Recently, a reader by the name of Jay asked me:
I struggle with my faith often.
But when I think of the times that my life has been spared I can’t /won’t shrug it off to coincidence.
Have you ever had miracles happen in your life? Have you ever or a family or friend come out of situation that could not be explained?
Do you believe in miracles?
I was in the Christian church for fifty years, and I was an Evangelical pastor for twenty-five of those years. For most of my life, I believed the Bible was the inspired, inerrant, infallible word of God. I believed God heard and answered my prayers, and in some instances miraculously intervened in my life. According to my worldview at the time, God was a supernatural being who supernaturally intervened in my life on a daily basis. He was very much of a hands-on deity. I preached thousands of sermons, believing that the words that I spoke came straight from God himself. God worked in and through me, and, at times, did things I couldn’t even imagine. Miracles, right?
During much of 2007 and 2008, I undertook a painful and thorough examination of my life and beliefs. In November 2008, I concluded that I could no longer in good conscience call myself a Christian. In early 2009, I sent a letter to my family, friends, and former parishioners that detailed my loss of faith. It was not long after, that I began calling myself an atheist.
One area I paid close attention to during the deconversion process was answered prayers and miracles. I claimed that God had answered my prayers countless times and had worked miracles in my life. Could these things withstand rational, skeptical scrutiny? (Please see Prayer: Explaining the Unexplainable, Does Praying for the Sick and Dying Make Any Difference?, A Few Thoughts on a Lifetime of Praying to the Christian God) After countless hours spent combing through the minutiae of my life, I concluded that most of the answered prayers and miracles in my life could be explained away solely through human means and intervention. In other words, the prayer-answering, miracle-working God I worshipped most of my life was, in fact, quite fallible and human.
But, Bruce, shouldn’t these unexplainable things be called miracles? Shouldn’t you give God his due for answering one out of a million prayers and throwing a miracle bone or two your way? You know, all praise to Jesus for saving one out of four hundred passengers in a plane crash; for saving a Bible while a tornado destroyed everything else in its path; for healing a cancer patient here and there?
In any other setting, someone with such a miserably low success rate would be fired or kicked off the team. The Christian God, truth be told, is batting well below the Mendoza line — a below .200 baseball average. Instead of praising Jesus for occasionally coming through, perhaps there are a few questions that need to be asked.
First, how can we know for certain something is a miracle? Are we to assume that anything we can’t understand or explain is a miracle? Second, how can we know for certain that what we called miracles were performed by some sort of God? Third, how can we know for certain that the God who worked these miracles was the Christian God? Humans have worshiped countless deities over the centuries. How can anyone know for sure that their God is one true miracle-working God? Set the Bible aside for a moment and try to clear your mind of whatever religious indoctrination clutters your thoughts. Does it sound reasonable to say that the “unexplainable” is best explained by attributing credit to a deity no one has ever seen? Or, does it make more sense to explain what we call miracles by saying, “I don’t know.”
I am comfortable with saying, “I don’t know.” I don’t have to have an explanation for everything that happens in my life. Using the Bible and religious dogma to “explain” such things is a cop-out. It allows people to avoid accounting for the unexplainable by saying, “God did it!” I would say to Jay and others like him who are struggling with their faith: “Carefully examine your life. Examine whether what you call answered prayer or miracles can be explained by or through human means. Once you complete this examination, ask yourself, should I still think of the Christian God as a prayer-answering, miracle-working deity?” I think you will find the answer is NO. Now, this doesn’t mean that you are an atheist. Many people, after such careful self-examination, become deists, believing that there is a creator God of some sort who set everything into motion and then said, “there ya go folks, do with it what you will.” What you can be certain of is this: the personal God of countless Christians who is involved in their day-to-day lives hearing and answering prayers and working miracles is a myth; that we are each accountable for our own lives, and that humans collectively, according to the humanist ideal, have an obligation to make the world a better place to live.
About Bruce Gerencser
Bruce Gerencser, 62, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 41 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.
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