Some Thoughts on Miracles and God’s Presence in the World

Reasonable, intelligent people with impressive degrees, credentials and accomplishments exist on both sides of the God equation

NT Wright commented recently on the modern, western notion that God is largely absent and distant from the world He created. Every once in a while He “reaches in” and does something extraordinary, and we call that a miracle.

There are people in the west who still believe that God is active in the world, but western society is more characterized by a view that is God aloof, if He exists (and the western world is more or less aloof toward God). We tend to forget that much of the rest of the world does not share our view.

I believe this view of God and of miracles goes back to the Enlightenment and Deism that gained popularity in the last three centuries or so. Deism is the theology that grew out of the Enlightenment, applying Enlightenment ideals of rationalism, order and a reliance of scientific method. Deists believed that God exists, but He does not intervene and is not active or present in the world.

Deist thinkers conceived of the world like a watch that is wound up and left to run on its own. This thinking harmonized well with trends in scientific thought at the time. Darwin and others before him began to see no need of God to explain the laws of nature because scientific inquiry revealed those laws of nature to be true, dependable, and capable of explanation without reference to supernatural agency.

Many Enlightenment thinkers worked consciously and intentionally to shrug off any implication of the supernatural in the study of the natural world. Science, after all, is the study of the natural world. With the discovery of laws like the law of gravity, there was plenty for scientists to do without contemplating a Law Giver.

The definition of science now excludes inquiry of or appeal to anything other than “natural” explanations. Though “science” once meant knowledge, generally, it now means only knowledge of natural things and natural processes (which by definition excludes consideration of supernatural things).

Many modern scientists are materialists, meaning that they have come to believe that nothing exists but the natural world – space/time and matter. They believe nothing exists beyond the natural world, and, therefore, they say that science is the study of all reality – all there is.

In this worldview, they conflate the facts that science reveals with reality. On the Deist and Enlightenment view, miracles are an aberration. Indeed, the very definition of a miracle is something that is highly improbable or extraordinary, something unexpected and inexplicable on the basis of natural or scientific laws.

Deism is largely a theology of the past, but the Enlightenment lives on in the modern, materialist who makes no room whatsoever for a transcendent God or anything supernatural (beyond nature). God is excluded from the materialist worldview by definition. Any apparent aberration to natural laws and material things requires a natural explanation, even if one is presently unknown.

Miracles in a Deistic world are so rare as to be highly unlikely. Miracles in a modern, materialist worldview are impossible. They simply don’t happen. Every miracle claim is a puzzle waiting for a naturalistic explanation.

This is the faith of the modern materialist – that every phenomenon known to human experience has a natural explanation. We don’t look for God because we have already decided that He is aloof, that God is of no consequence, and it’s a short walk from there to the conclusion that God does not exist.

Wright makes the observation that the Bible has no word like miracle. The closest we get to it might be the phrase, “signs and wonders”. People in the Ancient Near East saw God (or gods) in everything. The Enlightenment posited that this was due to a lack of explanation for most things that we now observe in natural laws or, simply, random colocations of molecules.

Scripture reveals a God who is far from aloof, which is increasingly a foreign concept in the modern, western world. The God revealed in the Bible is known both by His “faithfulness” and His presence, investment and activity in the world.

The idea that God is faithful has been replaced with the understanding of natural laws. We believe our understanding of the way natural laws work has supplanted God. God was a construct we invented when we didn’t have explanations for natural phenomena, but now that we understand natural phenomena we have no need for the concept of God.

Even as a Christian, a person who believes in God, I have been influenced by the western world in which I grew up. NT Wright’s observation that the concept of a miracle is a western concept, not a biblical one, leads me to put my thoughts into print as I work out the tension between biblical revelation and my western mindset.

Continue reading “Some Thoughts on Miracles and God’s Presence in the World”

Sizing Up God

Depositphotos Image ID: 147545805 Copyright: kamchatka

In ancient times people saw gods in the rocks and trees, idols they made and volcanoes and lightning and thunder. These were gods that were larger than they, but they were accessible. Their gods lived in their environment. Their gods were arbitrary, but they tried to appease them anyway.

Roman and Greek gods were larger than the material world, and they manipulated the material world for their own ends. They controlled volcanoes and earthquakes and lightning and thunder, but they were human-like, even in their imperfections. People could approach them. People could reason with and try to appease them.

Buddhist, Hindu and Eastern gods are not defined by the rocks, trees, lightning and thunder. They do not simply manipulate the material world. They are intimately and intricately part of the material world, and the material world is an extension of them, and the entirety of the material world is all ultimately one and the same in its essence.

Many scientists, like Einstein, who stood in awe of the universe, saw “god” in this way. People can fathom these gods/this god and understand them/it and seek to become one with them/it because these gods are made of the same stuff as people and all of the universe ultimately. These gods cannot be appeased. We can only hope to understand them.

But these gods are too small.

Continue reading “Sizing Up God”

We Know God by Looking at Jesus

God has not given us abstract proof. He has not given us an inner compass pointing true north. God has given us proof in the Person of Jesus.

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I listened to a Tim Keller sermon about John 1 in which he focused on the revelation that “the Word was in the beginning; the Word was with God, and the Word was God, and God’s Word became flesh and dwelt among us”. You can follow the link in the last sentence to read a summary of the beginning of the message.

Keller made the following statement that is the subject of this piece:

“Jesus is the supreme revelation. If we are to know God, neither rationalism nor mysticism will suffice. For God chose to make Himself known finally and ultimately in a real historical human being.”

Keller doesn’t break that statement down, but he provides an illustration of how rationalism is insufficient to know God. I will summarize Keller’s illustration and provide one of my own for why mysticism can’t be relied upon for knowing God. Neither rationalism nor mysticism are sufficient, alone, to enable us to know God, and the reason why is that God revealed Himself in the person of Jesus.

Continue reading “We Know God by Looking at Jesus”

Jumping from the Precipice

Without a heart that is willing, we cannot know God.

depositphotos Image ID: 72688071 Copyright: nanka-photo

If anyone’s will is to do God’s will, he will know whether the teaching is from God or whether I am speaking on my own authority. (John 7:17)

Jesus spoke these words after his own brothers expressed their skepticism about who Jesus appeared to be suggesting he was, the long awaited Messiah from God. (John 7:2-5) He spoke these words to a crowd that was also largely skeptical, wondering who he really was. Some were saying he was a good man, but others were claiming that he was leading people astray. (John 7:12)

I keep coming back to this verse (John 7:17) since I heard Dr. Rosaria Butterfield give her testimony of her journey from liberal, lesbian professor who was highly critical of Christians and Christianity to becoming a believer and later a pastor’s wife and having a ministry of her own.

In her world of academia, she was used to doing research and coming to conclusions before being willing to put her faith in a proposition. That is the academic process.

As she was listening to a sermon after having spent many months becoming friends with a pastor and his wife, reading the Bible, and considering the evidence for Christianity, she made a life changing realization. She was approaching Christianity academically. She was not willing to believe until all of the facts were lined up and could be reduced to a certain answer.

When she heard this sermon in which the preacher read John 7:17, she realized that she had it all backward. Continue reading “Jumping from the Precipice”

Viewing God in the Mirror of Our Lives

 (c) Can Stock Photo

(c) Can Stock Photo

“Now we see as if in a mirror dimly… but then we will see face to face.”[a]

The filter through which we see God is the physical, spiritual, emotional and conscious person we see staring back at us in the mirror. Our perspective of God comes filtered through our own selves.

Think about that for a moment….

If our sense of who we are is distorted, our view of God is distorted. If we don’t see ourselves accurately, we can’t see God accurately.  Having an accurate view of God requires us to have an accurate view of who we are.

Continue reading “Viewing God in the Mirror of Our Lives”