“If There is a God, Let Him Strike Me Dead Right Now!”
Most of us have heard the age-old story about the unbelieving professor. He stands in front of his class and demands that there is no God. “If there is a God,” he challenges, “then let Him strike me dead right here and now.” He pauses for dramatic effect and waits 30 seconds. When nothing happens, he proclaims his atheistic position as the victor and gloats, “Just as I suspected, I’m still alive. There is no God.” Supposedly, just because God does not do exactly as he demands at that particular instant, then that proves there is no God. But let’s critically assess this emotional appeal (because it certainly is not a logical argument) and see how we could rationally respond to it.
Is it true that someone who has the power to do something should always do it when called upon to do it? For instance, suppose a criminal robs a bank and murders several people. A policeman arrives on the scene pointing his pistol at the criminal. The criminal drops his gun and begins to taunt the cop. “You gonna shoot me with that gun? I bet you don’t even have any bullets loaded. You are probably a terrible shot anyway. If you do have a loaded gun, and you think you could hit me, go ahead. Pull the trigger. Shoot me, if you are a cop.” If the policeman has a loaded gun and is a good shot, should he shoot the criminal, just to prove that he can? Of course not. There could be some very good reasons why the policeman, when taunted to show his power, refuses to respond.
Now think about our professor. He demands that God kill him on the spot to “prove” that God exists. He is taunting God just as the criminal did the policeman. Could there be legitimate reasons as to why God does not strike him dead? Certainly. Maybe the professor is going to convert to Christianity in several years and be a strong force for good in the world. Maybe the professor is going to teach one of his students something about medical science that leads that student to find a cure for cancer, and that student ends up being a Christian who gives God the glory for the discovery. Maybe the professor is going to have a child that rebels against his father’s atheism, becomes a Christian and does mission work for many years. Since God is the only being Who knows all the possible ramifications of every thought and action, only He would be in a position to know how to respond in such a situation.
Throughout the course of human history God has worked His will through miraculous and through what we would call natural means (often called providence). In many eras of history He has used both at the same time; but in some instances and epochs, He has worked primarily through providence with very little or no recognizable miraculous activity. It is important to understand this truth, since it is often affirmed that if God has worked miracles in the past to aid His people, then He “should” be doing the same today. For instance, agnostic professor Bart Ehrman demands, “If he [God] could do miracles for his people throughout the Bible, where is he today when your son is killed in a car accident, or your husband gets multiple sclerosis, or civil war is unleashed in Iraq, or the Iranians decide to pursue their nuclear ambitions?”1 This idea is well-illustrated on Marshall Brain’s Web site whywontgodhealamputees.com. According to Brain, the fact that God does not miraculously regrow limbs proves that He is imaginary. He says, “Nothing happens when we pray for amputated limbs. God never regenerates lost limbs through prayer…. Does God answer prayers? If so, then how do we explain this disconnection between God and amputees?”2
Notice that Brain, Ehrman, and the atheistic professor insist that if God is capable of miracles (or striking a person dead), then we should see those things happening today. But why must that be the case? Could it be that an all-knowing God has very good reasons why He is not at work in the same miraculous ways He worked in the past? In addition, the same Bible that tells us about God’s miracles also lays out a very strong case for God working through providential means. To demand that God must operate in the way that we insist He operate is more than slightly presumptuous, especially in light of the fact that He has given us ample information about other ways He works.
Ehrman and other unbelievers challenge Christians to produce modern miracles as evidence that God intervenes in the world today. They do so, however, refusing to recognize two important truths. First, even during the ages of human history when God performed miracles, He did not intervene to stop all suffering. People still got sick, had accidents, broke bones, suffered emotionally, and died. It is as if the skeptic insists that the Bible paints a picture of a God who swooped in miraculously to stop all suffering. Such was never the case. Miracles were isolated events designed to confirm the validity of the message of certain divine messengers.3 The Bible has never presented them as a wholesale answer to the problem of pain and suffering. Second, to insist that God must use miracles today just because He has the power to do so discounts the pervasive biblical theme of providence. Throughout history, one of God’s primary modes of operation has been to providentially work through natural laws. To deny that this is the case is to turn a deaf ear to a massive amount of biblical testimony.
1 Bart Erhman (2008), God’s Problem: How the Bible Fails to Answer Our Most Important Question—Why We Suffer (New York: HarperOne), p. 274.