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John 20:29 (ESV)

29 Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

2 Corinthians 5:6-7 (ESV)

6 So we are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, 7 for we walk by faith, not by sight.

I've seen these verses being cited by skeptics of modern-day miracles to argue that we shouldn't expect to see miracles in modern times because we are to walk by faith, not by sight.

According to believers in modern-day miracles:

  • What is an accurate interpretation of these passages?
  • Does walking by faith preclude miracles? (Note: in the sense that we shouldn't expect them because we don't need them, we walk by faith so miracles aren't necessary anymore.)
  • Does witnessing miracles preclude faith? (Note: in the sense that if we witness miracles, then we will know that the supernatural is real instead of simply believe in the supernatural by faith.)
  • Is it possible to have faith and witness miracles at the same time?
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Regarding John 20:29, "blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed" does not mean "not blessed are those who have seen and have believed". Those are two entirely separate statements, and the former could not possibly be interpreted as the latter. Jesus is saying that those who have chosen to believe in Him while not seeing with their own eyes the reality are blessed. Why is this so? There are many people who will not believe something unless you prove it to them beyond a shadow of a doubt, which many times includes letting them see it with their own eyes(and there are many people who, even IF they see something with their own eyes, will still not believe)! Of course, such an attitude is many times not only unhelpful but incredibly counterproductive.

For example, an integral part of a marriage is trust between both mates. In a healthy relationship, each mate should trust the other to be faithful to them and not commit adultery. Imagine if you chose never to trust your mate simply because you could not definitively prove that they do not cheat on you! The only way to absolutely verify that your mate does not cheat on you is to have your eyes on them 24/7, 365 days a year! Of course, that's impossible. The attitude of, "I better see with my own eyes or there's no way I'll believe" is very often completely unreasonable(and the attitude of not believing even IF you see with your own eyes[as is the case with many people] is beyond unreasonable). And that's Jesus' point. His point is NOT that you cannot be blessed if you see.

2 Corinthians 5:6-7 is essentially saying the same. We shouldn't totally rely on what we see in order to believe(have faith). Having faith does NOT exclude seeing; it excludes the necessity of seeing in order to believe. We shouldn't need to see with our own eyes in order to believe. This does not mean that if we see with our own eyes we are incapable of believing(that makes no sense whatsoever. Jesus' disciples saw His miracles and they believed). Of course, if we knew everything then there would be no need for faith! I don't have faith that the moon exists because I can see that it exists with my own eyes.

Hope this helps. Have a good day. :)

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  • I don't have faith that the moon exists because I can see that it exists with my own eyes. - you still need faith to believe that you are not seeing an illusion though (insert brain in a vat, Matrix, evil demon and other competing hypotheses :-) ). Mar 18 at 13:39
  • @SpiritRealmInvestigator Good point. It's all relative. I need relatively no faith to believe that the moon exists.
    – Rajesh
    Mar 18 at 17:01
  • Relative to what? Mar 19 at 0:37
  • @SpiritRealmInvestigator Not sure, actually.
    – Rajesh
    Mar 19 at 0:42
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I've seen these verses being cited by skeptics of modern-day miracles to argue that we shouldn't expect to see miracles in modern times because we are to walk by faith, not by sight.

That's a fallacious argument. It does not follow from the premise that people who have faith without witnessing miracles are (especially) blessed, nor from the premise that we are to be guided in our walk by faith rather than by insight into God's design and plan, that we should expect not to see miracles. There's simply no direct connection.

According to believers in modern-day miracles:

One does not need to take a position on whether God performs miracles in the modern day to respond to the following ...

  • What is an accurate interpretation of these passages?

Even interpreting Jesus's words to Thomas in the broadest plausible sense, it attributes blessing, non-exclusively, to people who have faith in him without any prior evidence to support it. That doesn't mean that other people (Thomas, for example) do not have saving faith.

For his part, Paul is speaking more broadly, not about miracles in particular. We humans do not have God's knowledge or understanding, and we do not know more than bits or pieces of his plan. We carry on in life and keep to God's ways in faith that he is who he says he is and will keep his promises, and by the strength that that faith lends us. By no means does that preclude God working miracles in general, nor Him working miracles that we see or experience, nor we being inspired or guided or strengthened by a miracle that we happened to experience. With respect to the question at hand, it means only that we cannot and do not depend on miracles for any of those things.

  • Does walking by faith preclude miracles? (Note: in the sense that we shouldn't expect them because we don't need them, we walk by faith so miracles aren't necessary anymore.)

See above. Note also that (i) we not requiring or relying on miracles does not imply that miracles are not necessary, and (ii) even if we accepted miracles not being necessary, it does not follow that they will not happen.

  • Does witnessing miracles preclude faith? (Note: in the sense that if we witness miracles, then we will know that the supernatural is real instead of simply believe in the supernatural by faith.)

No. The faith in question is not merely that the supernatural exists, but that God is who he says he is, that Jesus is his Son who died for the remission of our sins, that he was resurrected on the third day, and that we can be reconciled with God only through acceptance of his Son.

The Bible documents people who witnessed Jesus' miracles but rejected most or all of that -- for example, the Pharisees who accused him of casting out demons by the Devil's power. It also documents people who witnessed Jesus's miracles and accepted all of it.

  • Is it possible to have faith and witness miracles at the same time

Certainly. Why wouldn't it be? In fact, I posit that a person having genuine faith in God (see above) is far more likely to attribute a Godly miracle that they do happen to witness to its true source than another person would be. And considering again what we're talking about faith in, that faithful person's faith is likely strengthened thereby, not diminshed.

In the end, none of that speaks to whether God actually does continue to perform miracles in the modern day. Ultimately, no living human knows for sure, though there are certainly people who believe very firmly that they have witnessed or even experienced them. I am not among those, but I do happen to think that God continues to work miracles when and where he chooses, for the reasons he chooses.

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What is an accurate interpretation of these passages?

For John 20:29, my thoughts here.

For 1 Corinthians 5:6-7, my thoughts here.

A brief summary for each:

  • From John: it is good to believe based on evidence. It is good to put God’s promises to the test. It is bad to tell God we don’t like the evidence He’s given us. God expects to provide reasons to believe, expects people to test His promises, and expects them to act rationally based upon that evidence
  • From Paul: God gives a glimpse of what He can do, and He asks people to put more stock in that than in whatever the world clearly dangles in front of our eyes. By design, we cannot currently see the full picture. But we know someone who can, and we trust Him, so we walk in His direction & at His direction.

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Does walking by faith preclude miracles?

(Note: in the sense that we shouldn't expect them because we don't need them, we walk by faith so miracles aren't necessary anymore.)

No. Faith/trust in the Lord has been part of the program all along--this is apparent even under the assumption (which I don't hold) that miracles were restricted to Biblical times:

  • Proverbs 3:5 - Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding.
  • 1 Timothy 1:12 - I know the one in whom I have put my trust
  • Matthew 8:26 - Why are ye fearful, O ye of little faith? [note that it's "little" faith, not "no" faith, so they have some faith]

Clearly the apostles (and other Biblical figures) had faith and witnessed miracles (and yet, despite seeing miracles, their knowledge was not perfect--consider, for example, Peter's actions in Gethsemane & at the home of Caiaphas. He had seen miracles, he had faith, yet there were things he did not yet understand). Faith & miracles are not mutually exclusive.

Spencer W. Kimball wrote a book entitled "Faith Precedes the Miracle" outlining that the direction is from faith to miracle, not the other way around.

If we grant that miracles are a type of sign, the following teaching of Joseph Smith is insightful:

9 But, behold, faith cometh not by signs, but signs follow those that believe

10 Yea, signs come by faith, not by the will of men, nor as they please, but by the will of God. (D&C 63:9-10, see also Mark 16:17)

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Does witnessing miracles preclude faith?

(Note: in the sense that if we witness miracles, then we will know that the supernatural is real instead of simply believe in the supernatural by faith.)

No. Alma addressed this topic very directly. He compared the word of God to a seed that grows into a great tree. A few key passages from Alma 32:27-43 below (emphasis mine):

But behold, if ye will awake and arouse your faculties, even to an experiment upon my words, and exercise a particle of faith, yea, even if ye can no more than desire to believe...

Now, we will compare the word unto a seed. Now, if ye give place, that a seed may be planted in your heart, behold, if it be a true seed, or a good seed, if ye do not cast it out by your unbelief, that ye will resist the Spirit of the Lord, behold, it will begin to swell...as the seed swelleth, and sprouteth, and beginneth to grow, then you must needs say that the seed is good...And now, behold, because ye have tried the experiment, and planted the seed, and it swelleth and sprouteth, and beginneth to grow, ye must needs know that the seed is good. And now, behold, is your knowledge perfect? Yea, your knowledge is perfect in that thing...

...and now behold, after...[this] is your knowledge perfect? Behold I say unto you, Nay; neither must ye lay aside your faith, for ye have only exercised your faith to plant the seed that ye might try the experiment to know if the seed was good...

And thus, if ye will not nourish the word, looking forward with an eye of faith to the fruit thereof, ye can never pluck of the fruit of the tree of life. But if ye will nourish the word, yea, nourish the tree as it beginneth to grow, by your faith with great diligence, and with patience, looking forward to the fruit thereof, it shall take root; and behold it shall be a tree springing up unto everlasting life.

(See the full passage for a more detailed discussion of the experiment Alma recommends).

Alma makes a clear distinction between gaining knowledge in one particular thing, versus having a perfect knowledge of everything. God can give us sure knowledge of something without giving us sure knowledge of everything--we may see some parts of the picture, but we do not see the full picture--we exercise faith in Him who does.

I suggest then, a difference between a) knowing God is real, and b) knowing how God is going to get His work done. One can know "a" without knowing "b", and knowledge of God can give us confidence to trust Him even though we don't know "b".

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Is it possible to have faith and witness miracles at the same time?

Yes.

If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, Remove hence to yonder place; and it shall remove; and nothing shall be impossible unto you (Matthew 17:20).

though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains (1 Cor. 13:2)

Jesus said unto him, If thou canst believe, all things are possible to him that believeth (Mark 9:23)

Miracles are expected to accompany faith.

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Observed Explanation

As someone who was raised until 18 in a conservative PCA Presbyterian church in Augusta, GA, then immersed myself for the next 20 years in many other Christian faith traditions (Catholic, Orthodox, Methodist, Baptist, Non-Denominational, Pentecostal, Lutheran, Church of God and more) I have been attentive to this very issue and gathered a lot of data.

The short answer is that most people don't really think about it. When they do, they hold a moderately positive view on God's ability to perform miracles, though unlikely, and become progressively more positive about His likelihood to do so the farther from America and the more novel the gospel is to that context.

The general perception, held both consciously and unconsciously by the supermajority of all Christians with the exception of the Charismatics (from my observation), is that miracles are for establishing "the Gospel" in a place where there is no pre-existing cultural/world-view foundation of authority for the story of the Christian scriptures to serve as a sufficient witness to convert pagans.


My personal thoughts

That's utter skubala, i.e. horse s**t, which is the apostle Paul's vivid word choice for that which is reprehensibly worthless. To address this sickness, you have to step back and address why and how we, as a faith movement, have degenerated from a counter-cultural spiritual phenomenon of the earthly emergence of the Kingdom of God into a religious franchise generating machine running on the fuel of religious arrogance driving the engine of schism. If your goal as a religion is to get people to fart in a pew on Sunday and keep their clergy paid and their missionaries in the field so that the majority of the people can get along with their lives, largely unmolested by the perceived burden of transformative participation in the Kingdom of God, then miracles aren't really necessary or even useful for your recruitment scheme. (I say this as someone who has a letter of membership with one of the Big Box church brands-- I'm choking on the hypocrisy, I assure you.)

imho, miracles are the natural, normal symptom of those who are in Christ living as such. Miracles were normal for Christ, and as those who are in Christ, filled with the Holy Spirit, the manifestation of what is already inside us as individuals and as the Body of Christ should be considered from THAT perspective... not how useful they are for recruiting people to join a particular religious tribe with a tangential relationship to the Kingdom of God.

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