How much more weird can we take? Weird III is part three of Todd Beiswenger's series attempting to put weird sounding religious ideas in context. This time he goes after miracles. Almost by definition miracles are shocking and strange, if not weird. Or are they? Beiswenger suggests that they might have more natural world explanations than we usually think. You can catch up on the rest of the weird series here: Weird I; Weird II. -Editor
I was flying from Phoenix to San Jose when I entered into a delightful conversation with the person sitting next to me. It didn’t take long before I knew that he was a software engineer for HP, and a devout Christian. I explained that I was a Christian too, just a denomination he’d never heard of before. I said that though I believed the Abraham and later stories to be historically true, I also believed in a deeper meaning to the Bible. He gave me a puzzled look, but asked, “Do you believe that God parted the Red sea?” Happy to find common ground I said, “Yes!” and he could relax because maybe I wasn’t all that weird. I just didn’t explain what I’ve been thinking about miracles, that is, maybe they’re really not all that miraculous.
It all started a couple of years ago when the miracle of the sun standing still came up in conversation. In the story, the Israelites were pursuing the enemy, and in order that the victory would be complete, Jehovah made the sun stand still to give them the extra daylight they needed. The problem is that the Writings say that didn’t actually happen. The Lord doesn’t defy physics to affect a miracle. The Israelites’ spiritual eyes were opened, so they basically had night-vision goggles on. Ok, so I can understand why He did that in that way. He didn’t want to upset the order of the cosmos when there was an easier solution. My faith took a hit, but was intact.
Not all that many months later I encountered a show produced by James Cameron (yes, that James Cameron) titled “Exodus Decoded.” The whole point to this show was to explain to us that the ten plagues of Egypt were not some divine intervention, but rather the fall out of a volcanic eruption in the vicinity. Science had proven the date of the eruption, but the problem was lining that up with the time the Israelites were in Egypt. Cameron and his gang quickly resolved that issue and went on to explain how each plague was more a matter of good timing on Moses’ part than the finger of God smiting the Egyptians. The effect on the Egyptians was the same, but taking away the physics defying divine Finger took away some of the power of the event for me.
The idea of miracles not being so miraculous carries a lot of baggage with it. What of Jesus’ miracles? He wasn't fully divine until after the resurrection, so was it His humanity that was able to change water into wine and raise the dead? Could we do it too if we knew how? There is a person in Arkansas that claims she can teach you how to walk on water. If true, that would sure change the way we would view that miracle as well.
Swedenborg states on numerous occasions that his being able to operate in the spiritual and natural worlds simultaneously is the greatest miracle of all time. Perhaps, but maybe in the same way that it is a miracle that Michael Jordan is the greatest basketball player of all time. Robert Monroe seemed to access the world of spirits, and another claims that once there you can do the same procedure to move into still higher dimensions (heaven?). Barbara Brennan claims to heal people with her hands.
My point is not just to consider a weird way to view miracles, but to consider if this is a reasonable way to view miracles. After all, one of the Lord’s primary objectives is to leave us in freedom, and if we are not able to understand miracles, then isn’t there a limit to our freedom? Note that when Moses first approached Pharaoh, his magicians could keep up with Moses’ abilities. Think of the common things that doctors can do today that would have been miraculous 2,000 years ago, like taking antibiotics to kill off an infection, never minding the stories from the east about people performing psychic surgery. What will be common place in another 2,000 years?
As the New Church is more firmly established in this world, and science starts to really see the greater reality of our existence, are we going to insist that God parted the Red sea by reaching His hand out of the sky and pushing the water aside, or would a well timed hurricane have done the trick? Will our faith evaporate when chemists from Coca-Cola learn how to change water into wine? Or when the mummified remains of Lazarus are found and show that he was narcoleptic? It does not mean that God does not exist, it just means that He really values our freedom! Swedenborg says that miracles like those of old do not happen anymore. That is an implication that they actually were real, but it would take a real weirdo to believe that those miracles did not happen the way the Bible implies, and yet still believe in the Bible. Would you?
Todd is a second year Theological School student who is happily married with one child. He holds a B.S. in Marketing from Auburn University and an MBA from Temple University. Interests include Phillies baseball, fast cars, and stock trading.