Saturday, November 17, 2012

Is there room for miracles today?



Below is an excerpt from my upcoming book on Spiritual Gifts, to be titled:  God Is In This Place: Becoming a Spirit-Empowered Church That Touches the World with the Love of God, (Energion, 2013).  It's an attempt to define the gift of miracles. Your thoughts are welcome, so that I might offer a useful definition for our modern/post-modern age.  

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A miracle is by most definitions a supernaturalist intervention that changes the natural course of events, whether that is a healing of a person or the change of direction of a tornado.  Such an interventionist understanding comes with a certain set of problems, especially when it comes to the question of why God might intervene in some events and not others.[1] At the center of this conversation about the definition of miracle and the possibility that it is a gift of the Spirit that we might embrace, is this question of divine agency. In the biblical story, miracles (energÄ“mata dunamis) are definitely the provenance of God. The Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible offers a very workable definition of the biblical understanding of a miracle: It’s an event, whether natural or supernatural, in which one sees an act or revelation of God.[2] 

            Whether you believe that God intervenes in the affairs of this world from outside or not, can you conceive of the possibility that there are events in time and space that reveal to us the presence and power of God? Can you envision points in time where the presence and work of God is revealed in tangible ways?

As scientifically sophisticated people we often find it difficult to incorporate “miracles” into our vocabulary, but perhaps Walter Wink is correct in speaking of miracle as being “just a word we use for the things the Powers have deluded us into thinking that God is unable to do.”[3] Miracles, in Wink’s terms, are active engagements of prayer by God’s people acting in resistance to the Powers that are themselves in need of redemption.    

            That Jesus acted to transform lives, whether those lives were challenged by physical or mental illness, or simply caught up in systems of oppression, the miraculous is God’s act of liberation. Thus, in the biblical story a miracle is something such as a healing, an exorcism, the raising of someone from the dead.[4] However, we define the gift, it’s something that we do not control or possess. Miracles happen as we allow God freedom to work in and through us to transform the world through love. They are, as Amos Yong suggests, “signs of the kingdom.”  These are events and actions that are works of the Spirit that anticipate the world to come, which is “freed from the bondage of suffering and decay.”  This new age isn’t only future, it makes itself felt in the present age, so that this “charismatic activity of the Spirit points not to some future understood in linear terms as being ahead of us, but to the qualitative in-breaking of God’s ‘future’ into ‘present’ human and (natural history.”[5]   Although this term can be, and often is, misused, it suggests the possibility that when empowered by the Spirit’s presence we can be vessels of divine action.  To answer in the affirmative, one must look at these realities through the eyes of faith, even if critically informed. 





[1] Phlip Clayton and Steven Knapp, The Predicament of Belief: Science, Philosophy, and Faith, (New York:  Oxford University Press, 2011), 137-139. 
[2]S.V. McCasland, "Miracle," The Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible, George Buttrick, ed., 4 vols. (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1962), 3:392.
[3]Walter Wink, Engaging the Powers: Discernment and Resistance in a World of Domination, (Fortress Press, 1992), 303.  See also Amos Yong, The Spirit of Creation: Modern Science and Divine Action in the Pentecostal-Charismatic Imagination (Pentecostal Manifestos)(Grand Rapids:  Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2011), 72-101.
[5] Yong, Spirit of Creation, 93-94.   

8 comments:

Rev. Steven F. Kindle said...

Very good start here, Bob. You seem, however, to be mixing both objective and subjective definitions together. (Note the IDB definition and your last sentence.) I think the panentheistic notion is better suited to inform the possibility of miracles. I'm thinking also of how Celtic Christianity's "thin places" might be helpful. I think that the suggestions of Wink and especially Yong are relevant here. The theistic idea that God intervenes from the outside just doesn't cut the mustard anymore, especially when wedded to theodicies. I personally reject any notion that says that God acts in this case and not in another of the same variety on the grounds of capriciousness and arbitrariness. I know "the Spirit moves where it wills," yet with an agenda, not on a whim.
What all this has to do with the gifts of the Spirit may have more to do with Jung's "collective unconscious" or Emerson"s Over-Soul than with active intervention. Have you considered this?

Rev. Steven F. Kindle said...

Very good start here, Bob. You seem, however, to be mixing both objective and subjective definitions together. (Note the IDB definition and your last sentence.) I think the panentheistic notion is better suited to inform the possibility of miracles. I'm thinking also of how Celtic Christianity's "thin places" might be helpful. I think that the suggestions of Wink and especially Yong are relevant here. The theistic idea that God intervenes from the outside just doesn't cut the mustard anymore, especially when wedded to theodicies. I personally reject any notion that says that God acts in this case and not in another of the same variety on the grounds of capriciousness and arbitrariness. I know "the Spirit moves where it wills," yet with an agenda, not on a whim.
What all this has to do with the gifts of the Spirit may have more to do with Jung's "collective unconscious" or Emerson"s Over-Soul than with active intervention. Have you considered this?

Robert Cornwall said...

Thanks Steve for your reflections. Just what I was hoping for as I try to formulate this definition!

John said...

So, are you going attempt to effectiate the premise of the book at CWCC before releasing the book, to test the premise in the real world?

Brian said...

This Thanksgiving, I give thanks for God's miracles.

Robert Cornwall said...

John, thanks for the question -- have done it with the bible study group and have been doing so perhaps subtly in other ways!!

I've been teaching this stuff (and maturing with it) for nearly 25 years.

Unknown said...

How can one not agree when one is quotes affirmingly?! :-) The challenge will be to pull off the tension embedded in the final sentence: "one must look at these realities through the eyes of faith, even if critically informed..."

Robert Cornwall said...

Just a note -- Unknown has revealed to me that he is Amos Yong, whom I quote above in the post! Thank you Amos!