In an open forum I once heard an atheist ask the question, ‘Why does God hate amputees?’ Unfortunately, the Christian apologist didn’t have anything resembling a satisfying answer and his obfuscating actually provoked catcalls and other expressions of visible frustration from the crowd. To be fair, it is very difficult on the spot to draw out the actual objection being raised, which may even lead to the abrupt riposte, ‘Umm, God doesn’t hate amputees. Would you care to rephrase the question?’
However, the skeptic may be sincerely wondering, ‘Why doesn’t God do miracles that can’t be plausibly explained naturalistically through various psychosomatic factors, or a doctor’s misdiagnosis?’ Or, ‘God could perform a miracle that the unbeliever couldn’t deny, like causing an amputee’s arm to grow back in front of their eyes. Why doesn’t God ever do this?’
How should the Christian respond?
Miracles That Can’t Be Explained Naturalistically
The Christian could point out that God has done miracles that are extremely resistant to naturalistic explanations. For example, the central miracle of the Christian faith involves the bodily resurrection of Jesus from the dead. Jesus died by crucifixion and three days later He appeared to His disciples, including doubters, friends and skeptics, in a transformed physical body, which is far more impressive than causing a limb to suddenly grow back. A compelling historical case can be constructed for the resurrection of Jesus from the dead, provided one is willing to accept a universe in which God exists.
The above response, however, forces me to expose the massive assumption undergirding this objection: the presumption is that if one were to directly witness a miracle, he or she would believe in God as a result. I think this is doubtful. After all, miracles come to us via our senses and we can always question the reliability of our sensory experiences. Moreover, in Jesus’ day the Pharisees witnessed His mighty acts but they offered another explanation: Jesus’ miracle-working was empowered by dark spiritual forces, rather than God.
As modern people, if we strip the world bare of supernatural entities, if we’ve read and believed their ontological obituary, then we won’t propose demonic intervention; but we might cling to any other naturalistic hypothesis to explain (or explain away) the alleged miracle. We may hide behind probabilities, the gullibility of people, the oddness underneath the ordinary world, or some yet-to-be discovered natural law. This approach will, on occasion, save us from being duped by the cunning charlatan, in addition to happily providing us with a smug sense of superiority over the religious rabble. However, it may also condemn us to missing the deeper truth about reality – a supernatural realm constantly peeking through the pages of our history, upsetting our paradigms and carrying rumours of another world; a dimension of reality more packed with personhood than some of our physicists have dared to imagine.
The Hiddenness of God
The form of objection we are considering in this article also allows us to discuss the hiddenness of God and, again, we are forced to uncover some massive assumptions made by critics. Most significantly, the objection assumes that God is interested only that we grudgingly admit His existence. God could, I imagine, write a message with the stars that states, ‘ I am God. I Exist. Believe and Obey.’ Each culture would be able to read it in their native tongue. And I am quite positive that a sign made of stars would produce significant results, leading to widespread conformity regarding belief in God and obedience to His commands.
In fact, I believe that similar results, involving both right belief and outward conformity to a prescribed set of behaviours could be produced in a totalitarian regime where phones are tapped, secret police pay unannounced visits and the terrifying results of disobedience are written large across the cultural landscape.
But do you know what would not exist in this possible world? Love and delight in one’s relationship with his or her Sovereign. What if God desires more than mental assent from humans regarding certain aspects of His character? From the Christian perspective, God pursues a loving, trusting relationship with His creatures. Therefore, God can, in light of this overriding purpose, give enough evidence to convince with our consent, but not enough to coerce without it. And, unfortunately, the line between God convincing and coercing is very difficult to discern and must, in the end, be left up to the wisdom of the Creator.
To arrive back at the place where we started, the believer can be confident that God will heal all amputees who trust in Him when He renews all things at the end of the age. God has given us a foretaste of this eventual fact through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.