Re: God and nature; miracles

From: George Murphy (
Date: Thu May 15 2003 - 09:46:52 EDT

  • Next message: Howard J. Van Till: "Re: God and nature; miracles"

    Robert Schneider wrote:
    > Ted, here are the first four chapters of book XXVI of Augustine's _Contra
    > Faustum Manichaeum_. In the first two chapters Faustus is conceding that
    > Jesus might have died but, but good Docetist that he is, argues that Jesus
    > did not. Augustine answers in three and four.


    > Bob's comment: In chapter three Augustine seems to be arguing that what
    > appears to be contrary to nature according to human experience is not
    > contrary to nature as God knows nature, being the Author of nature. To
    > repeat Augustine:
    > "There is, however, no impropriety in saying that God does a thing
    > contrary to nature, when it is contrary to what we know of nature. For we
    > give the name nature to the usual common course of nature; and whatever God
    > does contrary to this, we call a prodigy, or a miracle. But against the
    > supreme law of nature, which is beyond the knowledge both of the ungodly and
    > of weak believers, God never acts, any more than He acts against Himself."
    > So, could God have stopped the rotation of the earth without tidal
    > forces tearing it and us apart, just as Christ turned water into wine? I
    > suppose one could argue theoretically (or theologically) that in general God
    > as omnipotent can do anything. But, to repeat your point, *did* such a
    > thing happen? I'm much more ready to believe, as I do believe, that Christ
    > oversaw the transformation of six jars of water into the best wine at the
    > wedding feast, than I am that God suspended a whole passel of natural laws
    > to enable the Israelites to defeat the Amorites in battle. Christ did not
    > move mountains, but with the power of God he did perform small acts of great
    > purpose--of healings that restored nature, or acts that pre-enacted the
    > messianic banquet. Perhaps where this conversation ought to go is, Can
    > acceptance of miraculous acts recorded in Scripture be judged to be
    > historical events or symbolic stories, on the basis of what appears to be
    > their purpose?....................................................
            One way of understanding this is to say that God has made creatures so that
    they are "naturally" (i.e., in accord with their natures) capable doing things that are
    never, or very rarely, observed. One expression of this, that I've probably quoted here
    before, is in the rabbinic tractate Aboth:

            "Ten things were created on the eve of Sabbath between the suns at nightfall:
            the mouth of the earth, the mouth of the well, the mouth of the she-ass, the
            rainbow, and the manna and the rod and the Shamir, the letters and the writing
            and the Tables [of stone]. Some say also: The evil spirits and the sepulchre
            of Moses and the ram of Abraham our father. Some say also: The tongs made with

    I.e., the various marvelous things of the OT were in fact created as part of the 6 days
    of Gen.1 & perhaps hidden away somewhere until God wanted to make use of them. The
    basic idea is interesting though we'd have to reformulate it today - it doesn't work to
    say, e.g., that Balaam's ass was hard-wired into the universe 14 x 10^9 years ago.

            1) This needn't mean that _everything_ is in accord with the natures of
    creatures. I think, e.g., of the point that C.S. Lewis made: Jesus turned a little
    bread into a lot of bread but not stones into bread.
            2) One should assume that such rare events, like ordinary ones, occur by God
    acting with & through creaturely agents, not by those things acting autonomously.
            3) Such a view needn't mean that God couldn't act in a way contrary to, or
    beyond, the natures of creatures, but simply that miracles don't have to be understood
    as such actions.
            4) & of course, as Bob points out, an important consideration about stories of
    miracles in the Bible has to be whether or not those stories are to be read as accounts
    of history /wie es eigentlich gewesen ist/." Before we start thinking about how God
    might have enabled Elisha to make an ax head float, we should ask whether the text &
    context of the story are such as to make us think it actually happened.


    George L. Murphy

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