Monday, October 15, 2012

Naturally Supernatural

“The miracles of healing Jesus performs, or which take place in his proximity, are not intended to present him as a divine exceptional human being; they are miracles of the kingdom and signs of the messianic future which, with Jesus, breaks into the present in its sickness. They are ‘miracles’ only in an unchanged world. If the kingdom of God becomes powerful in the present, healings and liberations are not ‘miracles’ at all; they are a matter of course.”
Jürgen Moltmann, Ethics of Hope, 54.
The understanding of God's Kingdom reign that we call naturally supernatural is a powerful theological innovation. It helps us to reconcile one of the great theological tensions: why does God heal some people but not everybody? Part of the problem it addresses is in understanding what exactly is a 'miracle'. Not the actual substance of the 'miracle' itself as a healing, deliverance, etc., but what does it mean when we call such a thing a 'miracle'.

One view of 'miracles' is that they are violations of the natural order, a special irruption of God into the world. The problem here is one that theologians call theodicy, a fancy word for asking why there is suffering and evil in the world if God can simply make it all go away. The other view of 'miracles' is that they are just parables, not really 'miracles' at all, but rather object lessons to teach us how God wants us to behave. But the naturally supernatural approach takes neither view, at least not entirely, rather it looks for the radical middle.

From the special irruption of God view naturally supernatural takes the firm belief that God can and does act in supernatural ways in this world. For many of us we believe this because we have seen and experienced it. But for those of us who have experienced 'miracles' we've also experienced the times when God does not heal or intervene. So, while we believe that God can, and even wants to, intervene there has to be a reason why God doesn't simply jump into the real horrors of life and make everything better. The answer that special irruption often offers is that the formula isn't right or that there isn't enough faith present. This answer violates the character of God. God isn't manipulated by our words, nor is God bound by formulas. Nor is God callous to the plights of humanity. So we reject this part of special irruption and look for another option.

From the object lesson side we do see that there is an imperative given to us by the example of Jesus. We see it in the early Church, in the faithful throughout history who have called out to God for help in times of need. God wants us to be doers of the Word, not just hearers. God wants us to pray for the sick, to show compassion to the outcast, to give sight to the blind, and to lift up the poor. The naturally supernatural way expects that God does more than we can ask or imagine in such circumstances, much more than we can do in our own human resources. So we reject the part of the object lesson approach that says there are no real 'miracles'.

In charting a middle road between the two views of 'miracles' the naturally supernatural way focuses on another way of understanding reality. I began this article with a quote from my favourite theologian - Jürgen Moltmann. He expresses this view very well in his theological project. His whole ethic is built on our experience of the promise of God in tension with our experience of the reality of life. It is when we see something that is not as we believe God would have it, such as a person bound by sickness, that we are compelled to act. Our actions are not what brings the Kingdom, but they are a participation with what we see the Father doing and wanting to do. So the 'miracles' are those moments when we recognize that the Kingdom, that we are called to pray will come, breaks into the present. More than that, if we are participating with God then these are not simply supernatural occurences, but the natural expression of God's supernatural future (which will not be supernatural in the future) experienced in the natural world of today. God's reality breaks into our reality with 'miraculous' consequences.

The actual thrust of the naturally supernatural message is outward. (This has always been part of the Vineyard ethos as a church planting movement.) We see what God wants to do and participate with what God is already doing. It isn't about having enough faith or the right formula. It is about simply believing that God wants something better for this world and being encouraged to go for it.

This week I want to encourage you to go for it. See how God wants to be naturally supernatural in your world. Then come back here and tell us about it so we can all be encouraged to pursue God in this way.

 Frank Emanuel - Ontario Region

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