How do we come to believe what we believe?
I spent my teaching career instructing people about how to communicate better. My favorite class to teach was a course entitled interpersonal communication, which is the study of how humans talk to each other on a one-to-one basis. That course had a serious consideration about how we build our beliefs about the world, how we come to see the world as we see it. Our belief system is what we are often trying to communicate to other people because it is a fact that no two people have exactly the same system, no two people see the world the same way.
But how do beliefs come about? There are many complex answers to that question but one I tried to illustrate in my class was inductive reasoning. My course was not a philosophy course or a logic course so I tried to come up with examples that were practical and easy to understand. For inductive reasoning I used the example of coming to the conclusion that you are late to work through the process of induction. Here is a sampling of how it went: you go to bed at night and in the middle of the night the electricity goes off and your electric alarm clock stops functioning [fact 1]. As you awaken in the morning you notice the alarm is off and that the sun is up higher than it should be for your normal awakening time [fact 2]. As you feel some sense of urgency, you begin to rush to get ready for work and you head to the car [stay with me here in order for this make this example to work]. You have been so rushed that you have ignored your phone and you left it in the house when you left. Your car clock has been off since you had that battery malfunction last week. You head down the road wondering if you are late. On the corner you pass a little market and they have an illuminated clock on the outside; you glance and see that it shows you are very late [fact 3]. You keep driving until you get to a stop light where the video billboard on the right shows the time and it confirms the illuminated clock [fact 4]. You continue driving to work and see the parking lot full of cars; your car is one of the last ones to get there which is not normal [fact 5]. You conclude that you are indeed late for work.
This is a building of facts that occurs until you are ready to make what is called an “inductive lead” or what some people commonly call a conclusion [a belief, not an earthshaking, long-lasting belief, but at least a more comprehensive conclusion].
Let’s take this simple belief-building basis and apply it to the dramatized claims of Jesus. In his book Basic Christianity John Stott tries in chapter two to make the case that Jesus is who He has said He is. His contention is that if a person feels a need to become a Christian they must accept that Jesus is the Son of God. . Stott has already argued in chapter two that Jesus claims to be who He is using “self-centered” statements, imputing powers for Himself and connections to God that no other man has tried to claim. Jesus instructed His Disciples that He was God’s Son using parables [Stott calls these “direct claims”]. Then he writes that Jesus proves His identity by “indirect claims” or statements that He could forgive sins, He was the “bread of life” and He came to judge the world.
Let’s apply inductive reasoning to Stott’s last argument for Jesus’ divinity in chapter two. Let’s examine what Stott calls Jesus’ “dramatized claims,” the miracles He performed while He was living on earth.
In my totally fictionalized example above, it took five facts for a worker to realize he was going to be late for work. How many miracles will it take for you to consider that Jesus is indeed God?
A miracle is “an event that involves the direct and powerful action of God, transcending the ordinary laws of nature and defying common expectations of behavior.”* Jesus performed many miracles to help others, to glorify God and finally, to prove who He said He was—the Son of God. When He calmed the storm in Matthew 8, the Disciples were amazed and exclaimed “What kind of man is this? Even the winds and waves obey Him?”
The Gospels list a multitude of miracles dedicated to healing others, feeding people, nature miracles [e.g. calming storms], miracles with fishing etc. In the book of John, this Disciple admits that Jesus did more miracles than are recorded: “Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of His Disciples, which are not recorded in this book…Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written” [John 20:30 and 21:25].
Stott writes that Jesus’ miracles occurred more for their spiritual significance than their supernatural character. He calls them “acted parables”, “His claims visually” or “works that dramatize His words.” By far, Jesus’ miracles revolved around healing but even those miracles rarely centered on the simple alleviation of physical suffering. The miracle of healing for example points to a larger truth, that Jesus is the Son of God who had authority over suffering, disease and death.
The miracles themselves were “I AM” declarations, essentially saying to the world I am who I say I am. Even Jesus’s first declaration of divinity came with the miracle of turning water into wine at a wedding reception. At first glance this may seem inconsequential, a sincere effort to help the wedding host avoid embarrassment, but as we look deeper, it may be interpreted as more than that. Stott says the stone water pots at the wedding location were full of water that was supposed to be used for Jewish purification rites. Stott writes “This is the clue we are seeking.” The water stood for the old religion, water and purification being essential to Old Testament teaching. The wine that Jesus furnished stood for the religion of Jesus Christ, who came to the earth to supersede the Old Laws. Even in this initial miracle Jesus was signaling that He has come to establish a new order.
Another miracle that Stott mentions is the feeding of the five thousand. On one level Jesus is alleviating hunger in a large crowd of people with a scant supply of food. On the other hand, He is claiming to satisfy the hunger of the human heart. The morning after feeding all the people, they were looking for Him and He was not impressed with why they sought Him. “Very truly I tell you, you are looking for Me, not because you saw the signs I performed but because you ate the loaves and had your fill” [John 6: 26]. Were they looking for another free meal? I think Jesus suspected as much. They did not see the intent of the miracle. Jesus meant for people to see His miracles as dramatic signs that His teachings were true; they were proof that He was indeed who He said He was. He wanted the people to see beyond the loaves and fishes. He wanted them to see that He was the Bread of Life, something greater than mere sustenance.
He opened the eyes of the blind man to give him sight but also to illustrate that He was the “light of the world” and all men should open their eyes to see and know God. He brought Lazarus back from the dead to claim “I am the resurrection and the life.” Lazarus’ body symbolized more than just a body; his body symbolized the life of the soul.
How many miracles does one have to read about to accept that Jesus is who He said He was? It took five facts above for the worker to realize that he was late. Some eyewitnesses may have only required one, a cleansed leper, a deaf and mute man healed, a demon cast out, or a cut off ear repaired. Jesus performed His many miracles for as Stott writes “men [who] are spiritually hungry, blind and dead, and [to show that] only Christ can satisfy their hunger, restore their sight and raise them to a new life.”
It is important to note that Jesus never performed a miracle to show off. He never performed a miracle too compel submission. The purpose of miracles was not for His own selfish gain.
As we bring chapter 2 of Basic Christianity to a close, we are back to where we began. A basic concern for anyone who wants to be a Christian is dealing with Jesus as real or Jesus as imposter. Did Jesus attempt to gain authority over men when He did not deserve it? Was He just mistaken about His identity and suffering from a delusion? His claims for identity were based on what He said about Himself, His direct connection with God His Father, His indirect claims for divine responsibilities and finally His miracles.
Skeptical people may always be skeptical. They may always find explanations that will deny facts. I don’t need an alarm clock. I have a natural way of waking up. The sun in my bedroom is an aberration, maybe I have just never noticed it before. That clock at the market is wrong; they never have it set accurately. The video billboard is wrong because it was affected with the power outage also.
Making an “inductive leap” varies from person to person. Five facts may do it for someone but someone else may take fifteen. Some people are so stubborn that nothing will make them believe. Then we have people like “Doubting Thomas” who observe miracle after miracle and will not declare Jesus’ identity until some irrefutable dramatic moment. It took Thomas to be in the presence of Jesus after His death. He had to touch His crucifixion wounds to move him from doubter to believer crying out “My Lord and my God!” That was when Thomas made his inductive leap.
The dramatized claims of Jesus may make the strongest case for His identity because they “show” His power over this world, a power that is not of this world.
They show that Jesus has…
The power of God.
They show that Jesus…
*Miracle facts are from the gotquestions.org website from articles like “What Were the Miracles of Jesus?”
*My first post on The Cross of Christ made reference to Basic Christianity so I am going to insert comments on that book in between posts on The Cross… I think readers may find this approach interesting. For my opening comments on Basic see the post “Studying Stott Again” on October 25, 2020. I have never worked on two books at a time but now is the time to do that.