Re: Miracles and God's work: was exodus scenario

Murphy (
Thu, 12 Sep 1996 13:11:04 -0400

James Mahaffy wrote:
> Folks
> I have been doing a bit of thinking about Ted Davis recent post
> (of this past Thursday 5 Sep 96)about how we interpret miracles.
> It raises some good questions about how God operates in the
> world. While I don't want us to digress into a long discussion
> again on providence, the idea of how God works in the world is a
> critical issue and appropriate for this forum. The miraculous
> can, it seems to me, be very helpful in our understanding God's
> working.
> Ted's post seemed to have a twofold focus. On the one hand it
> lamented the mentality he saw especially among students (and
> ?perhaps laity) of seeing God's miraculous work as being
> something so mysterious that it does and should not fit at all
> with our concept of the ordinary work of providence. I think
> this concept is fairly widespread and has some real associated
> dangers. In this view one tends to see God working in an almost
> MAGIC mysterious way in the miraculous and perhaps more
> dangerously may lend itself to not seeing Him being much involved
> in the ordinary workings of the world. Ted saw this in the
> student that could not believe that God could use a wind to move
> the water of the Red Sea when the Israelites crossed it. Like Ted
> I too sometimes find it useful to press students to think about
> the means God may be using in a miracle. Sometimes I will ask a
> student if would they thought they would feel the wind in their
> face, if as they walked with the children of Israel crossing the
> Red Sea they decided to approach the wall of water. It is
> surprising the number who will indicate that because it is a
> miracle they would not have been able to feel the wind in their
> faces.
> Yet, and you probably knew there would be another hand, I was
> almost more worried about another mentality that Ted was talking
> about that is found among many of us scientists. This is the
> pressure to almost limit the manner of God's working even in the
> miraculous to within the limits of the laws we have made to
> describe his ordinary workings. In this mentality, even if the
> odds stretch the mind, explanation that fit within the framework
> of these laws - even if it must be stretched to the very unlikely
> - are much to be preferred (an earthquake for the Red Sea etc.)
> than something that we can not explain. There is areal danger
> here that our concept of God tends then toward the deistic and
> things happen inevitably following the laws he made up. Again
> let me use an illustration I use with my students. I suggest to
> them that I can offer several explanations of how Peter walked on
> water. The first is that God caused two large bottom (flat) fish
> to rise to the surface and swim right under Peter's feet. When
> he lost his faith God then caused them to go back to the bottom.
> Somehow students don't like this example and don't think it will
> help them when they teach Sunday School. And I agree.
> I think there are dangers in both not seeing God in the ordinary
> and trying to make his miraculous fall within "the laws of
> nature." I like the warning that the late Cornelius Van Til made
> on this topic. He said it is a bit dangerous to think of laws
> when talking about God's workings because we soon make them
> things that limit how God works and we end up with a deistic
> concept of our God. Rather than guides for God, laws are the ordinary
> way in which God works and, since he is faithful, we can describe
> them as laws. When he works in the miraculous he is upholding
> the world in an different way then we expected and we may or may
> not be able to describe it by the same laws.
> :
> James F. Mahaffy e-mail:
> Biology Department phone: 712 722-6279
> Dordt College FAX 712 722-1198
> Sioux Center, Iowa 51250

One of the passages from rabbinic literature, PIRKE ABOTH
(Herford, _Sayings of the Fathers-, Schocken, 1962, pp.129-131) is of
interest here:
Ten things were created on the eve of the Sabbath, between the
suns. And these are they: The mouth of the earth, the mouth of
the well, the mouth of the ass, the bow, the manna, the rod, the
shamir, the writing and the pen and the Tables; some say also
the evil spirits and the grave of Moses and the ram of Abraham
our father, and some say also the tongs made with the tongs.
These are things in various ways miraculous mentioned in Scripture. If
God made everything in the first 6 days, where did these things come
from? Well, the rabbis said, they must have been created on the evening
of the 6th day! (The odd statement about the "tongs" seems to have to
do with another kind of problem about creation.)
The point is that these miraculous things were already prepared
in the creation of the universe, and don't require any "violation" of
the laws which God established (and, I would say, by which God
voluntarily limits himself) in creation. I.e., miracles are rare events
for whose possibility God arranged in making the world. Obviously some
care is needed in speaking this way, for quantum & chaos theories won't
let us think of historical events being "hard wired" into the world in
the big bang. But this general approach to miracles has a lot to
recommend it.
George Murphy