According to the bible, Jesus performed many miracles during his ministry. He is said to have walked on water, healed lepers, restored the sight of the blind, calmed a storm, expelled demons, and most miraculous of all, brought his friend Lazarus back from the dead.
Some of these miracles were performed using nothing but hand gestures, such as when he calmed the storm; others required the use of props, such as when he restored the sight of a blind man by spitting on dirt and then rubbing it on the blind man’s eyes. And it isn’t quite clear why Jesus didn’t just heal his friend Lazarus before he died. He knew Lazarus was sick and he mourned his death. He even wept. Was it all just theatrics to prove to his followers he could do it?
The Old Testament has its share of miraculous stories, too. With no miracles in play, how could Jonah have survived for three days in the belly of a fish? How could Noah have built a boat big enough for a pair of every animal on Earth and how could he have then rounded up all these animals, especially the ones living in Antarctica and in the Arctic?
As a child, I didn’t have much trouble believing these bible stories. But then as I matured, reality set in. I knew that not every story in the bible was literally true. How could it be? But I figured that Jesus’ miracles must be true. They were related in the New Testament and more directly concerned my eternal soul.
But it seemed to me that the demon stories probably were about epileptics. And the stories about his walking on water and calming storms were probably the result of writer embellishments. Still, I thought I had to believe them in order to be a good Christian, so I told myself they must be true.
Then, one bright Sunday morning the pastor of my church, in his sermon, cleared it all up for me, at least momentarily. He said it was not really necessary to believe all the bible stories in order to be saved. He said it was ok not to believe the story of Creation in Genesis or the stories about Jonah and Noah. He even said it wasn’t necessary to believe any of the Jesus miracles except one: The Resurrection. He said that Jesus died for our sins and that we needed to believe he was resurrected and ascended into Heaven. Publicly accepting that Jesus is the Savior, plus being baptized, is all it takes to assure oneself of everlasting life with God. Believing all that other stuff is optional.
So there it was, my way out of my dilemma. I didn’t really have to believe that Jesus brought Lazarus back from the dead or that he drove the demons out of the possessed. The stories of the bible that had me confused and doubtful no longer had to worry me. I just wouldn’t believe them. According to my pastor, I didn’t have to.
But then it hit me. And it didn’t take long. If a belief in Jesus’ miracles is optional, except for the biggie, the dying on the cross with subsequent resurrection, then why was that particular miracle necessary? Yes, I know it is the centerpiece of His legacy of our salvation. But if that miracle is true, then why stop there? Why shouldn’t all the others also be true? I mean, it’s in for a penny, in for a pound, right?
If I am going to believe in one miracle, then I must believe that miracles are possible. And if they are possible, then why not believe in all the lesser miracles related in the bible? So I was back to square one. If I had to believe in the Resurrection to have my soul saved, then I sort of had to believe in all the miraculous stories in the bible, including the Creation, Noah and his ark, Jonah inside the fish, ad infinitum.
But then I recognized the corollary to that scenario. If believing in the Resurrection sort of forced a belief in all the other biblical miracles then not believing in one or two miracles that I knew were impossible meant that I didn’t have to believe in any of them, including the Resurrection.
That led to years of confusion, because I really wanted to believe in the Resurrection. I wanted to have an eternal soul that would reside with God. But I also knew that the Creation story was a myth, and so were all the other Old Testament stories. I mean, most of them have been scientifically disproved beyond reasonable doubt. And even most biblical scholars believe that some of Jesus’ minor miracles, such as driving out demons, probably didn’t really take place.
So how was I supposed to reconcile my disbelief of most of the biblical miracles with the mandatory belief in the Resurrection? You see my dilemma?
But after much thought and consultation with those who were smarter than I with regard to the bible, I gradually came to understand something. It doesn’t matter what I want to believe. It doesn’t matter what I actually do believe. The only thing that matters in the end is what is actually true. Believing something or not believing does not change the truth.
I also learned something else. Nobody knows what the truth is with regard to the eternal soul, life after death, or our final destinies. Oh, there are lots of people who claim they know the truth, but their “truth” is based only on their beliefs. And, as I have come to realize, beliefs don’t matter. Belief does not equal fact.
So today, I am a proud agnostic. I stand with those who have also figured out that, no, you don’t really have to believe in something. Since nobody knows the ultimate truth, we are proud to acknowledge the fact that we don’t know either. We also know for sure what religious folks may never figure out, that they don’t know the truth either; they just don’t realize it yet.