Sunday, September 21, 2014

F4. God reveals himself in events apart from nature.

This is the fourth post in the first section in my series, a theology in bullet points. (Here are three of the later sections that I've already done).
God has revealed himself in events apart from nature.

1. Different Christian thinkers define a miracle in different ways. For many, a typical miracle situation is when someone looks like they are going to die but they spectacularly and unexpectedly pull through. Some would be fine with such a miracle taking place through the hands of a doctor. Or let's say that some people are trapped in a mine and it looks like they are going to die, but they "miraculously" pull through.

But I am defining a miracle in a very specific way. If the "natural" is when events follow the normal cause-effect operations of the universe, then a "miracle" is when God interrupts the normal cause-effect operations of the universe to do something. If you could track down and account for all the causes behind an event, you would not define it as a miracle by this definition. [1]

So perhaps the individual's recovery from sickness was unexpected and spectacular. But if you could account for the recovery scientifically, it would not be a miracle by this definition. By this definition, a miracle is when God interrupts and steps into the normal cause-effect chain of events and changes the outcome.

2. Special revelation is, by this definition, miraculous. We tend to think of revelation as informational--God sharing truth or giving a command. But revelation is much bigger than that. In Scripture, revelation is transformational. It is about more than head knowledge. It is even deeper when it involves person knowledge. We catch a picture of this "knowledge" when we realize that the clause, "Adam knew Eve" in Genesis 4:1 is about intimate relations.

So the deepest revelations are about encounter and experience of God. They are about "being known by God" (e.g., 1 Cor. 8:3; Gal. 4:9). [2] That sort of revelation changes our existence and is thus, "existential." It goes far beyond mere knowledge of information.

It should be clear by this definition that special revelation includes a vast amount more than the Bible. Indeed, the greatest revelation of all history took place when God stepped onto the human stage as Jesus, the Christ. In Christian belief, Jesus was not just some man that God chose and anointed. Jesus was God himself, interrupting the normal flow of human events, to become a human being.

While on earth, Jesus revealed God through his miracles, events that could not be accounted for under the normal operations of the universe. They were instances of the Spirit interrupting the normal flow of cause and effect through Jesus. Then of course the resurrection was not just a chance event. It was not a mostly dead individual who fooled some Roman soldiers and escaped the tomb a couple days later. No, it was a miracle. It was God changing the course of normal history.

3. Every instance of God speaking or revealing himself to a human being is thus miraculous by definition. Every instance is an instance of special revelation, revelation that involves God's direct intervention and insertion of himself into the world. God was involved in special revelation long before a single word of the Bible was written, and God continues to speak to people today, thousands of years after the Bible was written.

There is a group of Christians known as cessationists, who believe that gifts of prophesy and miracles were confined to the biblical period. But the Bible itself knows no such thing. Never in the New Testament are we given any indication that the gifts of the Spirit have a "sell by" date. When Paul says that, "where there are prophecies, they will cease" (1 Cor. 13:8), the context is not talking about prophecy in general, but about any one specific prophecy.

No, this line of thinking was invented by individuals who wanted to contain God within the words of the Bible. God cannot be so contained and to do so makes God smaller than he is. He is not a genie in a bottle. The whole world cannot contain him! He is a God who spoke and continues to speak.

Here it is worth noting that the "word of God" in Scripture is not in any way limited to Scripture. In John 1:14, the word of God made flesh is obviously not the Bible but Jesus Christ himself. Indeed, it is almost blasphemous to confuse the two, as if written words come anywhere close to the second person of the Trinity, the Word of God. It is almost to make the Bible into an idol.

Hebrews 4:12 is talking about something bigger than the Bible. Following Jewish tradition (e.g., see Wisdom 9:118:15, it is referring to God's spoken word of command, by which he accomplishes his will in the world (see Isaiah 55:11). [3] Similarly, James 1:18 is probably talking about something deeper than even just the preached word (let alone the written word), and the same goes for 1 Peter 1:23.

4. The revelation of God is much, much bigger than the written word, as crucial as it is. [4] God speaks to people in prayer every day. God speaks to us in worship. God speaks to us when we are baptized and as we take communion. To limit God's self-revelation to the Bible is to diminish him greatly, like those who in effect limited God's location to the temple.

But Stephen responds with the words of Isaiah: "Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool. What kind of house will you build for me? says the Lord. Or where will my resting place be? Has not my hand made all these things?" (Acts 7:49-50). In the same way, the special revelations of God cannot be contained by human words.

God reveals himself in events apart from nature. The greatest such revelation was when God became human, worked among us through the Spirit, then rose again from the dead. [5] The second greatest revelation was in the series of books that we now know as the Scriptures. Beyond that point, God has revealed himself in the Church. But God continues to reveal himself to someone somewhere every day, and thus the "words" of God in history continue.

Next week: F5. There is a spectrum of Christian thinking on many issues.

[1] Some do not like this approach to miracles because they do not like to think of God allowing the universe to operate "on its own" in some way. They would like to see God as intimately determining every event. I do not take that approach. However, if you take my language in terms of how things appear (i.e., phenomenologically), then you can merely reinterpret my language in terms of what appears to be the normal cause and effect operation of the universe.

[2] Think, for example, of the revelation Paul experiences when he experiences the third heaven in 2 Cor. 12:1-7.

[3] This is an excellent example of how we unthinkingly can assume that the phrases we use in English in our traditions (e.g., "word of God") had the same meanings when the words of the Bible were written. But this just isn't the way it works. The meaning of these phrases then was a function of the way they used phrases then, not of how we use them today.

[4] In this series, we will develop a theology of Scripture in our section on sacraments. There we will think of Scripture as a "sacrament of revelation," a divinely appointed means of grace by way of revelation.

[5] You will also notice that, by this reckoning, Jesus himself does not exhaust the revelation of God in the world, at least not in terms of content and certainly not in terms of event.

1 comment:

Martin LaBar said...

As usual, well done. Thanks.