At Stand to Reason, Tim Barnett’s short video provides excellent advice for interpreting John 14. Tim explains how if we look at the rest of the New Testament and the early church, we will find that no one actually believed all Christians were supposed to perform miracles. Instead, Tim argues, it makes more sense to interpret Jesus’ words to mean that we, believers in Christ, would do “greater works” than he did in the sense that we will take his message to more people as a whole than he did in his ministry. Considering that Jesus’ ministry was concentrated in a small area, whereas now there are Christians all across the globe, this interpretation would at the very least be an accurate representation of how reality played out. The same cannot be said for the idea that all Christians are meant to be miracle workers.
As such, just because a Christian does not perform miracles does not at all mean that this person has a weaker or less valuable faith . Even so, we may sometimes wish that we could perform miracles. Wouldn’t performing miracles make it a lot easier to convince people of the truth about God? I don’t doubt that many of us have heard something to the effect of “If God would just show himself to me through a miracle, I would believe.”
While this may sound reasonable at first, there are a few additional pieces of information to consider. The first piece of information is that God knows everything. If someone really would believe if God would just try a little harder to reach them, He would probably do it. However, rarely are things that simple. We can’t know all of the details of what would and wouldn’t convince someone if it actually happened, because we are not omniscient. We can’t know what the consequences would be if a miracle actually happened right in front of a nonbeliever’s eyes, so we shouldn’t get frustrated with God when He doesn’t answer every miracle request.
The second piece of information is this: we can in fact demonstrate that while many people say they would believe if they saw a miracle, this is not actually the case. This can be seen clearly in an interchange between Dr. William Lane Craig, a prominent Christian philosopher and debater, and Dr. Keith Parsons, a well-known atheist philosopher. The interchange can be seen here, but to cut through some of the tangential material we’ll focus in on just one aspect of the exchange. The relevant idea could be said like this:
Dr. Parsons: The disciples believed they saw appearances of the risen Jesus, but they hallucinated.
Dr. Parsons (later in the discussion): If God appeared to me personally, I would join church the next Sunday.
Dr. Craig: You wouldn’t think you had just hallucinated?
Dr. Craig’s point is that even though Dr. Parsons claims he would believe if God appeared to him directly, he also rejects the testimony of the disciples’ claims to seeing God directly on the grounds that they were just hallucinating. In other words, Dr. Parsons probably wouldn’t accept a miracle even if God did appear to him directly; he would be inclined to dismiss the appearance as a hallucination, based on his assessment of the disciples’ testimony.
Furthermore, if people make the claim that they would believe if only they had evidence for miracles, we do indeed have evidence to offer them. Point them to the two volume set Miracles by Craig Keener for hundreds and hundreds of pages of well corroborated miracle accounts in contemporary times from all across the globe.
“Because of the Holy Spirit, believers are able to do even greater works in leading people to faith in Christ.“
Do not be discouraged if your inability to perform miracles seems to hinder your ability to persuade others of the gospel message. God has given us the incredible task of carrying the message, but it is the Holy Spirit’s job to save people, not ours.