Saturday, November 02, 2013

how we believe

Michael Patton's open and honest discussion on the importance of how we believe ...

How we believe. No, not “what we believe” or “why we believe it.” How we believe is what I want to talk about.

We had Craig Keener at the Credo House last week. On Friday, he gave a presentation to a packed house on miracles. This was based on his excellent work called Miracles. During this presentation, Keener shared the fruit of his research as, among other things, he has catalogued what he believes to be legitimate attestable miracles from God that are going on around the world. In the book and presentation he gave examples and demonstrated how these miracles can and should be believed due to the testimonies and evidence that he gathered for each. And the evidence, for many of them, was very compelling . . . or at least it should have been.

I have trouble believing things. So when Keener was sharing his stories, even though I am the one who brought him in to give this presentation, I found them all hard to believe. Why? I don’t know. I am skeptical. I don’t normally believe people when they tell me this or that about how God intervened in a supernatural way. In the back of my mind, I am patting them on the head saying “I am glad you believe this and I am not going to do anything to take away from your belief, but I don’t.” Maybe “don’t” is not the best word. It is more that I reserve my right to suspend judgment on this “miracle.”

But in truth, I need to believe more of these miracles stories. There are so many of them that I don’t have any other legitimate explanation for. For example (and this was not part of Keener’s presentation), J. P. Moreland once told me when I asked him why God does not heal amputees a story that continually possesses my mind when these kind of things are on the table. He said that he once witnessed a guy who was missing an ear (it was just skin where the ear should be) and had it grow back as people (including Moreland) prayed for him. He said that they watched as there was a break in his skin, blood that came out, and a slight “ear” formed. What is interesting about this story is that the ear did not grow completely back. When the miracle was all done, he just had a hole there, a bit of an ear, and could hear out of it.

This is one story that I think I believe. Or at least I believe it some.

I suspend believe on “miracle” stories for many reasons. One is that most of the stories I hear are not falsifiable. In other words, they can’t be proven wrong. I think that this is convenient for fabrications and misunderstandings. After all, back pain, hurt knees, and short legs are very hard to verify. I am not saying that this does not happen. Maybe many of these are true and I am missing a boat that would give some more flesh to my faith. But, seeing as how most of the stories are not falsifiable, I wonder why God would perform so many unsubstantial (from a verification standpoint) miracles and be so absent (relatively speaking) from miracles that would leave everyone speechless. You know, miracles such as raising the dead, healing the blind, and making a paralytic walk. Those are the things we see in the New Testament and, more importantly for me, these are the type that are hard to deny.

The second reason I suspend belief is because I don’t, in most cases, trust the person telling the story. I don’t know his or her character. I don’t know if they have integrity in this area (not that I am claiming much), I don’t know whether they are critical enough to share these claims. Maybe they just want it to be true so they pass it on (albeit in a more objective sense). It takes a while for me to trust people, especially when it comes to this stuff. Claims of God’s interventive action are too important for me to “just believe.” For me it is dishonoring to God for me to believe something just because I want it to be true or because it fits into a worldview I desire to be true.

Therefore, I suspend belief (at least in my mind) because I am honoring God. For me to really trust someone, it takes time. It take a revelation of an honest character that is willing to wrestle with weaknesses, able to admit shortcomings. and does not believe things just because it fits into a desired framework that makes them feel better. J. P. Moreland, however, told a story that has all the makings for my belief. Therefore, I think I believe it. The story was certainly not something that was obscure like back pain. He says he watched an ear grow back (at least in part). Moreland is no lightweight uncritical scholar. Over the years he has gained my trust both through personal interaction and through scholarly writings. He has also had the courage to change his theological position on some things that would be hard to change. As well, the story itself contains an element of embarrassment in that the ear only grew partially back!

So, I think to myself: He is either lying, misunderstood what he saw, or it happened. Assuming I understood the story he told (and I sometime doubt that), These are the only three choices that I can think of. The first two are very hard to believe. Therefore, I think I believe the third.

This is the way it is with so many of Keener’s stories in his book. They seem so legit. I think I believe them. I want to believe them.

But why is my belief so tentative in things like this? If it stands up to scrutiny (which I think it does), why not really believe it? The answer, I believe, comes down to an understanding of how I believe. The what and why are in place. They are defined and strong. But the how is getting in the way of my full commitment here.

Experiences such as this are not and will never be the foundation of my faith (at least I hope). And they should not be the foundation of yours. But they do turn a two-dimensional faith into one that is three-dimensions. And I do desire to believe them (at least the ones that are legitimacy revealing God’s presence in the world). And you should too. After all, if God is working in miraculous ways in the world today (and I believe he is), we need to be able to rejoice about such actions, even if we never experience them first-hand.

In the next blog post I am going to try to do what I originally intended here and explain more about how we believe. I suppose, for now, a good question would be this: do you believe the Moreland story? Why or why not?

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