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Todd Wagner, lead pastor of Watermark Community Church, interviews author and speaker, Eric Metaxas, about his book, Miracles. The two talk through the topic of the miraculous, it's plausibility, and the implications on life and faith.
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The Exclusivity of Jesus
Living Life in the Grace and Sufficiency of Christ: Baptism Celebration 2014
The Continuing Story of Easter
Todd and Greg Answer Questions About the Faith
5 Characteristics of Relationships that Succeed
A Tender Word for Pharisees
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Love is Always Better than the Law
Todd Wagner: That's your new theme song, man. Do you know who wrote that song?
Eric Metaxas: I believe it would be Hot Chocolate.
Todd: Yes! It's Hot Chocolate. You sexy, smart thing. Where are you from, man?
Eric: There's also a Barry Manilow song about miracles.
Todd: You didn't have to tell people you knew that.
Eric: There's also a Jefferson Starship song called "Miracles."
Todd: Wow. So we're on music trivia.
Eric: But the Hot Chocolate one really wins, I think.
Todd: I'm going to test you on something now. This goes with the story we just heard about the fish. I'm going to give you a little clue. This comes from an album called Now and Zen. Can you name this song?
Eric: Yes. "Heaven Knows." Robert Plant.
Todd: Now there's a reason I start with that song. In Eric's book Miracles, in sharing the story you just heard, he talks about how that song is part of God, in his mind, miraculously, if not coincidentally (and we're going to talk about what the difference is between a miracle and a coincidence)… Tell them about "Heaven Knows" and the fish story.
Eric: This is nuts. First of all, what a joy to be here. Thank you for coming out. In New York when we have events like this (I live in New York City) we don't get this many people, and we have much better speakers. Trust me on that. So thank you for coming out. It's funny, because my story… You heard the I Am Second video. If you don't know I Am Second, go to iamsecond.com. There are a million of these. They are the most beautiful, wonderful videos. All kinds of people. They have Albert Pujols and all these stars. They're incredible videos.
In that video I don't talk about this part of it. In the book for the first time ever I told the story. It was about two or three months before I had this dream. I was so lost. I was just thinking, "Is there a God? Is he out there someplace? Is there anything beyond this world?" which is really the subject of this whole book. "Is there anything out there? Is this it?" I was so depressed and bummed out. I was driving to this horrible job.
On the radio comes this song by Robert Plant. He was famous in the 70s with Led Zeppelin. Now he had a solo career. So it's 1988, March, or something like that, and he puts out this album Now and Zen, and the song was "Heaven Knows." I was so bummed out that I remember thinking, "Does heaven know? Is there a God out there who knows me?" I remember listening to this and just in this reverie being touched by it and even wondering…
I was so depressed and kind of strung out on my life at that point. It was just not going where it was supposed to go. I remember thinking, "Is this song even a sign from God to me? Is he trying to get through to me with this song?" I remember pulling into the parking space at Union Carbide in Danbury, Connecticut. By the way, the Hebrew word is gehenna. It was really depressing. I remember pulling into the parking space while this song "Heaven Knows" is playing.
It ended, and I shut it off, and I said, "God, if you're out there, let this song be on the radio when I come back eight hours from now," or something like that, which is just the kind of pathetic thing we do when we're really bummed out. That's where I was. I was looking for a sign. Anyway, of course you think those things and forget all about it. Eight hours later, I get back in the car, turn it on, and turn on the radio. Click! And here it is, "Heaven Knows."
It freaked me out, because it was only then that I remembered eight hours before praying that prayer, which I didn't even know was a prayer. It's just one of those things. It so freaked me out that I thought, "God is real. He's real." The odds are not high that this song would be playing the minute I turn the radio off and then eight hours later the minute I turn it on. It's even weirder that I would say that.
Let's say that happens sometimes, but the idea that I would say that and it would happen… You could say it's a coincidence, but at the time I remember being so moved. "Could it be possible that God is real and that he knows me?" It so freaked me out. I remember driving home and just being filled with joy and thinking, "God is real." My dream that there might be a God… He's real, he's real.
Well, as happens sometimes, you have this experience, and then you forget all about it. That's exactly what I did. Three weeks later I didn't even remember it at all. That's really interesting. Somebody emailed me today something about "If there are miracles, do they compel us to believe?" This tells you…obviously not. It's all up to our will, and I wasn't ready.
Todd: Well, let's dive in by asking this. That is, at the very least, a strange coincidence. I'll tell you a quick 30-second story that happened to me. My wife and I, just before we started Watermark, were praying about taking an opportunity with a church start-up in Atlanta, Georgia. I had been through all my little personal interactions with them out there, and I brought my wife out there. There were seven Wagners at the time. We were living in 1,700-square-foot houses.
I introduced her to the people, and I know they were there just to make a formal offer and drive us around these suburbs with these beautiful homes and beautiful rolling hills of Atlanta, and I thought, "There's no way my wife is going to discern that God doesn't want us there." Anyway, we landed. We rented a car. I prayed and said, "Lord, just show us," and we turned the radio on.
I promise you the very first words out of the radio were Little Texas' song "God Blessed Texas." We just looked at each other, because we prayed, "Lord, we don't know if we're supposed to go to Atlanta. Do we start this with our friends back in Dallas?" We just went, "Okay, that's bizarre and it's funny and we'll see." But that's a coincidence maybe.
Eric: Here's the thing. Part of what this book is all about is helping us understand the difference, let's say, between a miracle of God and a coincidence. I don't even talk about that specifically, but that's ultimately what the book is about. What happened to me with that song I would say definitely could have been a coincidence, so I would never hold that up as "This proves God" or something like that. I don't know.
Todd: It's not exactly a Red Sea experience. Right?
Eric: Well, no, but the thing is what happened to you… I think where it gets tricky is it can get really subjective sometimes. In other words, if God needs to speak to us in a subtle way like that… Like, this weird thing. You turn on the radio, it's Texas, and he brings you here, and then you realize, "Well, it does seem like it was God's plan." Part of what I try to do in the book is to help us think critically, to understand if there is such a thing as a miracle…
There are plenty of people who don't believe miracles can happen, and that, to me, gets cynical. At the same time, there are plenty Christians, especially, who are really gullible and sloppy. We need to be simultaneously open-minded to whatever is true, whether we like it or not, and we need to be critical of things so that we're not accepting something that's not true, because it makes us look like idiots.
By the way, if you're accepting something that's not true you're being an idiot. It doesn't mean you are an idiot, but you're behaving idiotically, and there's no excuse for people of faith to behave idiotically. It's kind of like I said in this video. People say, "Oh, faith is a leap in the dark." You think, "Wait a second." I get that concept. At the same time, if I am not believing in something that is totally objectively true, then I am an idiot.
I don't want to believe in something that just works for me. It's either true or it's not true. The goal of life should be to figure out what is true, what is real. I think that's important for everybody, important for people of faith and important for people who don't have faith. We're talking about truth. We're not talking about my brand, my tribe. "Come on, join my tribe. It's better than your tribe." It's not about tribe; it's about what is true. It cuts both ways, and that's part of what I want to do in the book.
Todd: So here we go. When you were going through that little time, you had a friend at work at Union Carbide, as you were an editor for chemistry…
Eric: Oh no, no, no. I was… By the way, I dedicate this book to that friend. His name is Ed Tuttle, and his conversion story is in the book, and is a lot more interesting than mine. Amazing. Anyway, this is no joke. I went to Yale University. Totally secular. Whatever baby faith I had evaporated by the time I was graduating from Yale.
I was an English major, so what do you do with an English degree? Answer: nothing. It doesn't mean I wouldn't have… If I went there today I'd get an English degree. It's awesome, but what could I do? Proofread. So I got a job as a proofreader at Union Carbide, a chemical company. You want to talk about a way to depress me? That was it.
Todd: Then you got upwardly mobile, and by the time you were 24 you had your own place in your parents' house.
Eric: Yeah, I had my own room. So I graduated Yale with an English degree, and the goal of life, if you don't know… When you graduate Yale, you pretty much know that you don't ask the question, "What's the meaning of life? Why am I here? Who am I?" Don't ask those questions. Ask specific questions dealing with information and skills. Don't ask questions about meaning, because, really, the secular worldview doesn't do meaning, and Yale is the capital of secular USA.
What you do is get a really good job and distract yourself for a few decades, and then it'll all be over. You don't have to think about these questions. My first mistake was being an English major. I could not get a good job and distract myself, so I was left alone to sit around and think about the meaning of life, which is a gigantic bummer.
In terms of career, I wanted to be a writer. How does that happen? What do writers do? Become alcoholics. Live by the railroad tracks. I don't know what you do. So I was just kind of floating and drifting. If you do that, inevitably you will end up moving back in with your parents. That's the way it goes down.
Todd: Which you did.
Eric: I moved back in with my parents. My parents are European immigrants, so they don't have the attitude… Most American parents, I would think, would be like, "Oh, Eric is finding himself. He got a good education. He'll land on his feet. He'll be fine." My parents were like, "You should find yourself a job quickly and get out." I was so miserable, but God can use our misery and our suffering to get our attention, and that's what happened.
Todd: If there is a God, and that's really what you have to start with, and you do in this book. If there is a God who created the world ex nihilo, out of nothing, then he can make songs come on the radio to a young man he's trying to reach, because you weren't a believer at the time. You grew up in a Greek Orthodox church that was more racial Greek than it was religious.
Eric: It was tradition. It was a wonderful community. When I first became a Christian I was really angry, but I thought, "No, it's a great community of people, but they don't know what I now know, which is the joy of a relationship with the creator God." We're created for this incredible relationship. I didn't hear boo about that, and I was in church every Sunday.
Todd: So he's pursuing you through an ex-Zeppelin lead singer. He's pursuing you through dreams about fish, and God captures your heart. Here you are today, an English major who has written some best-selling books that are pretty outstanding. Why was your next book Miracles?
Eric: Why did I write this book? That's not difficult to answer. I will tell you, Todd. Thank you for asking. Feel free to listen in. I've written some books of apologetics, Everything You Always Wanted to Know About God (But Were Afraid to Ask), but I'm mostly known for these biographies, Wilberforce and Bonhoeffer, who, by the way, I say in the introduction to this book, never are on record as having experienced anything miraculous or mystical. Two of the greatest Christians who ever lived had no experience of this, in case you're tempted to make an idol of the miraculous, which some Christians are.
Todd: That's worth repeating. So you're telling me that the two guys you wrote biographies about who have been used… Bonhoeffer certainly as an icon for us in our day and age. Wilberforce, who overcame the greatest evil and the center of a country's even economic strength… Neither of those guys, who both loved God radically, ever experienced anything like this.
Eric: I think that's important, as I said, because people sometimes… It's always the case. Everybody does this kind of thing, but Christians especially in my experience. They're just following after whatever. Some people go to a conference on miracles, and suddenly their faith becomes all about miracles. I think we need to be balanced. For me, I've experienced a bunch of miracles in my life, and I will say that under torture. I can't recant it, because it happened.
But here are two of the greatest Christians who ever lived, who I wrote about, and they did not experience anything miraculous, so we can't have this litmus test that if you're a Christian you must experience something miraculous. On the other hand, I would say we should expect it. Maybe they were not in a world, like, Wilberforce in his world, Bonhoeffer in his world…
They were not traveling in circles where people talked about the miraculous, so you tend not to be looking for it, but I think if you have a healthy, grounded relationship with God, then probably you will experience some supernatural things, but you don't want to make an idol of it, because any idol is bad and a good idol is the worst, because it's the most of a counterfeit for God.
Anyway, I wrote biographies about Wilberforce, about Bonhoeffer. I live in New York with my wife and daughter, and one day I was having lunch with a publisher in New York City.
Eric: Why? Having lunch with an editor? I guess if you're not a writer a publisher sounds like a big deal.
Todd: A publisher wooing you. Massive up-front contract promises. Park your Lamborghini out front.
Eric: No, no, no. So I was having lunch, and we were having a rambling conversation about life. It wasn't about this book or that book. It was just kind of a "get to know each other" thing. I didn't know where he stood in terms of faith or anything like that, so I just shared this amazing miracle story from my life. I have maybe 10 of them that are kind of amazing. So I shared this story, and the editor says, "You need to write a book on miracles," like, emphatically.
I said, "Wow. I never even thought of writing a book on miracles, and I don't really want to, but I'm glad you were impressed enough by the story that you would even think that. Thank you. That's a true story. That happened." He was like, "No, no, no. I mean it. You need to write a book…you will write a book on miracles. I'm going to send you an outline tonight." I said, "An outline tonight?" Editors don't do that.
So he sends me an outline, and I'm still thinking I don't want to do this. In fact, I had in mind, "I want to write a spiritual autobiography, where I tell my story of coming to faith and I tell a number of these miracle stories." I said, "I want to save these stories for that book. I don't want to write a book just about miracles." But he kept coming after me and saying to me, "This is such an important topic." I think also, in terms of publishing, thinking about Heaven is for Real and all these books coming out, there's a hunger out there for this in the market.
But I would say there's a hunger in human beings for this kind of stuff. I know there is. It's not just in the market, but sometimes these hungers manifest themselves in the market. He kept saying this to me, and then he said, "In fact, I think this is such a big and important idea I'm going to find someone else to write this book. I want you to write it. I think you're the person to write it, but if you refuse I'm going to find someone, because somebody needs to write this."
That's when my wife said, "If someone else writes this book, they might not write it the way you write it, Eric. You know you could write this in a way that's balanced, that is open-minded about the supernatural but also theologically careful, not wacky, and that can be critical of sloppy faith, which is not real faith. You can do that, and you know somebody else might write it, and maybe they're not going to do that, so there's going to be this big book on miracles out there, and it's going to be iffy."
There are a lot of books out there that are theologically iffy. I would never mention Oprah by name. I would never mention Deepak Chopra in a public setting. That stays in this room. The point is when you're dealing with the supernatural people get into all this wacky stuff. So I felt a little bit convicted, to use a Christian word, and I said, "Susanne, I think you're right. I think maybe I need to do this." So I said I would do it. I guess I became convinced that everybody is thinking about this stuff. It doesn't matter if you're a Christian or a non-Christian. It doesn't make any difference.
Todd: I've been reading this to prepare for our conversation here, and it starts… Like I said, if you believe in the existence of God the idea of a miracle is not difficult. What I thought was fun, Eric, the way you started this book, almost from a very intellectual… You didn't mean to argue for the existence of God to begin with, but you looked at the miracle of creation, the fine-tuning of the universe. Let's spend five minutes on this one, talking about the miracle of creation, how that's an evidence for God and how it makes the rest of the miracles possible. Because if God is there, he can do what he wants…dreams, songs, part seas.
Eric: This is one of these things I totally did not anticipate putting in this book. That's one of the cool things about writing. You start out, and stuff happens. You hear about this. Writers tell you that the writing takes on a life of its own. Most people here don't know that when Mark Twain started writing Huck Finn it was supposed to be a kid's book about a unicorn.
Todd: I didn't know that.
Eric: That's a lie. I just made that up. But I started writing this book, and I said, "Okay, the first thing I need to do is define what a miracle is. What do we mean by a miracle?" So the first thing I said is a miracle is like parting the Red Sea or if you pray for a blind person and they get their sight. We know pretty much what a miracle is, and we shouldn't be so sloppy that we say every little coincidence is a miracle. We need to be careful about that.
A miracle needs to be when you see God act in a huge way and you just say, "Wow! That's a miracle." People in this day and age always say stuff like, "Oh, life is a miracle." I said we're not talking about that kind of thing. It becomes a cliché. "Life is a miracle." But if you think about it in the right way, life is a miracle. I said, "Let me talk about that. Let me break that down."
So I talked about what is called the fine-tuned universe. Some of you have heard about this. I know in Dallas you're way more up on this. If they hear about this in New York they move to Dallas, pretty much. The fine-tuned universe is the idea… This is from science. This is not theological; this is science. Scientists say the more we know about the natural world, the more freaky it is that we're here.
They say the odds of life existing on a planet like this are, at this point, like zero, because they say the planet needs to be about this size. It needs to be this far away from the star. There are all of these factors, which I didn't know anything about. Over the years I've read some books. I remember 20-something years ago I read this book by Hugh Ross. He talked about this. He's a Caltech astrophysicist who's a Christian. He wrote about this, and then John Lennox… A lot of people have written about this.
I started looking into it, and you start realizing it doesn't make sense. If you look at it from a scientific point of view, the odds of life existing on a planet anywhere in the universe are now not just zero but infinitely below zero, like 10 to the seventieth power kind of thing. It's frightening. Just to give you an example, if the earth were any bigger the gravity would be stronger, and if the gravity were stronger on this planet it would have the strength to pull in ammonia and methane gas, which are poisons. If you're breathing that you're dead, so you're not breathing it.
I thought, "That's freaky." If the earth were just 4 percent bigger we wouldn't be able to breathe. If the earth were a tiny bit smaller it would not have the gravity to keep in oxygen. That would dissipate into the atmosphere. So you start thinking… That's one parameter. In 1966 when Carl Sagan said, "Oh yeah, there are like 10 million planets in the universe that could support life potentially…"
Well, yeah, in 1966 there were two of these kinds of parameters, but every year scientists discovered more and more and more until in 2001 there were 150 parameters that scientists say must be met for life to be possible on a planet. When you add all those up and do the math, you say, "Well, there's not an infinite number of potential planets; there's a fixed number," and you start realizing the odds are not just one in ten or one in a billion. It's a number that when you read it, it frightens you.
The odds from a scientific point of view that there should be life on one planet are way below zero. Mathematically, scientifically, life should not exist. So what's the takeaway? Well, it seems obvious. Either our existence is the most freaky, mind-blowing, sick coincidence in the history of coincidences… If you believe that, that's what is called faith. If you believe that, you have way more faith than somebody who believes God created the universe.
Todd: It's a cosmological argument for the existence of God. It's what our good friend Steve Meyer and others in the Signature in the Cell… Just how we keep seeing order and design as you go down and as you go out. What you're making a case from early in the book is that to believe there's not a God… I love to tell people this, because science always is seen to intimidate Christians.
Eric: There's a whole chapter on that too. We're not going to go into it. To say science and faith are not compatible is ridiculous.
Todd: Scientism, which is a philosophy, and faith are not compatible.
Eric: Scientism. That's the word. To wrap up what I was saying… There's a whole chapter on the existence of the universe. Forget about life. The idea that the universe exists the way it does. I won't go into that. Then there's a chapter on the existence of life. That is a miracle. When you read the chapter, you'll get it. It takes a while.
That makes the Red Sea look like a joke. It makes the parting of the Red Sea look like less than nothing, like a half-asleep 4-year-old could pull that off, compared to… When you say life is a miracle and you realize the creation of the world from a scientific point of view (I want to keep saying that) is so implausible, it should freak you out way more than anything you ever call a miracle.
Todd: This sets us up. It should drive you to believe, but our Bible says the reason it doesn't is that people suppress the truth in unrighteousness. The problem is not an informational problem, which will set us up for something we're going to talk about with miracles. Just to give them this, because I want to equip them. I'm a pastor. It's my job. Scientism is a philosophy that says, in effect, "We rule out the possibility that anything beyond natural law exists." That takes a faith statement.
Eric: I want to underscore that, because this is a huge point. The world of time and space, the natural world that we know about, that we can study through science… That's the material world. That's the natural world. Scientists correctly say through the tools of science we can examine that world, but we cannot examine anything beyond this world. Correct? Science can tell you a lot of things, but it can't tell you how to live. It can't tell you about the meaning of life. That's not the role of science.
Where you get people who are not scientific but scientistic… They've made an idol and an ideology of this materialist view. They say by definition nothing can exist beyond this world. Now here's the problem. With the rules and the tools of science, you can't make that statement. You cannot know via science whether there's anything beyond this world, so to make that statement is itself to be fundamentally unscientific.
This is hilarious, because you have people who have made an idol of science… Most scientists, I would say, are not like this. I'm talking about ideological people who are scientistic scientists, materialistic, naturalistic scientists. They are, ironically, putting all of their eggs in this basket, which is totally ideological, which means it is faith. It is not based on fact, because fact leads you to say, at most, "We don't know if there's anything beyond this world."
In other words, if you want to be totally honest, the best you can do is to say, "We don't know." I would say, to back up what you said after that, is you can say, "We don't know" or you can say, "Everything we do know points us, leads us in the direction to believe that maybe…in fact, probably…there is something beyond this world." The problem is if you don't want to believe that… This gets to the point. It's the human will.
In other words, you can have all of these facts, and they're there. I don't know what there is to say. Maybe people can quibble, but basically it's overwhelming. So why don't people believe that? "Well, because it means I'd have to live differently. I'm cheating on my wife. I'd have to stop that, and I don't want to stop that, because my wife is really grumpy. It keeps me going. So don't put this God stuff on me."
Okay, so you're telling me you don't want to believe that, but the facts lead you to believe that, so how do you get out of it? Here's how a lot of people get out of it. Of course, I'm speaking in cartoon ways here. This is not everybody, but I'm saying a lot of people are uncomfortable with the concept of a creator God, so what do they say?
They say, "You know what? This universe is so perfectly fine-tuned on this insane level. How can that be without there being a God? Oh, I have an idea. Let's just say there's a multiplicity of universes. There's an infinity of universes. We can't see them, we don't know anything about them, but we're just going to say there's an infinity of universes out there, and we just happen to be living in the one universe where everything worked out perfectly." No joke. This is what some of the finest scientists of our day are saying.
Todd: That's all they have.
Eric: That is infinitely more far-fetched than saying the God of the Bible created the universe. That's rather obvious, if you have a choice between the two. It's kind of like choosing the flying spaghetti monster that some of these atheists talk about. It's so nuts. Part of the reason I wrote this book is because I want everybody to understand the facts.
When you're arguing with somebody or you're having a conversation, you don't have to win every conversation, but at least know that what you believe is outrageously rational. It doesn't mean you're going to force somebody to believe what you believe, but let's at least have the same facts so it doesn't become a shouting match.
Todd: Let me say this to you guys, because some of those books are really hard to digest. You've read those books and have taken your Yale abilities and condensed Lennox's book and some of Hugh Ross' observations into one single chapter that gives them an opportunity to learn this conversational, loving technique so you can help people who pride themselves in intellectually rejecting Christianity on this one point alone, which is the fine-tuning of the universe.
One of the things I want to add in that's so helpful… People go, "Well, the Bible is not a science book." I love to respond to that. I go, "Well, that's a good thing, because if it was it would have to change every five years," because science is constantly changing. Statements that scientists made with absolute, authoritative conviction have now been proved scientifically to be errant, so science is evolving as we get better at observing natural law.
Natural law doesn't cause anything. It is just what is, and it also cannot prevent anything. That's why when somebody is supranatural… We have a God of order, so he made things happen in a natural way, but because he's there and he wants to do something above and beyond natural events, he can. So now let's get into some of this stuff. Just learning that is worth the book.
Eric: Thank you for saying that. Part of what I know that I do… Because a lot of people say, "Oh, you're so smart. You did all this research." Totally untrue. I want to be honest. Almost everything that's in this book…not everything but almost everything…I just got from other books. People have written about this and put this in books. The problem is maybe those books are a little too scientific or a little too hard to get.
I said, "Look, some of this stuff everybody needs to know." I mean, truly everyone. It doesn't matter if you're a person of faith or not. We all ought to know this stuff, because it helps us think about life. I said, "I want to put that in my book." Then if you like it, it will lead you to these books that I read. I really do feel it's incredibly important for us to know these basic things. These are basic things, and that's why I put it in there. We don't have to talk about this now, but later on if you want to ask me…
Todd: We'll talk about what I want to talk about when I want to talk about it.
Eric: I want to talk about the creation of the moon. I'm saying, "How did I not know that?" We'll get back to that.
Todd: I know one of the questions on their mind. This is the kind of stuff they're going to find in this book. I'm going to read to you two short paragraphs, and then I want you to answer this, because I know what they're thinking. When I read this I went, "This is brilliant." We talk about our friend Joni Eareckson Tada, how when she's 17 she becomes a quadriplegic and how God or coincidence had a crab bite her sister's toe and the night before Joni bleached her hair blond so she could be seen in the ocean so she wouldn't drown when she became a quadriplegic.
But we still think, "Wait. The God who can have a crab bite a girl's toe… Why would he let that girl be a quadriplegic, and though she's been prayed over by every faith healer under the sun she's still, 47 years later, a quadriplegic? What kind of God who does the miraculous to save her wouldn't miraculously heal her?"
Eric: That's the point. We need to be honest in our faith. Christians often overstate things, like "God is so wonderful. God is so wonderful." He is, but you still have to deal with the fact that he allowed the Holocaust to happen. When you talk about you prayed for a parking space…awesome, but don't you understand that a person who does not share your faith is disgusted? They're like, "Shut up. You're a pig. Millions of people were killed, and your God gives you a parking space? You have to deal with that evil. How did your God allow that evil to…?"
We do need to deal with that. In other words, we need to have a sober faith that appreciates the pain some people bring to the table. Our friend, Joni Eareckson Tada, has been paralyzed now for 47 years, and millions of people have prayed over her. She's a woman of vibrant, amazing faith, but you have to ask, "Why didn't God heal her?"
What Todd was just saying is that this amazing thing happened that prevented her from dying when she dove in the water and was paralyzed. This, I would say, miraculous thing happened that allowed her sister to save her, but you have to ask the question, "Why would God allow that weird little miracle to happen so her sister could save her life?" God did this amazing thing, but she has been paralyzed for 47 years. I think we need to deal with that.
Todd: Answer this question. Listen to this paragraph. "Common sense suggests that any God who would heal one person and let another die an awful death doesn't seem to be a God anyone would want to worship, even if he really existed. That sort of God would seem loathsome, so wouldn't we be justified in hating him, or at least in avoiding him, as many people do? Thinking about miracles forces us to think about the nature of the God behind those miracles.
Miracles seem to attest to the presence of a loving and compassionate God, one who wants to help us, who wants to speak to us and encourage us. But as soon as we think of when miracles do not happen, we think the opposite is true, that God is indifferent and unloving and doesn't care if we are crushed and discouraged. So which is it?" A miraculous God who cares about us or this indifferent, awful entity who delights in our 47 years of being in a wheelchair?
Eric: Well, as I was saying earlier, part of why I wrote this book is because I want to force all of us to think. Somebody who has an atheistic worldview, I want to challenge that person and say, "Okay, I can't disprove your atheism, but look at these facts. Isn't this interesting?" I want to help people to see the big picture. I say the same thing to Christians.
I don't want to weaken somebody's faith. Frankly, I want to strengthen our faith and make it more grounded and more real and say if your faith can't deal with these questions when this kind of thing happens in your life, your faith is going to be on the rocks. You're going to walk away from God. So do you really know who God is or do you have some Pollyanna, "happy-clappy," saccharine version of God that as soon as things go wrong it challenges your faith?
Is your faith in the God who is or in some god you sort of made up or the god of the people you hang out with, who's not really God? This asks the question…Who is God? We have to deal with the fact that God has allowed horrible evil into the world. I think, ultimately, what it makes us say, and this is maybe the one thing I always want to communicate to Christians… It's okay to say, "I don't know." We always seem to feel like, "I have to have the answers."
The biggest answer is honesty. God calls us to be honest. So if you don't have the answer to something, instead of pretending or coming up with some religious answer, just say, "You know what? I don't know. I can tell you some stuff. I can talk about it, but I'm not going to pretend like I have some easy answer to tell you how God can allow the Holocaust and allow children to be raped. I'm not going to pretend I have that answer. I can talk about it. I have some stuff to say, but I don't want to be prideful and act like I have all of the answers and you don't."
When somebody comes to us with pain, there's often a lot more truth in that pain and doubt than there is in our faith. Now I'm not one of these people who like doubt, but I'm saying God is in honesty. This makes me think about, "Okay, who is God?" First (this is kind of big), God is God. He's so big and mysterious.
God is God. He's not Zeus who's like 50 feet tall. He's God. He created the universe. There's a mystery to God, and there's an inability for us to understand. As much as we can know him, we have to understand that he is God. It's kind of like a 3-year-old trying to understand why their parent says no to something. You can't understand it.
Todd: Let me give you a verse to read. One of the reasons I wanted you here, Eric, is because you're right; it's good to say, "I don't know," but one of the reasons I want them to read this book is it's going to give them some answers, and you've done a really good job. Read Deuteronomy 29:29 for them.
Eric: All right, sir. "The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our sons forever, that we may observe all the words of this law."
Todd: We don't know why God does and doesn't do everything, but we do know what he has done, and what he has done is there for a purpose, which gets to a little bit of what a miracle is. A miracle is not an event unto itself. The Greek word for miracle is…
Todd: And it means…
Todd: So a miracle is not something we're to long for, but we're to look and ask, "Why is it there?"
Eric: In the Bible it's signs and wonders. The word miracle is not in the Greek. That's not a Greek word. Semeion, sign… What is a sign? In fact, the modern Greek word semeion means flag. A flag, a symbol, a sign…what is that? It's something that points to something else. The American flag… That's not America. It points to America. It's a symbol of America. Every sign points to something beyond itself.
So a miracle is not the thing itself; it's a sign pointing beyond itself. To what? To the God behind it. The whole point of any miracle… It's a sign pointing beyond this world to the God who is beyond this world. Just to tie a knot on the Joni Eareckson Tada thing… I say in the book that we get from Scripture the idea of a God who is so big that he does things we don't often understand and we don't need to understand.
What we need to know is it's God, and if it's God we need to get to the place where we can say, "Well, I trust him even when I don't understand." So if you pray for an outcome and you don't get that outcome… A lot of people get mad and say, "Well, I don't believe in God." You've made a god of the results. If you don't get what you want, you're out. But if you're praying to a god of results, let me tell you a little secret: that god does not exist.
You're praying to nothing if you're praying to a god of results. When Joni Eareckson Tada has prayed for 47 years to be healed or whatever… She loves God because she knows God. It's not about the results. Does she want to be healed? Yes, just like every one of us has things we're praying for and we want those things. But if that thing becomes your god, you're worshiping a false god. That's just an important point.
Todd: I want you guys to understand this, because it is the key. If the thing that will give you delight and joy is the result of your prayers, then the result of your prayers is your god and not the God who is good, enthroned in the heavens, sovereign, without error. That's who you're praying to. We don't love God because he does what we want; we love God because he is good. So when something doesn't go the way we want, what we trust in is the nature and kindness of God.
Here's the thing that has happened to Joni. We both know this. You do a good job in your book, and I want them to hear this. Some people out there go, "Well, why haven't I gotten my miracle?" Some people will say that you can… Kind of the Marianne Williamson, Course in Miracles. I want you to talk about that, that it's a controlled universe and our positive thinking changes stuff, and then the thing that has been abusive to Joni. So do Marianne Williamson first, and then I'll come back to Joni. Talk about what that idea is.
Eric: You've thought this through, haven't you? You'd make a great pastor. Has anybody ever told you that? Incredible. I was thinking, "I wish we had a pastor up here." You're just as good. He's just as good as any pastor.
I didn't even define it, but I say, "What is a miracle?" A miracle is when something outside of this world of time and space acts on something in the world of time and space. So the ultimate miracle, the incarnation… God comes from the world of eternity, beyond time. By the way, eternity is not a long time; eternity is the world outside of time. When you get to heaven, you're not going to be bored, like, "It's been a trillion years. It's dull."
Eternity is outside of time, outside of space. Heaven, whatever is beyond this world is outside the world of time and space. So it's when something from that world acts on something in this world. That's what a miracle is. Well, when we pray, we say, "God, who is beyond this world, please act. Please move in this world. Do something. Heal my loved one. Get me the job I need. Do something. Act from out there on this world."
We know there's a God out there who can do that, and even if he doesn't do that he hears our prayer and is active. But what if you don't believe in anything beyond this world? What if you just believe this is all there is? Then you kind of come up with this fancy idea of God, which is not the God of the Bible. People often talk about the universe. Have you heard that?
A lot of people say the universe plans, or whatever. They never deal with the fact that they're anthropomorphizing the universe and making it sound like an intelligent person. That's God. Right? They're talking about the universe as though it's capable somehow of giving us what we want. We don't have to go outside the system. We don't have to go outside the universe to God, but we can stay in the universe.
You get this idea of "If I'm lined up with the factors within the universe, I'll get my miracle." The classic one, which you hear all the time, is about positive thinking. "If I can continue to say and to think what I want, I'll get it. There's this magic principle in the universe." Now every lie, of course, is piggybacking on some truth. There's no such thing as a pure lie. It's always perverted truth. The lie that I have just said, this idea that if I get in tune with the universe I can get what I want…
First of all, let's deal with the fact that that's utterly self-centered. "I want to get what I want. What do I do to get what I want? Okay, start speaking positive stuff." Of course, there is some truth to that. If I say what the Scripture says, I'm speaking hope, I'm speaking positive things, that's true, but if you push that too far you start to manipulate, so it's not about doing that out of gratitude to God, out of representing the truth; it's now about saying stuff to get what I want, manipulating the system to get what I want.
In other words, I don't care about God. I don't care about truth. All I care about is doing what I need to do to manipulate the system. It's the same thing if you go to a witch doctor someplace. What are they going to be doing? They're going to be protecting you from this demon by appealing to a higher demon or god or whatever.
It's all within the system. Real prayer and real faith appeals to the God outside the system. It's not about the universe; it's about the God who created the universe. That's a little tricky. I go into that in different parts of the book, but it's a very important point.
Todd: The New Age idea, the Eastern pantheistic idea that the universe is itself a god that's evolving and growing, is you have to visualize world peace. You have to tap into the power that is the creation source and bring that reality into you. That's that New Age idea: you create your own miracle by tapping into this inner strength. Tell yourself this is true, and it becomes that way.
Eric: It might even work.
Todd: It works for some things.
Eric: What I'm trying to say is it's kind of like saying you can get a really, really cheap TV set down the street. There's a guy with a truck. Yeah, you can get that. It's stolen, it's illegal, but you can get your cheap TV. The point is just because something works does not mean you want to go there, because you might be paying a big price. You might be bargaining with the Devil to get what you want, and then you'll find out you're going to have to pay a higher price.
I think a lot of this New Age stuff… If all you care about is the results, there's a selfishness at work there. What I say in the book is let's say somebody says to you, "Okay, you can get what you want. You have to serve Adolf Hitler, but then you'll get what you want." Would you do it? Now there are people who would be like, "Yeah, I don't care; I'll do it," but you think, "Wow. Really? So you're going to participate in evil to get what you want?"
I would say this is why you have to worship God who is goodness, because whatever the results are, the results are good, even when it's not what you want, but if it's all about results, there's something very dark. This idea that I'm going to manipulate the system to get what I want… Ultimately, you're serving the god of self, and if I have to cut to the chase, the god of self, if he is anyone, is the Devil. The god of self is not somebody you want to be following.
This is a really important thing for Christians to think about. Who is your God? We all say, "Oh, my God is Jesus," but think about it.
Todd: It's why we don't seek miracles. The Scripture says, "Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness," not the miracles you want. What Eric is talking about there… Some people get this Machiavellian idea. "I don't care how I get it. All I want is this to be a reality in my life." If it comes from the hands of darkness or Hitler or a thief, is that really what you want? That's not going to make you a righteous person.
Eric: It's going to hurt you in the end. This is the funny thing too. A lot of times we have this idea that God wants to keep me from having fun or getting what I want. Utterly the opposite. That's the funny thing. It's exactly the opposite. Your worst life with God is better than your best life without God.
Todd: Psalm 84. "Better is one day in the courtyard of my God than a thousand days in the tent of wickedness."
Eric: If you know who God really is you know that's true, but if you don't know that, you're going to go for the thing, for the result, and in the end it's going to break your heart, and God does not want our hearts to be broken. He wants us to be fulfilled. So that to me is something… I wrote that part of the book in large part for Christians to really think about who God really is.
Todd: It's not just for Christians. Eric, what you've done a really good job of… By the way, there's some stuff in here that's crazy. Some of these miracle stories are crazy. If you like angel stories, if you go, "Oh, did that really happen?" what Eric is saying is "I've only included miracle stories in this book of people I know, who drink a lot." No, really. Because some of these stories, you're like, "What? Come on. You don't buy that, do you?"
What I would say is if God is real and he does intervene, sure. But it begs the question…Why didn't he intervene with Joni? So it gets to the other side. There are people who say you get your miracle by self-actualization, meditation, tapping into the power of the universe. That's nonsense. Go to Sedona, have a weekend there, and come home, and don't believe it. But the other one is this health, wealth, and prosperity "name it, claim it" nonsense that angers me. So talk about that, people who say, "The reason you don't have your miracle is you just don't believe enough."
Eric: I was talking to a friend about this just last night. There's no substitute for discernment. When you're trying to make easy rules that always fit, it doesn't work that way. You have to have discernment. There are people that I would say to them, "You need to pray harder. Believe God for that miracle. Exercise your faith." And there are other people I would say, "Stop doing that 'exercise your faith' thing."
Now why would I say that to some people? Because there are some people who act as though they can make it happen if only they pray hard enough, as though they are the ones who are going to do it. They're going to out-pray you and get what they want. You're missing something there. It is the good God who loves us who wants to bless us.
It's not like he says, "If you have a lot of faith, I'll give you what you want. If you don't, you're dead." It's really about…Who is God? When somebody gives you an easy message and says, "You know what? If you just do this, this, and this you'll get what you want," you have to say, "Wait a second. People suffer in this world. You're making it sound too easy. You're making it sound like being Christian is about getting what I want."
Again, if God really loves us, there is some truth to that. He loves his children and he loves everyone. He wants everyone to come to him, and he wants to bless everybody. That's true, but it doesn't mean… It's just like my daughter. I don't give her everything she wants, because some of the things she wants are bad for her. Is our relationship with God that we will trust him when he says "No"? That's the question.
Todd: Okay, but I'm going to play Devil's advocate, and there's a good answer to this. It wouldn't be bad for Joni to not be in a wheelchair, would it?
Eric: Okay, this is the other thing. This is exactly right. People claim to know the will of God. They say, "Scripture is really clear. God says by his stripes we are healed; therefore, we're all healed." First of all, they're totally twisting Scripture, because I know God can heal and God does heal, but to try to say God is a candy machine… "If I pray this Scripture over and over he has to heal, because God is not a liar." That's religious nonsense.
God is God. He's not a candy machine that when I put something in I get out what I want. That's not God. That is to make God small, and it's to pull him down from who he is and say that I am going to demand that he's going to do what I know is true. We have to have a little humility and say, "I don't know why God allows my friend Joni to be in a wheelchair. I don't know why God has allowed all these terrible things, and I'm going to do everything I can to pray for her healing, to work against evil. That's what I'm supposed to do."
But when I get cocky and say that God must do this because my interpretation of Scripture says he has to heal and he has to do this, that's when I say, "Wait a second; there's something wrong," because now you're playing god. You're demanding things of God. Frankly, I don't think it lines up with Scripture.
Again, it always depends who you're talking to. Some people have that attitude, but there are other people I would talk to on the other side, and I would say, "You need to have more faith. You need to pray for healing. You need to pray that God would help you find the right job and stuff." It always depends. It's always depending on where you are and what you need.
There are some people who need to know they should walk through life with faith and hope, always believing God to meet their needs, always praising him no matter what. There are some people who really need that message, and then there are other people who need to understand you're not going to get what you want just because you've given your life to Jesus and pray these prayers and have a half-hour quiet time, so you're guaranteed success. It doesn't work that way.
Todd: Because if it did, we'd be god, because we determine what happens by our prayer or by our good works.
Eric: That's exactly right. Let's take Lazarus for an example.
Todd: How much faith did he have?
Eric: How much faith did Lazarus have? "Lazarus, if you want to get out of that tomb, you have to exercise your faith." Lazarus was a rotting corpse with zero faith. So who healed Lazarus? Lazarus' faith or God? God is the one who heals. God is the one who raises from the dead. God is the actor; we are the acted upon.
When I came to faith, I was unconscious. I didn't walk the sawdust trail. I didn't make a decision. I was unconscious. I don't know about you, but when I dream I tend to be unconscious. That's kind of a picture of what we're talking about. God is the one who does these things. It's not my prayers. Do you understand? This is tricky stuff.
It doesn't mean you don't pray. It doesn't mean you don't have faith, but don't ever confuse the idea… Don't say, "It was not God who did it but it was my prayers, it was my faith." If you even have this much faith, that is a gift from God. Think about that. Sometimes we think it's our faith. If you have this little bit of faith, that's a gift from God that you don't even deserve.
So, yeah, the idea that I could earn my way to heaven through praying really hard, that I could earn these things… God says, "No, you're missing the whole point. Anything you have…faith, the ability to pray, knees upon which to pray…anything you have is a free gift from me, because I love you." We have to get that straight. Otherwise, the whole thing kind of gets screwed up.
Todd: Let me insert some Scripture to verify what you're saying, and then we'll go to another question. First of all, biblically, when Jesus is with the Pharisees and they're demanding a sign… In Matthew 16 he just says, "An evil and adulterous generation seeks a sign," a miracle. I love what a miracle is. A miracle is a sign. It's like a signet ring.
A signet ring was something a king had, and this is what the miracles were there for. You do a great job with this in your book. There's a purpose to a miracle. It's something that's unique that's easily recognizable that's only in the possession of a king. So that's what the king would do. He would put that sign. "This is me." When we see something outside the world happening, we just go, "There must suggest there is a God who's there and he does love us."
You've done a good job of answering the question, "Why doesn't he do it for everybody? Why does he leave some people in wheelchairs? Why do some people die of leukemia? Why do some people stay poor? Why do spouses still abuse people? Why do Jews still die?" We don't know all this. We just know that God is good and our circumstances don't change his character. What would you say to a person who says, "I know that if I just had a miracle I would believe" or "If God gives me a fish dream, I'll become a believer"?
Eric: That's such a great question. We know from Scripture… You remember the story of Jesus and a different Lazarus. The parable is he's in hell, and he's saying to God, "Oh, could you please just warn my brothers?" He says, "No, you don't understand. That's not going to convince them." It's kind of like the first part of this book where I'm talking about the scientific stuff. There are plenty of people who will read that and go, "Eh, I don't like it. It's not going to convince me."
There are plenty of people who have had miraculous things happen, and they've just blown it off or they're not interested. There's no magic to it. We have free will. Again, this is the mystery. In my case, I had this dream, and I woke up and said, "Wow, this is real. God is real." I've had a number of miracles happen to me, which have encouraged and strengthened my faith, but God is real whether I have those miracles or not.
God is real whether somebody chooses to believe in him or not. So there is this mystery. Why doesn't God convince everybody through miracles? I mean, if I were God, I would write the kind of Bible that the moment you read a little bit of it you just go, "Wow!" and fall on your face and worship God. Well, it doesn't seem to work that way. Why?
First of all, we don't know why, but we have to be honest that it doesn't work that way and that there is a mystery and we're not going to figure that out in the next five minutes, but we do need to be honest about this. The way I look at it is I want to look at the supernatural world, the world of God and Scripture, the same way we look at science. I just want to deal with the facts.
The miracles in this book… These are friends of mine. These things happened. People can make of it whatever they want. I'm just telling you what happened. You can figure out what it says to you. When we talk about God and talk about miracles, we need to be as rational and as demanding and critical as we are in talking about science. We don't need to say it has to mean this. Let's just talk about these experiences.
So I've had these experiences, and these experiences begin to form how I think about the world. I say, "This thing happened to me. What do I make of it?" In a way, the stories in this book… I put them out there to say to people, to believers, to nonbelievers, "Look. Eric Metaxas…maybe he's a wacko…" You can decide for yourself what you think of me. I'm saying that people I know personally, whose credibility is high, told me these stories. I asked them questions, and these things happened.
Todd: You didn't ask me for mine.
Eric: No, I didn't.
Todd: Did you think it's because I didn't have a miracle? I have a miracle.
Eric: Of course there's going to be a volume two, Todd. Man! I have to spell it out? So I said, "I want to put these stories out for people and ask, 'Hey, what do you make of this? Did these people hallucinate this? Are they kind of crazy? Did they lie? Am I lying? You tell me what you make of it.'" I would say, on balance, when you read these stories it has to challenge you, and you have to think, "Wow, it sounds like some of these things happened."
Todd: I want to give them an example of what kind of stories are in here. I'll have you tell one more. I want them to see what they're going to get if they get the book. Just reviewing, if God is there, he can do miracles. Miracles are not something to be sought. Certainly, we don't create our own miracles. What happens is not what we're to worship. We're to worship the God who gives us miracles and is always good.
We talked about in Luke 16… Here's the verse. It's worth reading. I think the more Scripture we can give them on this stuff… It's when Lazarus said to Abraham, who he's talking to in this story in Luke 16… He says, "They have Moses and the prophets. Let them hear them." But he said, "No."
At the very end he said, "Send them someone from the dead. They will believe and repent." He said, "No, if they don't believe the Word of God, if they don't believe general revelation through creation and specific revelation through the Word of God, even a raised guy is not going to…" Which of course was prophetic, because, later, Jesus was the raised man.
You talked about when you pray, pray humbly. Don't say, "God, you're obligated by my prayers or by my good works, by my penance, to do this miracle for me." You pray, "Not my will but your will be done." Miracles don't convert us. Miracles are not the final sign, though they do point to something. But here's the thing. I see too many Christians today… You put the label dispensationalist on there.
Eric: That might be wrong. I'm with a DTS crowd. You're going to tell me now that I got it wrong.
Todd: No, I would just say that label… Labels are always hard, but there are a lot of people who believe that God is working with different administrations in his relationship with man that still does miraculous things today. You're looking at one. I think the big dispensationalist thing is the church isn't Israel and Israel is not the church, but that's not what we're here to talk about. What I would say is some things are still happening, and people love angel stories. They love to know that God interrupts, because we want to know God cares about us.
Eric: And he can. That's the point. He can do it.
Todd: Tell us some of the stories in here. I read a few that I'm like, "Tell that one." Tell the one about your friend who was going to cross the bridge that wasn't there.
Eric: This is always the one I want to tell. This is hilarious. I told this last night in Fort Worth. This story challenges me. I hardly can believe it, except a good friend of mine insists this actually happened. She was 13 years old. She's maybe 40 now, so this was in the 80s. She's 13 years old. She's a chubby seventh-grader hanging out with a new group of friends in September. A new school or something like that. They decide to have a sleepover.
So she goes. She doesn't know these three girls very well, and what do they want to do? They want to have a Ouija board session. They pull out the Ouija board, and they want to contact the spirit, the soul of Jim Morrison. Did she make that up? No, you know that's true. Now Eva knew that God is real and all this kind of stuff, and she was not particularly interested in breaking on through to the other side that evening.
So she says, "I'm not going to play with the Ouija board. That's freaking me out. That's opening the door to the Devil. I'm out. I'm not going to do this. Sorry." You have to give her credit. At 13 years old saying, "I'm not going to go along with this." So her new "friends" said, "Okay, we don't have to play with the Ouija board. We'll go for a walk down to the beach." Great. They're in Westport, Connecticut. To get to the beach you have to cross I-95, this huge interstate, but there are obviously roads and stuff.
So they start walking in that direction. They come to where the highway is, and there's a road going over the highway, obviously, but there's construction, and it's sealed off with a huge wooden stockade kind of fence. You can picture this. They can't see beyond the fence. The friend says to Eva, "It's no problem. Obviously, cars can't drive over because they're doing construction on the bridge, but we can walk over. I do it all the time, but we have to climb over the fence. You go first. We'll boost you over the fence."
Eva is 13 years old. She's chubby. She can't do a chin-up, so she's not going to be able to pull herself over the fence, so they decide to shove her over the fence. It's like a six-foot fence. So they shove her over the fence, and as she's coming over the top of this fence with some momentum (this all happens in a split second), she looks and sees there's nothing on the other side of the fence between her and the roaring 65-mile-per-hour trucks and cars on the interstate highway below.
Todd: Okay, we're going to stop right there. You have to buy the book to find out what happens. I told you I'd do that. I'm here for you. It's amazing and really good.
Eric: Are you serious?
Todd: I don't know. If you give me 10 percent, I won't tell them.
Eric: I know you're kidding. I'm going to tell you now.
Todd: Well, 20 percent?
Eric: So my friend Eva said to me that this is what happened. She sees this and in a split second screams out, "Jesus!" She's dying. She's going over and down. This, to me, is the freakiest thing in this book of all the stuff I wrote, but this is a friend of mine. She doesn't lie. She said, "Eric, I was dying. I was falling, and I screamed, 'Jesus!'" You have to understand, she was going to die.
She says, "I felt something…it felt like two arms…arrest my fall, pick me up, carry me over the fence, and gently put me down on the other side of the fence about 10 feet away from these three girls." She said these three 13-year-olds… Their faces were white. Their mouths were open. Their eyes were bugged out. They shrieked with fear. They screamed and ran away because they were so freaked out by what they saw. They were unhinged with fear, and they ran away.
Eva got up, dusted herself off, and walked home alone. She said when she got back to school, which was on Monday… From that day all through high school, those girls never spoke to her, never looked at her. They didn't even acknowledge her existence they were so freaked out by what happened. I find that funny, because I could just picture these 13-year-old girls just losing their minds. I don't know if they made a pact with the Devil and they were trying to kill her. We don't know what happened.
Todd: He kids, but when you read the story you'll see that these girls weren't just playing with the occult; they were deep into it. As she went back later and looked, their Facebook pages had a lot of dark stuff on them.
Eric: Yeah, years later for the reunion, she saw pentagrams and Devil stuff on one of these…
Todd: Like, that's what they were into, and "Hey, this is a joke, and the girl doesn't want to do this. We'll just… 'Oh, we didn't know.'" Who knows?
Eric: We don't know.
Todd: What I always tell people when they tell me stories like that is, "I'm not going to argue with your experience, but I will argue with you what you make of that experience." By that what I mean is, first of all, it's a tragedy that we don't believe that the God who is there wouldn't interrupt and wouldn't do things for us at times.
It drives me crazy when people don't believe that God is alive and powerful. It also drives me crazy when they think he always has to catch you when you go over the fence. Some little girls have gone over and the trucks hit them.
Eric: This is the mystery, and this is why I say we just have to deal with what is. We can't make reality conform to what we want. Some of us would say, "Okay, God did that; therefore, he always has to do that, because 13-year-old girls can't die." Well, that's not true. Then other people would say, "God never does that and never could do that. Nobody would ever be saved by an angel."
My attitude… Again, it's like science. You just have to deal with what is. This is the evidence. Tough luck. We have to deal with what we make of it. That's what I challenge folks to do. That, to me, is probably the craziest story in the book. When she told me that I was like, "Wow! This is crazy." But there are a number of amazing things.
Todd: There are other stories like that. What I really love is you do a good job of talking about miracles of healing and miracles of deliverance, and you also talk about miracles of conversion. That's the greatest miracle: every time an unregenerate, dead, with no faith, whether God uses dreams, Robert Plant songs, or a preacher to quicken your heart…
Eric: This is the thing, too, because it gets theological. Every conversion by definition is a miracle, because you cannot reason your way to God. God is reasonable and rational, and everything in here is either rational or it's not, but if you could reason your way to God everybody would come to faith. They would just look at the facts, but somehow it requires revelation from the other side. God has to come in and touch us. That is a mystery, but it's a fact.
Todd: So now they're here, and this is a great way for us to end. They're sitting out here, and somebody goes, "Well, if God touches me, I'll believe" or "If God shows me someone raised from the dead or catches me when I go over the bridge…" What do you say to the person who's sitting out there tonight like, "Hey, Eric, give me my dream or do my miracle"? Does God let them off the hook because they don't get a fish dream?
Eric: I want to tell you both sides of this, because that's perfect. I told my conversion story, the fish story dream at a college. There were 2,000 students. You know, mandatory chapel. They had to listen to me. I didn't even want to tell that story. I was going to talk about Bonhoeffer, but the chaplain said, "No, please share your story of coming to faith." So I shared the story.
I have never had such a connection with an audience. I walked out of there thinking, "Wow! God moved. What was that? That was electric." Well, the next morning I wake up, I open up my email, and here's an email from somebody who was in this audience that I connected with like I've never connected with an audience.
Todd: Do you want to give them your email so they can email you tomorrow and be electric?
Eric: No. I read the email, and the email said, "I was there to hear you in chapel yesterday morning. I'm 19 years old. I didn't like what you had to say. I was kind of turned off. You seemed full of it." Or know-it-all or intellectual or something like that. Something just turned this guy off. He said, "On the way out of the chapel, I said to my friend sarcastically, 'Oh yeah. Maybe God is going to speak to me in a dream tonight.'" Like, really sarcastic. The next sentence was, "And God spoke to me in a dream last night."
I emailed this guy back. We went back and forth. I'm telling you, he was turned off to what I said. He wasn't saying, "God, could you speak to me, please?" He was turned off and disgusted, but he says this sarcastic thing, and God spoke to him in a dream. He was so freaked out that he emailed me early in the morning. "What do you make of this?" So I went back and forth. He told me the whole dream.
Trust me, folks. His mother had taken her life three months earlier, so he was in pain, and God reached out to him. There are two sides to this. The one side is part of all this is to say, "Yes, God wants to speak to each of us." How he does it is his business. When he does it is his business. Our business is to be open to him, but we need to be open to him, not to whatever, not to just miracles, because there are dark forces that would be happy to oblige you and lead you on the wrong path.
But I would say part of this book is to get people who need to have more faith to say, "God, I want you to move in my life. I want you to speak to me. I want you to guide me however you want to do that." That's really important. So that's part of what this is, but then there's the flip side, and the flip side is that, ultimately, that's not what it's all about. Remember, a miracle is a sign. The word sign, pointing to God.
Why did I have to wait until I was 25 years old to have this miracle? I don't know. Until I get to heaven, I don't know. God is God. He allows things, but I will say this. When that happened to me, by his grace I was somewhat open, more open than I would have been. What got me to be open? Suffering. I went through a really hard time. I was miserable. When you get really miserable you're a little more open to the possibility of God, probably, than when everything is going fine.
I think we need to say if God is God, he doesn't have to prove himself to me, and if he does anything, it's only because he loves me and is being gracious. But even when it looks like he's doing nothing, he's the same God who loves us. When I say us, I mean every single one of us, no matter what we've done, no matter who we think we are, no matter what our fears and dreams and hopes. God says in Scripture that he is for every one of us.
So if you say, "I don't qualify. I did this bad thing, and maybe he doesn't know or maybe he knows…" God wants to reach us, so it's not about the miracle. Again, this is a tricky thing. We ought to have faith for these things, but it isn't about that thing. I remember praying in my broken way, "God, give me a sign," and he didn't and he didn't and he didn't, and then this happened. I cannot tell you why it happened that way.
Part of what I'm saying is it's about honesty. God is God, and if we don't praise him, it says in the Scripture, the stones will cry out. He's not really depending on us for anything. I would say as practical advice from my years on this planet, you were made for a relationship with him, just like a car was made to have gas in the tank. It's still a car, but it was made to have gas in the tank and to go places. We can't be ourselves without that relationship with him.
If you want to find out who you're supposed to be, the relationship with him is at the heart of it. You can never know who you are unless the one who made you is in a relationship with you. I leave it at that. I'll let the pastor here break that down, but I don't want that to get lost, because I think as much as it's important to talk about miracles and how God speaks to us, we do need to know that, ultimately, it's not about that.
Part of the reason God sometimes speaks to people (and in my case) is we're going to need that faith he gave us when we're going through dark stuff and he doesn't reveal himself at all. Mother Teresa, one of the most faithful Christians, who served Jesus with every part of her being for decades, went through years where she couldn't discern God's presence.
Sometimes I think that's part of the reason for miracles: to give you an encouragement for the next year or five years when you're not going to have encouragement, but you're going to live on that encouragement, that God did that thing. The Red Sea is just like that. The Jewish people for 3,500 years have been living off of that, and that's part of why God does those things.
Todd: Here's the greatest encouragement, and it's in the book. You do a good job with the apologetic. The miracle God did to show his love for you is he became one of us. He took on flesh and became like a man, and being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself to the point of death, even death on a cross, and to show that the payment he made for sin was sufficient, God raised him from the grave. You do a great job of talking about the material evidence for the resurrection in this book.
Eric: I just got an email from a friend. I got this today, and I needed this encouragement, because you write a book and you wonder, "Is God going to use this? I hope." A friend of mine gave the paperback version, the one you're not supposed to give out. I gave it to her as a gift because we didn't have the hard copies, and she gave it to a relative of hers who's a confirmed atheist.
He kind of made fun of it, and then he read it, and he said to her (I don't know if it was a week later) that the chapter on the resurrection… He said, "From a legal perspective, I think the resurrection actually could have happened." I said, "Wow." Again, logically speaking, that's correct, but most people would never even encounter that evidence. So I just think this is about helping people find truth.
I don't want to forget to say this. I'm not going to tell the story, but if somebody asks me, "What's the most amazing miracle you've learned in writing this book?" my answer is going to surprise you: how the moon was created. This is pure science, the most mind-blowing thing. I did not know it when I started writing this book, and then I think to myself, "How many moons are there? There's one moon. Wouldn't you think we would all know how it came into existence?" I bet you most people here do not. I did not. I had some vague idea.
Todd: I thought a mommy moon and a daddy moon got together.
Eric: That's right. That's your truth, and that's okay. We all have our truths. Who's to say?
Todd: That's what my sex ed teacher told me, Eric.
Eric: But I'm saying that will freak you out when you read that. That is the most amazing thing. When I read that I just said, "This is insane." This is science, and it's the most crazy thing in the book. I'll leave it at that.
Todd: Go get it. There you go. There's the one he's going to hold back from you.
Eric: I will stay here and sign books as long… If you want to go and get a burger and come back in an hour and a half because you don't want to wait in line… Why wait in line when you can go get a burger? I'm going to be here as long as you're here.
Todd: You'll sign until your hand cramps up and I pray over you and it's miraculously healed. How's that?
Eric: Let me say again it's a privilege to be here. I love it every time I come to Watermark and come to Dallas. Thank you very much. I mean that. Thank you.
Todd: Let me just close with this. We all want to know, "Is God there? Does he care about us?" He does. The fact that a miracle does or doesn't happen in your life is not evidence that he cares. God does care, and the greatest miracle is that he became one of us and that he died for you and that God raised him from the dead as a sign that the provision for you…
The miracle has been done, so you don't need to keep seeing them. Jesus says it's not going to convert you. In fact, if you look at the Scripture, there were very few miracles that Jesus did. When he did and they were really spectacular, it freaked people out and made them pull away from him, not run toward him. Much like those three little girls pulled away from their friend.
There were a couple of things people always did. They either attributed what Jesus did to Satan or they tried to suppress the evidence. In other words, "We have to kill Lazarus, because many people are coming to believe in Jesus because of the miracle." They're going to scoff at your miracle story. They're going to write it off as coincidence.
They're going to say, "That's not a miracle," because when you come at this thing with a naturalistic, nihilistic worldview and you reject the premise, which is that there is a God who is there, you're going to reject every single miracle. Miracles don't convert except for the miracle of the Spirit working in your life, and he works through the declaration of truth. It's truth that's going to set you free, not a miracle.
The truth is that Jesus loves you and that Jesus died for you. The most amazing thing is that the God you rebelled against, just like me, wants to draw you near. "Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God." The Word of God is that he demonstrated his love for you in that while you were yet sinners, Christ died for you.
The Word of God is that whoever believes in him he gives the right to become children of God, so that whether you stay in a wheelchair for 47 years or whether you're pulled off a coming interstate of death, you can know he's good. God has had a purpose for Joni these last 47 years, and he has a purpose for you, but you have to have a relationship with him.
If you make your miracle, your desire to get something from him your god, then you're going to always be disappointed and always want the next thing and nothing will satisfy you except the one God who not miraculously satisfies us but who because of his nature, his fullness, beauty, and perfection, satisfies. The Scripture says, "Seek God, not a sign."
We're glad you're here tonight. This is a book that's worth reading. There's some stuff in here that I might have done a little differently, but it's worth reading and discussing, and it's a great book to give to friends, because it has scientific stuff, it has a Christian apologetic, and it's reasonable. Then there are stories. You'll just get to the question, "Do you believe that God could do something like that?"
When people ask, "Well, why doesn't he do it for me?" sometimes you have to say, "I don't know, but I can tell you this: he's worth serving, he's worth knowing, and there's going to be a day when he takes away every tear, dries every eye, and brings us outside of the time-space continuum and lets us live with him forever. You can scoff at that if you want. If you're wise, you're wise for yourself, but if you scoff, you alone must bear it."
I believe in a God who can do great things because he's a great God, and I believe the greatest thing he can do is rescue you from sin and death. So we're glad you're here tonight. Let me pray for you, and then we'll be dismissed.
Father, thank you for these friends who came and just jumped into an entertaining conversation about the possibility of you interrupting. I pray that we would not be so small-minded as to believe that we could evolve through our own meditation and power and tap into a closed universe and into the power that is the universe and make things happen.
I pray we would not be so small-minded that we would think if we just do certain things and are good enough long enough that it obligates you or if we pray a certain way it obligates you or if something happened on this earth other than just your fullness and your comfort and your presence being absolutely known by us that we'd ever be satisfied anyway.
God, keep us from being so small-minded that we don't believe, when all the evidence you've given us demands belief in a Creator and the evidence of the resurrection demands belief in a Creator who is good and loving and present and near. May we know you.
I pray for folks who are here tonight, that they would long to know you and they would see you in the fullness of your revelation and the person of Jesus Christ and his offer to rescue them from sin and death if they would only believe that he is who he said he was, the very image of God, crucified, dead, and buried for me, resurrected as evidence that the debt has been paid.
Father, I pray through some miracle someone would come to know you tonight. I pray, Lord, that if you want to unlock a dream for them to know you that you'd do it tonight, but I pray, Father, that they would go to something even more sure than a dream, the Word of God, and they would be set free. We love you. Help us to seek you and nothing less. In Jesus' name, amen.