A Fine Line

Not too long ago I ordered a new study Bible, one I had resisted buying for some time because of the obviousness of the purchase.  It was a no-brainer that I should have this study Bible and that it likely should be my go-to study Bible.  Because it was such a slam-dunk decision that I ought to have this study Bible as soon as it was released, I refused to buy it.  Stubborn much?

So I finally bought The Lutheran Study Bible.  
It’s a nice Bible, to be sure.  But since I don’t rely on study Bibles the way I used to (one of the advantages/curses of Seminary), I haven’t really spent much time examining the commentary and study notes in it.  But I sat down yesterday morning to see what it had to say around the Gospel lesson for this coming Sunday (Mark 9:14-29).  There was a full-page essay nearby entitled “God’s Care and Miracles” that caught my eye and I read through it.  
It is an interesting exploration of the nature of the miraculous.  What constitutes a miracle and what does not?  The author uses this definition for a miracle:  “A miracle is when God directly intervenes in nature in such a way that the natural order of things is overruled.  Something happens that goes beyond nature.”  
I think this is a traditional understanding of the miraculous, at least in terms of modernity and post-Enlightenment culture.  We’re willing to call something miraculous if we have no other possible explanation for it, and if we can’t duplicate it.  As science and technology have advanced, it would seem to logically reduce the number of things that are miraculous by the above definition.  There are some who take this to mean that there really isn’t anything such as the miraculous, just things we don’t understand and can’t duplicate – yet.  Many outspoken atheists are in this camp.
The author distinguishes the miraculous from the providence of God, which they define as “that activity of God whereby He uninterruptedly upholds (preserves), governs, and directs all of life”.  God may intervene in the lives of his creations without disrupting the natural order, and this is providential, not miraculous.  God directing the forces of nature towards his purposes without violating the laws of nature.  God acting in ways that we can understand or replicate or at least in patterns that we recognize as relatively normal.  
These are fine definitions.  Theological distinctions that help people make sense of the world around them and more accurately attempt to explain the workings of God in their life.  The problem comes when we try to push these definitions too far, assuming that the nature of what happens determines the category of miraculous or not.  The author tries to push these definitions, giving specific examples of miracles vs. God’s providence.
For the person experiencing God’s intervention in their life, I doubt that such a distinction is ultimately helpful.  And I think they tend to drive us further away from seeing all of life and creation as miraculous.  I understand the theory of gravity but that doesn’t necessarily make it any less miraculous.  I can call gravity part of the ‘natural order’, but all this really does is lead me to think of it as somehow less than divinely given.  
What can eventually evolve is a distinction between things that happen because they must, because those are the laws of nature, and things that are beyond those laws or exceptions to them.  The beauty of new life is thusly relegated to the former category, and because of that loses much of it’s grandeur and majesty simply because we understand the mechanics of reproduction.  It ceases to be miraculous because we view it as a causal relationship.  When x and y happen, z results.  
I like the Lutheran emphasis on God not just as the creator of all things – the ultimate watchmaker who designed and wound the universe and then stepped away for a bit – but as the sustainer of all things.  The laws of nature are not inviolable in some objective sense.  They exist because God is a God of order who has designed things for the benefit of all his creation.  God does not appear to be arbitrary or fickle.  He is consistent.  Steadfast.  Faithful.  
When I remind myself to treat each new day not simply as another interruption to a lovely night’s sleep, but as a gift of God never before given and never to be repeated (despite it’s similarity to many other days in the past from a natural law perspective), this ought to instill greater gratefulness, greater anticipation, a greater sense of the mystery and glory of God’s plan of salvation that is still being worked out in my life and the life of creation around me.  
I’m glad God is consistent, and I’m glad that he’s given us the ability to unravel a bit of the mystery of his creation.  But I hope to encourage myself and others to insist on the reality of a God who is omnipresent, closer and more faithful and more predictable, if you will, than gravity.  That’s the kind of God we need, and it is the kind of God we have.

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