Re: underlying assumptions

Murphy (
Fri, 13 Dec 1996 20:37:13 -0500

D. Brian Austin wrote:
> Bob Miller, George Murphy, et al:
> Thanks for the many challenging and insightful posts. I
> appreciate the serious theologizing.
> Please allow me to take something George said in his recent
> post as a point of departure. He mentioned that God works mediately
> through natural processes.
> This realization makes it difficult to draw distinct lines
> between natural and revealed theology, lines that seem to be presumed
> firm by many list contributors. Questions about "intervention" or
> "interference" must be qualified by the recognition that any such event
> will never be unambiguous or unilateral. God neither overrides human
> spontaneity nor the human interpretive filters (if such is even
> possible).
> There seems to be no fundamental difference in seeing God's
> presence in a whirlwind, a still small voice, a private urging, or
> in the awesome complexity of the "natural" world. In all these cases,
> and even in the more apparently "miraculous" instances, we encounter
> events in experience that cry out for (or quietly request) some
> interpretation. The supernatural is only that for which we haven't
> yet formulated a satisfactory explanation. Hence there is a sense
> in which all our experience can be thus classified. Which, of course,
> means that they might as well be called natural. And if the distinction
> between natural and supernatural breaks down, then so does that
> between natural and revealed theology.
> Before this gets jumped on as denying creation, or creatio
> ex nihilo, or God's ontological distinctness from creation, let me
> suggest a model of God's involvement in and responsibility for creation
> from Augustine. Recall his notion of God as the infinite sea, and this
> universe as a sponge completely surrounded _and saturated_ by this sea.
> Thus God is ever beyond our minuscule conceptual grasp, but ever-present
> and willing to be known. Moreover, if God be personal in some way,
> then there will be unpredictability, spontaneity, and ambiguity (or
> even chaos--remember Job) in God's essence, and presumably in God's
> handiwork. This unpredictability, often with momentous consequences,
> may give the appearance of a special "intervention." But this is the
> wrong word for it, as God always "soaks" creation. And God's voice
> is still heard by those who have ears to hear it.
> What do you think?

The distinction between "special" (e.g., Sinai) and
putative "general" revelation (i.e., seeing God revealed in natural
phenomena) is _not_ simply that the latter would be mediated. Special
revelation is often mediated. Special revelation, while ultimately for
all people, is not always available , but occurs only at particular
times and places. If, for the sake of argument, the physical phenomena
of the Sinai theophany were those of volcanic activity, that does not
mean that we can receive the same revelation, "I am the LORD your God" +
the 10 Commandments, by observing other volcanoes. Our access to that
revelation is only through the witnesses to it - Exodus 20, &c. I.e.,
the distinction between the two ideas of revelation is the "scandal of
particularity". That is why Enlightenment thought & other scandalized
rationalisms would like to dispose of special revelation.
The terminology of "special" and "general" revelation is not
ideal but I trust sufficient to make the distinction necessary for this
discussion without undue wordiness.
George Murphy