Of Magic And Miracles
During my seven hours of insomnia overnight, I did a lot of thinking. When I was a kid, the things I didn't understand were very magical. Things just "magically" happened. Put two pieces of bread in this shiny device and it dings and out comes toast! It's magic! Two fat men walk into a little room, turn and face the doors, and when the elevator doors open, two women in skirts are standing there. It's magic! Then you figure it out. And you realize that there are is no such thing as magic. The "magician" pulls a rabbit out of a hat, and you realize that there are explanations for it that don't include rabbits appearing with an appearance of age out of thin air. That half-eaten piece of candy under the bed isn't magically turning into ants. It's just attracting them. After my "magic" phase though, I entered the "miracle" phase. Things that happened that I didn't understand were chalked up to miracles. The Bible was full of miracles. Missionaries were full of miracle stories. You could even find them in the news on occasion. And, instead of having a magician in a black top hat to credit for it, we had our Creator. But, as I continued to grow intellectually and explore things, I realized that just as there were natural solutions for what it appeared the magician did, there were evidences of natural events or possible natural explanations for some things in my "miracle" category. I didn't always need to rely on "God of the Gaps" arguments. That is not to say that miracles don't occur, but just that I no longer "assumed" magic or miracle when it came to things I didn't know. As my knowledge "increased", my reliance on magic and miracles as an explanation "decreased". But then I ran into some interesting push-back. Some people want as much stuff as possible in the miracle bucket. The more things they put there that they have to believe by faith, the better things are. The more they can credit God with, the bigger their God is. Or at least that is the way it comes across. Reminded me of the childish "my dad can beat up your dad" kind of thing. The guy with the "bigger God" wins. But God doesn't need our help in crediting Him with direct involvement for everything that we don't understand. You see, there isn't just a "magic" category and a "miracle" category. There is also a "mystery" category. And, I think, that should be the default category for the Christian, not the "miracle" category. And I will tell you why. Many people take it as "doubting God" if you suggest that something happened via natural means or indirect supernatural causes. You see it a lot in creation interpretations. If one doesn't believe the most magical miraculous possible explanation for an event, you are accused of doubting God and His Word. But, in many cases, it isn't God that is being doubted. It's the assumption that it's a miracle and not a mystery. To refer back to the infamous cartoon, the first half of the equation is clearly evidenced in Scripture. The last half is evidenced in Creation. It's the middle part that "needs more detail" where there are differing opinions as to what happened. One day those mysteries might be solved. But we shouldn't assume all mysteries are miracles. And it is okay to challenge that assumption or to search for that missing detail. The ancients, for example, used to believe in spontaneous generation. Life came from inanimate matter on a regular basis. To them, God was doing miracles everywhere on a daily basis to make these things happen. Only it wasn't an actual miracle. It was just a mystery that they didn't yet understand. And coming to a knowledge of how that happens (thanks to Louis Pasteur) didn't take anything away from God. It just solved a mystery. And even though these ideas influenced Christian theology, and even required a level of faith that "God did it" that we don't accept today, finding out we were wrong doesn't change God at all. I actually came across a funny story as I was digging into this idea a bit. Wiki has an interesting article about how the belief that barnacle geese came from geese barnacles made the geese, until the 13th century, okay to eat during lent when other poultry were forbidden. Now we would laugh at the idea that barnacles produce geese today. But that didn't keep folks from using it as "evidence" for the immaculate conception back then. Only it wasn't a miracle at all. It was just a mystery that was later solved. And that is where the danger comes. On this Easter Sunday, our Risen Lord is the greatest miracle of them all. Yet when we add "miracles" into that category that shouldn't be there, it causes folks to disbelieve everything in that category when it turns out that some of those things have perfectly natural explanations. We wouldn't doubt the immaculate conception and virgin birth today just because geese don't come from barnacles....but that is because we don't have Christian leaders out there still proclaiming the "miracle" of geese coming from barnacles. I think that when we claim too many things as miracles instead of mysterious, it does just as much damage as if we were to claim them to be magic. Once the magic trick is exposed, it DOES take away from the mystical abilities of the magician. And so does the claims of "miracle". Once we find out it has an explanation, it causes damage. But it is our confusing mystery with miracle that causes the problem. True miracles are not a problem for God. I think that miracles are like truth. They can withstand any level of scrutiny. And scrutiny and testing should actually be encouraged. Christ had no problem telling the healed lepers to go to the temple to be examined. The evidence was clear. And exploring that evidence resulted in a stronger case. But what would have happened if Christ had told them that they were healed, but they were not to take off their bandages to see if that was really the case? Miracles have a purpose. They can be tested, and they point to Him. The empty tomb can be examined. So could the holes in His hands. The wine could be tasted. The loafs and fishes eaten. And our faith is based on those testable miracles. It is a solid foundation. But we shouldn't mix things with the actual miracles that produce a weak foundation. The guy wanting to test the miracle or examine the healed leper isn't the danger. Neither is the guy wanting to examine a mystery taking anything away from God. It's the guy that insists that X is a miracle and should just be believed by faith and not objectively examined, and that we shouldn't examine it or that all the evidence from its examination is not to be trusted that is causing damage. And the claim that God did another miracle to cover up the first and make it appear to be something natural does even "MORE" damage. Here is the bottom line. I was watching a TED talk last night about trial and error. In our theological beliefs, it is probably better described as test and fail. But if something fails a test, it isn't God that is failing. It is our testing assumptions. A "fail" presents a truth. And God is truth. As such, testing something and coming to additional truth doesn't take away from God. It helps us more accurately understand God. Having/requiring more faith should not be a substitute for a proper understanding of God. He would rather us know Him and who He *really* is and what He has *really* done than have faith in our own imagination of what He has done. That is a God of our own making. And the more we take away from that, the better. Our desire should be in knowing the real God, not a desire to believe in more miracles.