Sunday, January 22, 2012

What is a Miracle 2

continued from yesterday
... Most of Jesus' miracles had to do with people.  In itself, this is a key insight. Sure, he walked on water (Mark 6:47-50; Matt. 14:25-33; John 6:16-21).  He calmed storms (Mark 4:35-40; Matt. 8:23-27; Luke 8:22-25). He multiplied bread and fish (Mark 6:30-44; Matt. 14:13-21; John 6:1-13). Such events tell us that Jesus had power over what we think of as "nature."

And perhaps it is worthwhile to remind ourselves that the distinction between "natural" and "supernatural" is a fairly recent one.  It has only been since the rise of science in the 1600's that Western culture came to draw a sharp distinction between events that follow the "laws of nature" and events we might call miracles or the supernatural. Even just 500 years ago, Martin Luther--the one who started Protestantism--still thought of storms as God expressing his anger rather than the result of high and low pressure systems meeting, the exchange of electricity from one polarity to another, and so forth.

We have come to define a miracle as a divine intervention into the natural sequence of events that would have happened in the normal flow of causes and effects following the rules of science. In Jesus' day, they thought spiritual forces were constantly causing things. They did not think in terms of nature following rules like a machine. When the sailors on Jonah's boat encountered the storm, they figured someone on board had ticked off his god.

Today we would give thanks to God not only for the inexplicable but for what seems explicable as well. Sometimes doctors do surgery and it works.  Sometimes we take medicine and it works. Sometimes we undergo chemotherapy, and it works. In such situations, is usually impossible for us to know where the hands of science and any direct intervention of God begin and end, but we are thankful nonetheless. God created the science.

Some Christians have a sense that God directs the minutest details of how such things turn out. I personally think that we must keep God distinct in our minds from his creation.  Otherwise, we will have to explain how a God who says he is love causes so many bad things to happen. It is much easier to think that God allows many bad things to happen but that he has given his creation rules and largely allowed it to continue on its own path of cause and effect. God sees, God knows, God allows.  Sometimes God intervenes. But he is not directly responsible for all the pain, evil, and suffering that happen in the world.

So our sense that Jesus could do things that do not follow the laws of nature is a fairly modern way of looking at them. For them, he was able to do the kinds of wonders that God, angels, demons, and Satan did. Jesus' enemies claimed that he took some of his powers from Satan (e.g., Mark 3:22). Others clearly thought he received his powers from God (e.g., John 3:2).

There were others both in the Jewish and Roman world who were thought to perform miracles...


Angie Van De Merwe said...

Yes, this is how the Church justifies "Church discipline" (excommunication/Jonah being thrown overboard because the sailors thought he was responsible/exile of Israel because of disobedience to God).

As you stated, those that believe that God intervenes in everything, believe they have the power to "discipline" those that are disobedient according to their definition (denominatonally) and think that it is "God's righteous judgment by God's righteous judges).

What is really the truth is the politics, and what one desires is what determines "what happens". The political situation one finds oneself in, those that have power to make decisions, and those that are to comply with vision are all a part of the "mix" of accomplishing goals.

When these goals (which are really about political desires) are set within a frame of "God", then all kinds of havoc can be reaped as a result of people defining their own agenda, as "God's"!!! And they do so with a clear consciences upon other lives. That ignores the principle of "liberty of conscience", the right of choice, and the value of a free society. But, I suppose religious climates aren't about liberty, but about control. And control is about power to limit, and define, which breeds conformity.

Therefore, Church Government since Luther, hasn't had the power that it once had. People differ as to their personal value commitments, and life focus. And this is as it should be where people can come to personal convictions about their political visions for "the world and about their life".

Phil Carder said...

Dr. Schenck, have you seen Craig Keener's latest work, two extensively footnoted volumes on miracles? I took a course from Keener last semester at Asbury and he lectured for three hours on how the reality of miracles actually supports, rather than detracts, the reliability and credibility of the gospels (and of the NT as a whole). Truly excellent. I haven't read his latest work, but it seems certainly worth examining.

Ken Schenck said...

thanks Phil... I haven't seen it but I hear Keener is phenomenal.

davey said...

What theological effect might there be if we took ALL miracles in the Bible (except the resurrection!) as natural occurrences. Why should that undermine Christianity? And why should miracles be taken as supporting Christianity? Why not understand God as not intervening at all in the world, except for the resurrection, the gospel, and the final bringing in of the Kingdom?

Angie Van De Merwe said...

Why not view new discoveries in science as "miracles"? whenever man answers any problem that man faces, then, isn't that a miracle, meaning that what we know now is outside the scope of what we thought we knew? The miracle of man to create, discover and affect the world is a miracle.

It is called "imagination"!