ordinary

This Christmas I sit in our living room before heading to bed, typing out a festive blog post.  The room feels and looks very ordinary: couches, pillows, television, computer, DVD’s, books and more.  Life, most of the time, is ordinary.

Life is exciting and varied enough as it is.  We don’t need too many sensational experiences.  Highs come.  We are property owners for the first time, and are excitedly settling into our new home.  Lows follow.  My beloved Grandpa passed away the day after my son’s 9th birthday.  Even those highs and lows have an ordinary feel to them.  The joy of a new dwelling to own, enjoy and remake is tempered by frustrations of having too many things, facing the financial and time cost of renovations, and more.  The grief of losing a loved one didn’t fully negate the happiness of waking up Christmas morning to presents and pancakes.

The nativity narratives are laced with the spectacular, and awe-inspiring and the miraculous.  Angelic epiphany.  Prophetic insight.  Virginal conception.  It could be just me and my phase of life, but I’m drawn to imagine the lingering ordinary feel that life would have had for Elizabeth, the shepherds, Anna, the wise men, Mary and the others.  Elizabeth’s formerly-barren womb would still be subject to the pain of giving birth.  The shepherds, hurrying to Bethlehem after the angelic revelation, would have faced all of the familiar and mundane issues of getting themselves there.  Mary, despite her exemplary encounter with the angelic messenger, would have three full trimesters of watching her body and womb swell and transform.

And all of this has a beautifully Jesus-shaped dynamic to it.  For it is in Him that the spectacular resides within the everyday.  Eternity meets time.  God joins with humanity.  Creator with creation.  Word becomes flesh.

Nowadays I am more aware than ever of my simple need for God’s extraordinary strength in every ordinary moment.  Highs and lows; strengths and weaknesses; progress and stumbles, what I need is always to open myself to the ordinary process of participating with the Power who makes me just a little bit better, moment by moment.

same as always

It’s 12-12-12 today ((or was exactly 2,000 years ago to be pedantic)), and we are nearing the day (21-12-2012) which is heralded by some as something of an apocalypse and an end-of-the-world event.

Among other things, this highlights to me the reality that scientific discovery does not wipe out superstition.  People have always been superstitious and will always be.  Conversely, people have always denied any inherent purpose or meaning to the world – and they always will.

Science is great and helpful.  But I think Dallas Willard is spot on when he says “you can be very sure that nothing fundamental has changed in our knowledge of ultimate reality and the human self since the time of Jesus.” (The Divine Conspiracy, 106; emphasis original)

People wrongly think and speak as though at some point in history we learned some fact that forever sealed off the cosmos from any and all miracles; whereas the ancients, blissfully ignorant of this elusive fact we now know, had no other option.

In addition to ignoring the reality of ancient unbelief and scepticism, this way of thinking also misses the blindingly obvious truth that it’s psychologically and linguistically impossible to think or speak of a ‘super’-natural event if one has no idea of what a natural event is.  As Lewis said, when Joseph learned of Mary being pregnant, he was startled – not because he didn’t know how babies were conceived, but precisely because he did.

weird or what?

Gotta love ole Bill Shatner‘s hosting – cheesy as ever – for this new show.

An interesting mix of stories tonight.  A surfer saved from a shark attack by dolphins – dogs and cats that seem to know people are dying – a scrawny boy who picked up a car that had fallen on his uncle.  ((Incidentally, my Dad lifted a very heavy bundle of boards after it had been dropped onto the foot of one of his workers!))

Interestingly, the show speculated about whether or not the abilities of the dogs, cats and the boy had supernatural help.  Now, I’ve no problem with either the possibility or fitting-ness (propriety) of miracles, but suffice to say that I think just as much credit (‘glory’ in doxological terminology) goes to God if this stuff is ‘merely’ natural.  It reminds me of the question I once saw placed on the lips of Aristotle (or was it Aquinas?), if he could have known about modern ‘god of the gaps’ tendencies of some: “Couldn’t God make a nature that could actually do stuff on its own!?”

miracle

Some uses/senses of the word ‘miracle’:

  • Something happened:  Literally anything ‘happening’ – any phenomena as opposed to a non-phenomenological non-existence (existence is action – matter doesn’t just exist, it happens).  This can be called miraculous in the sense of ‘everything is a miracle’ or ‘look around – miracles are all around you’.  This concept, in my view is rightly held by those with both simple minds and very bright brains.  Existence is happening, and it’s a miracle.
  • Something happened that was good: Someone (the mayor?? I cannot remember of hand) called the no-death result of the otherwise tragic Christchurch earthquake a ‘miracle’.  Of course, I hesitate to mention as the ink is still hot off the press for tomorrow’s newspapers, as is the case with today’s tragic conclusion of the mining incident, someone (comparing with the earthquake) called it ‘the miracle that didn’t happen’.  One hears this use of the word often.  I don’t deny that some of what are called ‘luck’ events can rightly be called a miracle, but I think it is but one sense of the word.
  • Something just happened to happen: These are usually cases where timing or coincidence was involved to make the happening ‘just right’.  Meeting a stranger who has exactly what you’re looking for… Having a tax return be exactly the amount needed for that thing… etc.  Like the above case, this one also has it’s negative twin – cases where things worked out to be ‘just wrong’.  A car-wreck where the driver was killed by a mostly empty tissue box that ‘just happened’ to hit him in exactly the wrong place, etc.
  • Something happened that doesn’t happen: Whereas the previous two are cases where the laws of nature are undisturbed, unbroken and/or uninterrupted, this is the sense in which things happen in a way that is utterly distinct from nature’s habitual pattern (though not without some continuity – see below).  Cancers simply disappear.  Dead people live again.  I don’t think this kind of miracle happens, as they say, ‘willy nilly’.  I also like C.S. Lewis’ distinction between impossibility and impropriety.  The real issue is not if miracles are possible (it is quite literally impossible for anyone to support the claim that they are not), but whether they are ‘fitting’.  God could, in principle, make my laptop float in the air at this very moment, but what propriety would such a phenomena have?  A bodily healing, however, says something about the body.  In the Christian sense, bodily miracles are eschatological – foretastes or ‘first fruits’ of the bodily resurrection.

dumb witch

“I spoke just now about the Latinity of Latin. It is more evident to us than it can have been to the Romans. The Englishness of English is audible only to those who know some other language as well. In the same way and for the same reason, only Supernaturalists really see Nature. You must go a little away from her, and then turn round, and look back. Then at last the true landscape will become visible. You must have tasted, however briefly, the pure water from beyond the world before you can be distinctly conscious of the hot, salty tang of Nature’s current. To treat her as God, or as Everything, is to lose the whole pith and pleasure of her. Come out, look back, and then you will see… the astonishing cataract of bears, babies, and bananas: this immoderate deluge of atoms, orchids, oranges, cancers, canaries, fleas, gases, tornadoes and toads. How could you have ever thought this was the ultimate reality? How could you ever have thought it was merely a stage-set for the moral drama of men and women. She is herself. Offer her neither worship nor contempt. Meet her and know her. If we are immortal, and if she is doomed (as the scientists tell us) to run down and die, we shall miss this half-shy and half-flamboyant creature, this ogress, this hoyden, this incorrigible fairy, this dumb witch. But the theologians tells [sic] us that she, like ourselves, is to be redeemed. The “vanity” to which she was subjected was her disease, not her essence. She will be cured, but cured in character: not tamed (Heaven forbid) nor sterilised. We shall still be able to recognise our old enemy, friend, playfellow and foster-mother, so perfected as to be not less, but more, herself. And that will be a merry meeting.” – C.S. Lewis, Miracles, p. 71.

miracles

Some scattered, quick thoughts about miracles, in passing reflection (all I’ve got time for at the moment) on some recent posts by Damian and Glenn.

  • I, too, am sceptical (US friends, this is the NZ spelling of skeptical) of most miracle reports I hear.  Wait, no, I’m actually sceptical of all miracle reports I hear.  Not because I think ‘miracles just don’t happen’ (naturalism), or ‘miracles just don’t happen any more‘ (cessationalism); but rather because miracles are meant to be pretty amazing things, which don’t happen all the time, and amount to more than looking for your car keys for 30 seconds, then praying and finding them and calling it a ‘miracle’.  ((one wonders: how quickly after praying does the thing have to happen for it to have happened ‘because you/I/we prayed’?))
  • “That’s just hear-say” is just as much a non-reason for something not being a miracle as “But Benny Hinn said so” is for something being one.
  • People disbelieve miracles (in general) of a miracle story (in particular) for two main reasons: impossibility and impropriety.  Not possible or Not proper.  Can’t happen or Surely didn’t happen.  They either rule them out a priori, or they feel that they (in general or in this/that particular case) are ‘unfitting’ invasions/interruptions/etc.
  • ‘Miracles’ by Clive Staples Lewis.  Everyone interested should read it.
  • The very concept of a miracle requires some sense of ‘the way things normally/lawfully/usually/typically happen’, as a miracle is an abnormal/’unlawful’/unusual/non-typical sort of thing.  People don’t say something was a miracle because they don’t know the laws of nature, but because they do.  Without a sense of ‘what normally happens’ (i.e. sex –> fertilisation or stork or something –> baby; or life –> death –> remaining dead), there can be no concept of a miracle (i.e. wow, a virgin is pregnant.  How odd!; or life –> death –> eating breakfast on the beach with friends).
  • Miracles attributed to various kinds/understandings of god/God/gods doesn’t in any way make them (automatically) less/more believable.
  • In an analogous relation to the hopeless task of reading all books that are published, it is impossible to investigate all miracle claims in anywhere near a robust enough way to discredit them all.  Hence the inconvenient situation we have of not having philosophical 100% epistemic certitude regarding whether or not miracles happen.  Having said that, I see no reason to say that someone who genuinely claims that a reasonably verified miracle has happened to them is not justified in claiming 100% certainty?  (or people close to them, for that matter?)
  • There are different kinds of miracles: miracles of ‘timing’ (i.e. an earthquake causing a river-damming landslide just as you approach it); miracles of ‘restoration’ (delayed-decay? – i.e. a death-delaying disappearance of a cancerous tumor); miracles of ‘information’ (i.e. prophetic word of knowledge of future event, etc.); etc.

thomas isaiah campbell

5 pounds, 3 ounces — born 4:18am Sunday, December 21, 2008 — 7 weeks pre-mature but his lungs are ‘catching up’ well — the tubes in this picture are feeding and breathing tubes — mum (for US people, this is equivalent to ‘mom’) is recovering great!

(update: more pics being added here!)

Continue reading “thomas isaiah campbell”

investigating modern miracles

An interesting person is gaining popularity at the moment. His name is Todd Bentley.

A Google or YouTube search (which I’ve not had time to do) should provide very ‘interesting’ material.

Apparently, 25 (or so) people have been ‘raised from the dead’…

A few thoughts:

  1. If this stuff is really happening, then for Bentley’s sake (not to mention God’s) get it on tape!
  2. Don’t complain when people like me want evidence that people really had cancer or were really dead (the biblical story of Lazarus being raised includes the detail that he was beginning to stink – that’s dead).
  3. Don’t complain when I remain hesitant to accept these reports if no evidence is given.
  4. I hear of ALL KINDS of such things happening all over the world, and I’m prepared to believe that it’s not ALL nonsense; but for crying out loud, somebody do some investigation! Wouldn’t it be great to have it!?