jesus also knew that most people would dismiss the greatest miracle of them all — his rising from the dead. In the parable he told about the rich man and Lazarus, the rich man pleaded with Abraham to send Lazarus back to warn his brothers about the wrath to come. But Abraham said, “If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.” (Luke 16:31).

This is a stunning prophecy in light of the data we’ve collected in the 2000 years since Jesus told that parable: despite having God’s word, despite the testimony of the Holy Spirit, and despite historical corroboration that those who walked and talked with Jesus testified that he performed those miracles — and laid down their lives because of that belief — most people still don’t believe in him.

So, your instincts are correct: miracles — real, imagined or pretended — are not the doorway to theism. But don’t get the wrong idea; a personal testimony is an important tool in leading people to Christ. It can start a dialogue about why you think God exists. But we should only touch lightly on our own experiences at those times. Belief in God is a coherent belief; it’s one that is objectively reasonable. That’s the nail we should hammer.

Your question also noted that there is plenty of proof of God’s existence in creation itself (Romans 1:18-20). I would add that every person has a God-given conscience… although many people don’t like to think about that (Romans 2:14-15). In philosophy, too, there are several good extra-biblical arguments for the existence of God. Here is a link to another question-and-answer that includes just a few of them.

https://mainsailministries.org/index.php/q-a-a-god-bible-theology-culture/43-are-there-any-extra-biblical-arguments-for-the-existence-of-god.html

With all we have going for us apologetically — outside of the Bible and the Christian culture — as reasons to believe that God exists, the last thing we should do is hold up dubious miracles and say, “There! God did that! We told you he exists!” People flee from that stuff! I mean... look at you: you are a believer and you know they’re not real.

Now, here comes the awkward part. I’m going to talk about speaking in tongues... even though I too haven’t experienced it for myself. But before I do, you should note that my sister ministry, Got Questions Ministries, has a good article on whether or not speaking in tongues is a symbol of receiving the Holy Spirit. Find it at the following link: https://www.gotquestions.org/tongues-Holy-Spirit.html.

Let me begin this section with a little personal testimony. I did not grow up in a Christian home. I received Christ as an adult who was just starting his family and career — and I’ve been at this Christianity-business pretty hard for fifty years! But I have never once spoken in tongues.

Nevertheless, I believe I am saved and that I live a life controlled by the Holy Spirit — but it’s not just me. My friends and family also believe I’m saved and that I live a life controlled by the Holy Spirit. And many thousands of people I’ve touched through this ministry have no reason to doubt that I’m saved and am living a life controlled by the Holy Spirit. The question is, what do you think — and why? Here’s why I ask.

You seem to be more theologically aligned with us than you are with your home church. If you picture a scale with the charismatic churches like yours on the left and the Calvinistic churches on the right, Mainsail Ministries tends to be in the middle.

Why do I bring this up? Because you seem to come to us for answers… not your parents, peers or pastors — and this is one of the things that amazes me about you. I would expect that a young man who was seeing phoniness in his home church would flee the faith altogether! But you are hanging in with God… and you are doing that by fleeing to the true God of the Bible.

Now, here’s where I may get into trouble… but I have no other counsel to give you. From what you’ve told me, you are not going to get what you need in your parent’s church. I recommend that you leave your charismatic church and find an evangelical fellowship. The problem, of course, is that you are a minor. But I see you as a mature, discerning and independent thinker, and you have outgrown the church you grew up in. Now you are trapped inside it.

As such, consider asking your parents to emancipate you spiritually. Tell them you want to go to an evangelical church. (These tend to be Christ-centered and Bible-centered more than Spirit-centered.) If they permit you, knock on a few church doors and tell the pastor your story. Any church worthy of you would fight for your membership.

Please note that we evangelicals are not perfect. But we are your people... and God’s people work out their faith using God’s word — the Bible... and not some “words from God” that come to people on-the-fly. You will also not see people performing healings, casting out demons or speaking in tongues. Instead, you will see prayer, preaching, Bible teaching, fellowship... and you will have opportunities to discover and apply your spiritual gifts.

I hope this answers your primary question, at least. I know I threw a lot at you. I’ll pray for you... and I wouldn’t mind hearing how all this goes.

God bless you.

(Mainsail Ministries articles often have a preamble where I discuss the thinking that went into them. These are called Monday Musings — and if you haven’t read the one associated with this article — consider doing so at the following link: 20200525 Should our own experiences with miracles be used as evidence for God's existence?).

(For comments, or to join the Monday Musings mailing list, contact us at mainsailep@gmail.com. To submit a question about God, the Bible or the Christian culture, click here.)