Re: God and nature; miracles

From: Jim Armstrong (
Date: Thu May 15 2003 - 15:12:55 EDT

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    Debbie - I think the answer to ,"how do we ...?" is that we just do it.
    None of us approach or respond to scripture without interpretation.What
    stands or falls with respect to interpretation is of course not God and
    his truth. What seems to be of concern here is a slippery slope. No one
    wants to wind up at the bottom of the slope, "no Biblical descriptions
    are literally true as written." On the other hand, the very top of the
    slope is a troubled place, i.e., "all biblical descriptions are
    literally true as written, without metaphor."

    Accordingly I'm inclined to think we are supposed to learn how to live
    on that slippery slope and "test" the descriptions as we work to
    assimilate the value in them and reconcile them in our own system of
    belief . We have been given the capacity to think about and make such
    assessments, with as much help as we are inclined to accept from
    personal inspiration and those thinkers/writers who have gone before us.
    Further, the slippery slope is a metaphor for virtually every aspect of
    real life. Why should we not expect that scripture would challenge us to
    think about and process its teachings in ways that are useful in and
    analogous to the "laboratory" where we put the stuff to work?

    I have to decide for myself where I will slide the cursor. Do I set it
    just above the wine and below the flood? What is the consequence? Is the
    cursor going to stay put? More importantly, am I going to change my
    understanding of God and his purpose in and for me based on exactly
    where I rest the cursor, or just of scripture, or of just some specific
    articulation in that scripture? For most of us, I venture to say that
    the setting of the cursor does not make a great net difference in this
    respect. If it does, we may have placed too much importance on the
    articulation rather than the message.

    As a physiker, I liked your "physicasally" word!

    Regards - JimA

    Debbie Mann wrote:

    >And herein is the logical gap, the gulf, the enormous chasm that is an
    >obstacle in the way of so many. Why can we JUDGE certain 'miracles' to be
    >small enough and physicsally (pertaining to physics - if there is a real
    >word, please tell me) unchallenging enough to accept while rejecting others?
    >If we reject the flood, how do we accept the wine? If we accept the wine and
    >the resurrection and reject the sun failing to move, do we accept the
    >healing of the man born blind and the raising of Lazereth? What law, rule or
    >basis of judgement is there that says 'cut this out' but 'leave this in'?
    >Is all the world a dream and the people merely dreamers with the reality
    >being whatever God says? Are we in a world akin to that of Matrix, or of
    >Gosse, or of the holodeck where the reality is something unconceived of and
    >the program is interruptible by the will of God or Man?
    >It's the problem of Jim, of my brother-in-law, of my daughter - How can a
    >man Judge God? And if Jesus is God and Jesus is the Word, is that not what
    >is being done?
    >-----Original Message-----
    >From: []On
    >Behalf Of George Murphy
    >Sent: Thursday, May 15, 2003 8:47 AM
    >To: Robert Schneider
    >Cc: Ted Davis;
    >Subject: 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
    >>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
    >>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
    >>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
    >>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
    >>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
    >>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
    > the mouth of the earth, the mouth of the well, the mouth of the she-ass,
    > rainbow, and the manna and the rod and the Shamir, the letters and the
    > and the Tables [of stone]. Some say also: The evil spirits and the
    > of Moses and the ram of Abraham our father. Some say also: The tongs made
    > tongs."
    >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
    >acting with & through creaturely agents, not by those things acting
    > 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
    >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.
    > Shalom,
    > George
    >George L. Murphy

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