In a recent podcast of the Peacing It All Together Book Discussion Group, a question was asked about moving on from a the concept of the supernatural to a more integrated or indigenous perspective.
From minute 7 to 14 there is a nice discussion about different ways of moving on from this poorly manufactured thought construct.
I come from an evangelical-charismatic perspective in my past where the supernatural was just assumed. It was almost like a second language that not fluent but fairly versed in. It has taken my 12 years of incremental work to move out of that language and worldview in order to make room for a more wholistic and (possibly indigenous) perspective.
Here is the steps that I took to (re)orient myself.
1) Jesus did not believe in the supernatural. There is no Jewish concept like ‘spiritual’. It just wasn’t a category for them like it is for us . That division starts for Christianity in the Greco-Roman world (think of Plato’s philosophy) but comes to its height in the European Enlightenment. It is helpful to simply realize that the Bible does not have this word.
2) It has not born good fruit for the past 500 years. This dualism between natural & supernatural have had devastating consequences in the colonial, then industrial, then technological eras. Jesus said that you will know a tree by its fruit and this is bad fruit. Many of the problems we face today are rooted in this kind of binary (either/or) thinking. The church has been complicit in some pretty horrific stuff – partly because it was participating in this natural/supernatural split.
3) See the living world as a revelation of God. It is a valid loci for theological reflection. I am not separate from creation but very much a part of it. I am a narrative mammal – complete with nipples and a belly-button. I both need creation and am called to care for creation because I am a part of creation – from dust I came and dust I shall return.
4) The church messed up by conceding the ‘natural’ to science because the more that science can explain the less we need God. God has gotten smaller and smaller over the past couple centuries. ‘He’ is less powerful than ever before and at this point all ‘He’ can do is give us goosebumps during worship, get us a good parking spot at the mall (?), and speak to our heart when we are feeling bad about ourselves. How it that ‘super’ natural?
We messed up in the western worldview when we conceded the rules of the game to science and said that we would take everything that science or reason can’t explain and call that ‘super’natural. Everything else is natural? That is why we must re-claim proclaim that …
5) God’s work is the most natural thing in the world. We have made God into an idol – a ‘being’ who is a lot like us but just different kind if not degree. This is the danger of personification (anthropomorphism) when it goes from being fluid (theo-poetics) and it hardens to become more concrete in doctrinal statements and foundationalism.
The problem is that there is no ‘there’ there. This view is god is both unsatisfying and ultimately impotent. God is not ‘a being’ like we are a being – god is divine being. When we reference God ‘speaking’ is not by pushing air over vocal chords. When we talk about the hand of god we are not being literal. It is a poetic way envisioning or imagining the way in which the divine presence influences and animates all of creation.
I have tried to move toward a more integrated worldview that is holistic and interdependent.
So want to invite you to begin to or continue to deconstruct this terrible thought construct that we have inherited by looking out the window to creation and saying out loud:
“There is no such thing as the supernatural. God’s work is the most natural thing in the world”.
Please don’t think that this is merely semantics or a rhetorical device. It is a completely different worldview – complete with different ontology, cosmology, and metaphysic. I am not being clever or tricky when I say this stuff. It really is a different way of believing and participating in the world.
So in summary:
- Jesus didn’t believe in the supernatural (only the miraculous).
- The natural/supernatural split has not born good fruit historically.
- Creation is a living thing that God loves and that you are a part of.
- The church messed up by conceding the ‘natural’ world and taking the leftovers.
- We profess and confess that God’s work is the most natural thing in the world.
Please let me know your thoughts and your questions. I would love to be helpful in your migration to a more integrated and wholistic worldview. I hope that this model helps.
Somebody asked about miracles!
Miraculous is when the result is greater than you would expect from the ‘sum of its parts’. It is an event (in philosophy).
So we say ‘the miracle of child birth’ or ‘the miracle on the Hudson’ when Sully landed that plane.
I still believe in the miracle of healing. It is not predictable or formulaic or even reliable … it is always surprising. BUT it does happen. Medicine can be a part of it, diet is a part of it, rest is a part of it, and prayer can be a part of it.
I can believe in the miraculous without the addition of another super-natural ‘realm’ beyond this one. The super-natural split just comes with so much extra (and unnecessary) baggage.
Keep in mind that the Gospel of John calles them ‘signs & wonders’ … which is much healthier and more helpful.
A sign (in this way of thinking) is a symbol that participates in the reality that it points to. Miracles are signs of the inbreaking Kin-dom.
Communion can be like this for us! It is a symbol (the bread and cup) that participates in the reality that it points to – we all gather around the table as the body of christ – but the bread and cup are not supernatural.