Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Miracles Today? 3

... continued from yesterday.
There were others both in the Jewish and Roman world who were thought to perform miracles. This is a significant thing to know if we are to see Jesus as they saw Jesus. No one would have assumed that Jesus was God or a god simply because he performed miracles. Judaism had its own stories of individuals past and present who could do wonders. Not only were there the prophets of the past in the Bible, but such people popped up from time to time in Israel as well.

One such individual was Honi "the circle drawer," who lived some time before the Romans took over Israel in 63BC. [1] He was famous for drawing a circle during a time of drought and standing in it to pray for rain. Although he was going to stay in it until God answered prayer, it rained almost immediately. Hanina ben Dosa was also known for his ability to work miracles, and he came from Galilee in the period perhaps just after Jesus. Like Jesus, he is known for healing from a distance and having authority over evil spirits causing sickness.

And it is significant that more than one New Testament book frames Jesus' miracles in terms of the power of the Holy Spirit working through him.  Jesus was "a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him"(Acts 2:22).  Something arguably happens to Jesus both after the Spirit descends on him at the river Jordan and after his temptation in the desert--he returns to Galilee "in the power of the Spirit" (Luke 4:14).  Even after he dies on the cross, both Acts and Paul word the event of Jesus' resurrection in terms of God's power: "God raised him from the dead" (e.g., Acts 2:24).

There is probably a subtle message for us here, namely, that Jesus did not merely show us God's power while he was on earth.  Jesus arguably modeled what any believer can be or do by the power of the Holy Spirit, from his power to do miracles to his power not to sin.  We are forced to go a little beyond what the biblical text says to take a position on such questions, but we can make some reasonable suggestions nonetheless.

So Christians believe that Jesus was both fully human and fully God.  We do not believe he was half man and half God.  And from a historical perspective, Christians clearly understood his humanness long before they worked out the details of his divinity.  Up until the year 400, many Christians still believed that  Jesus was the first creation God made rather than him being fully God.

So it is no stretch to suggest that, while we believe Jesus was fully God from eternity past, he played it by the human rules while he was on earth.  In other words, he lived in such a way as to show us what humanity could be.  It should not be odd to suggest that, through the Spirit, we can do miracles today like the ones Jesus did then.  In fact, Jesus tells his disciples in John 14:12 that they will do even greater miracles than he did.  He himself will empower them.

Similarly, we should not think that Jesus was able to live without sin because he was God, while we cannot because we are mortal.  Hiding behind this view is partly a wrong view of sin and partly a wrong view of Jesus...

[1] I first learned about Honi from a book on Jesus written from a Jewish perspective, Geza Vermes' Jesus the Jew: A Historian's Reading of the Gospels, 2nd ed. (London: SCM, 1983), 69-72.  See also his material on Hanina ben Dosa, pp. 72-78.


FrGregACCA said...

Excellent post. Christology is not zero-sum, meaning that it is not the case that the more one focuses on the deity of Christ, the less emphasis must be placed on the humanity, and vice-versa.

"God became human so that humans might become God" and this, including the Incarnation itself, is only possible if humanity, created in the Divine Image and Likeness, is made to be capable of "partaking of the Divine Nature".

One word of caution: historically, the "greater works," the signs and wonders, have been done not just through random believers, but at the hands of men and women who have carefully prepared for this by long years of ascetic struggle prior to entering this extraordinary ministry.

davey said...

What miracles do you suggest we set about doing? What would you say 'setting about' doing miracles would be? What sins do you think we might do but can avoid doing? What things did Jesus do when a child that would have been sins except that he was a child in his understanding? Do you think Jesus was conscious not only as a human being is but as God is (whatever that might be) or only came to a human realisation that he was, ie did Jesus only ever have a human consciousness on Earth? What is the state of Jesus' consciousness now he is in heaven?