This is a re-post from a blog that I did at Homebrewed Christianity. I wanted to display here in preparation for a series of upcoming posts. [ I have started putting posts with big words over there and more everyday stuff over here – it seems to be working] Thank you all for your great feedback and thoughts!
In his book Process Theology: a basic introduction , C. Robert Mesle says:
“the miracle of birth” is a wise phrase, pointing us toward a healthy theology of miracles. Birth is not supernatural. It involves no intervention violating natural processes. We know a tremendous amount about reproduction and may one day be able to create life in laboratories. Yet for all that, we still feel, and speak of, the miracle of birth…
Miracles become problems when we think of them as demonstrating divine power to intervene in the world however God wishes. The problems are not merely scientific, but also theological and moral. Nothing challenges the goodness of God or the justice of the universe more than the stark randomness of such alleged “miracles”.
That is an interesting way to think about the subject, but I want to make an important distinction between supernatural and miraculous. The Miraculous can be seen several ways – as something that surprises us, outside our expectations; as something that is amazing; like the miracle of birth, something that is statistically improbable , like landing a Airplane on the Hudson River; or religiously as something that only divine help could account for.
There are several reasons why I think that this topic is SO important:
I can not tell you how often someone says something about how God directed them to take a specific road or a route that avoided an accident.
- Did god tell everyone and they just were not listening?
- Did god only tell those whom love god?
- Does god monitor all traffic patters and why would god be so concerned with getting you home on time but so unconcerned with children being abused and people going hungry?
People often get defensive and say “In a worship service I saw/experienced _____. Are you trying to tell me that did not happen?” No. I absolutely believe you that it happened. What I am saying is that maybe the explanation provided in the worship service was not the whole story of why the phenomenon happened (people being slain in the spirit, etc).
I want to be clear about something: I believe in prophetic words. I have told people things that I could not have known in my own power – including twice that I have described pictures that hang in their homes, homes that I had never been to.
I absolutely believe that the Lord could ‘lead’ you to call someone who needs a call ‘at that exact moment”.
So keep that in mind when I say that we need to revisit our frameworks around the miraculous and we definitely need to abandon the whole ‘super’ natural worldview. It does not hold together under even the slightest examination in the 21st century.
I have seen people who were headed toward knee surgery, back surgery, chemo therapy and legal blindness avoid those outcomes miraculously – and I think that prayer had something to do with that. When we are open (mind and spirit) to the presence of a greater possibility – it makes sense that the cells in our body would have a receptivity to those functions and processes that bring health and life. If we believe that there is a God, and that this God has something to do with creating our bodies, and this God’s spirit is present in the world, then it makes sense that our bodies created by this God would response to an openness to the presence of this God. That is why I can believe in and pray for healing. But it is not supernatural – it is the most natural thing in the world.
So let me put forward a simple proposal: Holy Spirit presence in the world makes God’s power both transcendent (a different conversation) and immanent. God is present with us and at work among us.* If I am talking to someone and this Spirit is at work in both of us , then naturally if I am open and receptive, then it is possible that God would lead me in that conversation. It might take the form of questions or suggestions – but I would go as far as to suggest that maybe the Lord is not absent from any conversation.
This would impact things like prayer for sickness and an openness for healing and restoration. For Christ’s followers, the miraculous is a natural part of the world. We have errored greatly to conceded the ‘normal’ to nature and a scientific explanation and then superstitiously hang on to everything else and blindly cling to it as ‘super’natural. As the kids say “Epic Fail”
Just don’t talk to me about why hurricanes hit certain cities (weather patters are not changed because one super-holy pastor had a lot of faith). And don’t tell me that tornados or earthquakes hit certain towns because of certain sins. Or the President W or X is being corrupted by demon Z. That is all ridiculous.
Rejecting the ‘super’natural but holding onto the miraculous allows us to update in accordance with our contemporary collected knowledge while holding open the possibility that, as people of faith, there is more going on in the world than just what we can see. It allows us to be rid of superstition and untenable contradictions while providing a platform for amazing things to happen in the world.
We have to let go of the ‘super’ natural and all its inherent baggage in order to preserve the potential of the miraculous in the world. The bottom line is that there is no such thing as the supernatural – but the Christian story is a miraculous one. It is foolish to continue to concede the language to a supernatural interpretation and attempted explanations.
* p. 117 in chapter entitled ‘Miracles’.
** (IF you are interested in my take on Elizabeth Johnson’s trinity challenge of “God beyond us, God within us, and God around us” you can listen to my sermon on the subject here.)
January 5, 2012 at 9:17 pm
Again, I want say that I love your posts, Bo. I guess where I’m “getting stuck” revolves around the supernatural vs. miraculous definition. I’ve always viewed them synonymously in my tradition. I would say that when the “supernatural” occurs, a “miracle” manifests. When God intervenes in my circumstance to “transcend” what is “occurring naturally”, it becomes miraculous in nature. When a man diagnosed with terminal esophagus cancer in my church was healed through prayer, we would describe and define it as a supernatural miracle. But it seems that what you are blogging is more than semantics. With regard to your paragraph about “super-holy pastors” changing weather patterns, demons influencing “certain” presidents, and “certain” cities getting “judged because of their sins”, I’ve always viewed this as just bad theology and not a supernatural vs. miraculous argument. I might be wrong of course. But we have lots of theology that still perpetuates an “Old Testament/Covenant” angry God, and some misguided, and antiquated teaching based on wrong paradigms about the nature and character of God, the nature of the demonic realm, and our role, responsibility, and our “influence” in the earth as the church. I think some of these paradigms are being challenged and “upgraded” for us thankfully. Anyway, thanks for the discussion. I am also interested in your doctorate studies. Where are you completing that and what is the emphasis? Also, I think I’ve asked in another post what kind of books you have read and can recommend that can help upgrade our “frameworks”?
January 5, 2012 at 9:44 pm
I can not thank you enough for your note. Thank you. It is SO helpful to have partners to think this stuff through with!
1) I am working on a post this weekend and I will attempt to incorporate your questions. They are SO bulls-eye.
2) I view the problem of miraculous v supernatural as synonyms the ‘Christmas problem’ sort of thing. When someone finds out that Santa isn’t real and Jesus wasn’t born on December 25 they might say “Christmas is hogwash – it has no meaning” – but they would be WRONG! It has SO much meaning, and is SO worth celebrating. It’s just that they always associated the two.
but keep in mind that I think that there is no such things as the supernatural… SO how would be talk and in what ways would we conceive of God’s work if that phrase were off the table? The problem with conceding the natural (and having the God of the Gaps for the supernatural) is that the more science proves – the less gaps there are the the ‘super’ natural god.
This is why people’s God is getting smaller. faith is decreasing. we errored in conceding the ground-rules early on – and our God isn’t even interested in playing this game.
January 5, 2012 at 9:47 pm
I would love to discuss these questions as well: 1) Did god tell everyone and they just were not listening?; 2)Did god only tell those whom love god?;and 3) Does god monitor all traffic patters and why would god be so concerned with getting you home on time but so unconcerned with children being abused and people going hungry? I do think there is a “listening” answer to this question, that God doesn’t just care about the people that “love Him”, and that God can both be concerned about world hunger and other social injustices while still caring that I take an alternate route home to avoid a “head-on” collision. I hope and desire that He would talk to me about the little things as well as the big things in life, and that I will grow and mature as follower of Jesus to differentiate between “monitoring traffic” and “child abuse”. I view these as developmental issues as opposed to “primitive thinking” issues. Its similar to the idea that God is on “Tebow’s side”. Am I “off” here?
January 10, 2012 at 8:09 pm
Thanks for this excellent post, Bo. I am completely with you! But then I guess being influenced by both Process Theology (via Claremont in the early to mid 90s and beyond) and New Thought would make that a “natural” :). (Incidentally, these two are heavily overlapping and in harmony, generally, and I’d like to see more cross-pollination between them.) In fact, I named my own blog “naturalspirituality” in an attempt to convey that “spiritual” need not connote “supernatural.” Rather, it is part of a whole/natural perception and response to life and to God — God here seen as containing and empowering it all and us all, regardless of our beliefs.
I like your way of explaining “miracles” and the miraculous. Interesting that our language already has made the kind of distinction you are pointing out–and even atheists use the terms without thinking God has intervened by temporarily changing the rules.
I encourage your readers to keep exploring around your points, particularly the hint at the end about the unfortunate dichotomy that emerged gradually in the 18th to 19th century between “science” and “religion.” I view that as partly a natural, unguided process, and partly the result of both intentional and unintentional “dividing up the territory” (and power) between church authorities and emerging science. One would hold sway in the material world and the study of it, the other in the non-material (spiritual or “supernatural”) world. Only much later, after the power dynamics of the two realms, within the various new democracies of Europe and America were solidified, did at least a small core of observant people realize what had happened, and that there are NOT, in fact, two distinct realms. But now the “at loggerheads” dynamic, especially since Darwin over creation/evolution, is very hard to unwind and replace with something more productive and true to reality. Incidentally, one of the best attempts at that, with some little-explored but very important paradigm options, is Vine Deloria’s “Creationism, Evolution, and other Modern Myths.” Highly recommended.
January 10, 2012 at 8:37 pm
Hey Howard, can you give me short intro to “New Thought” theology and how it intertwines with Process Theology. Great blog FYI!!!
January 11, 2012 at 10:44 pm
I don’t have time to do that right now, but thanks for the question. But in a nutshell, New Thought seems to me (after a fair amount of involvement) to conceive of God in a panENtheistic way, very similarly to Process. It leans a lot on Eastern sources as well as Western and gives high respect (though not worship) to Jesus, though a Jesus interpreted metaphysically. However, it does not have, nor seem to want, a systematically developed set of dogmas of much depth. What does seem to serve in this basic role in the United Centers for Spiritual Living (Formerly “Religious Science”) is mainly the “declaration of principles”–about a dozen, running maybe 250 total words or so. The other main NT group, Unity School of Christianity, is more tied to Christian thought and not quite as merely philosophical.
Two other key overlaps to me seems to be ecological concern (and other worldwide issues) and gender equality. In United Centers… I think something over 50% of ministers are women, plus probably a majority of key lay leaders; and I’d not be surprised if it is close to the same with Unity.
January 12, 2012 at 2:44 am
Thanks Howard. Your views a quite a “stretch” for me as I am still consider myself a “progressive” evangelical christian. But I am a lifelong learner and am very interested all the views that are being posted.
January 18, 2012 at 3:44 pm
what if we introduce the word ‘extraordinary’? what if miraculous moments are simply moments full of extra life, an abundance of wonder, spirit, goodness, etc.? to lean on thich nhat hanh’s metaphor, what if we are all waves and learn to recognize that we are all made of water. it creates us, surrounds us, moves us.. and miracles are moments in which we see clearly that reality?
January 18, 2012 at 8:36 pm
right on … great leveling statement.
of course, I would then add a theological element – but that is a secondary move 🙂 -Bo