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 who 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’.
I will be leading a breakout session at the 2012 Emergent Village Theological Conversation called “Pentecost for Process” – sign up and join the conversation!