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Would you believe in a miracle if you saw one?

Devout Jews, Christians and Muslims believe that God intervened in human affairs millennia ago. Conversely some would not believe in Divine intervention if they watched it.

Posted 29 March 2020

Due to the risk from COVID-19, my wife and I went into protective self-isolation on 12 March 2020, well before the Government first advising and then mandating self-isolation.

With the extra free time, last week we watched the Netflix series "Messiah." That brought back to mind a short conversation I had while a student at Cambridge University which I have never forgotten.

I used it as the basis for my 54th "Thought for the Week" broadcast on BBC Radio Manchester this morning. Due to self-isolation, I recorded my "Thought" at home, and sent it to the BBC via a shared cloud folder. Accordingly, as well as reading bit below, you can also hear it.

Thought for the Week

Due to self-isolation, I recorded my "Thought" at home, and sent it to the BBC via a shared cloud folder. Accordingly, as well as reading it below, you can also hear it.

Hear my "Thought"

Read my "Thought"

Self-isolating means you can watch more television!

Last week, my wife and I watched all 10 episodes of “Messiah” on Netflix. Sadly, Netflix has decided not to make series 2. We will never know whether he was a true Messiah or not.

Messiah reminded me of a question I asked 50 years ago as a student. I was reading “The Book of Mormon.” It begins with the history of the book’s origin. That section includes “The Testimony of Three Witnesses” and also “The Testimony of Eight Witnesses.” [Both reproduced below.] All 11 testified that they saw the gold plates which contained the text of "The Book of Mormon."

I wondered about Jesus visiting the earth today, performing the miracles of the New Testament. Watched live on TV and recorded for posterity. How long before people stopped believing that the miracles seen and recorded were real?

One of my fellow students was emphatic. Even if he watched the miracles happening, he would not believe they were divine, instead of some kind of advanced science. He was not completely irrational.

One of my favourite science fiction writers was Arthur C Clarke. He said: “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”

That university discussion 50 years ago wasn’t very long. However, it made a big impression on me, which is why I still remember it. It taught me that religious belief is always a matter of faith.

The companions of the Prophet Muhammad had a decision to make. Was he receiving revelations from God, or making them up? They had to decide for themselves. Those questions remain, 1400 years after Muhammad and 2,000 years after Jesus.


The full text of "The Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ" is available free on the internet. For convenience, I have reproduced below the testimonies mentioned in my "Thought."

The Testimony of Three Witnesses

Be it known unto all nations, kindreds, tongues, and people, unto whom   this work shall come: That we, through the grace of God the Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ, have seen the plates which contain this record, which is a record of the people of Nephi, and also of the Lamanites, their brethren, and also of the people of Jared, who came from the tower of which hath been spoken. And we also know that they have been trans- lated by the gift and power of God, for his voice hath declared it unto us; wherefore we know of a surety that the work is true. And we also testify that we have seen the engravings which are upon the plates; and they have been shown unto us by the power of God, and not of man. And we declare with words of soberness, that an angel of God came down from heaven, and he brought and laid before our eyes, that we beheld and saw the plates, and the engravings thereon; and we know that it is by the grace of God the Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ, that we beheld and bear record that these things are true. And it is marvelous in our eyes. Nevertheless, the voice of the Lord commanded us that we should bear record of it; wherefore, to be obedient unto the commandments of God, we bear testimony of these things. And we know that if we are faithful in Christ, we shall rid our garments of the blood of all men, and be found spotless before the judgment-seat of Christ, and shall dwell with him eternally in the heavens. And the honor be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost, which is one God. Amen.

Oliver Cowdery
David Whitmer
Martin Harris

The Testimony of Eight Witnesses

Be it known unto all nations, kindreds, tongues, and people, unto whom   this work shall come: That Joseph Smith, Jun., the translator of this work, has shown unto us the plates of which hath been spoken, which have the appearance of gold; and as many of the leaves as the said Smith has translated we did handle with our hands; and we also saw the en- gravings thereon, all of which has the appearance of ancient work, and of curious workmanship. And this we bear record with words of sober- ness, that the said Smith has shown unto us, for we have seen and hefted, and know of a surety that the said Smith has got the plates of which we have spoken. And we give our names unto the world, to witness unto the world that which we have seen. And we lie not, God bearing witness of it.

Christian Whitmer Hiram Page
Jacob Whitmer Joseph Smith, Sen.
Peter Whitmer, Jun. Hyrum Smith
John Whitmer Samuel H. Smith

I first encountered the above testimonies when I read about 1/3 of the Book of Mormon as student. While I am not a Mormon, reading the testimonies led to the train of thought: suppose Jesus had walked the Earth not 2,000 years ago but in the 1830's, what would we think today? That is what led to the question I asked my fellow students.


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