07 September 2015

Miracles and Revelation

[[Hi Sister Laurel, I am struggling a little with the idea of miracles and you said something recently which caught my attention. It was a reference to miracles and love-in-act and "the deepest law of nature." I don't know whether to believe in them or not. I especially wonder how to reconcile the possibility of miracles with a scientific world view that closes off such possibilities with increasing knowledge of medicine and so on. I don't want to believe in a "God of the gaps" but so much of what we have learned in the past few centuries makes it seem like that is all God really is. Do you believe in miracles? Does God intervene in our world in ways that just say "to heck with" the natural laws and dynamics we know exist? Is this idea of love being "the deepest law of nature" an answer to my questions?]]

Great questions. I may have also written about this earlier this year sometime because I know I gave a reflection at my parish on some pieces of this related to one of the Scripture readings one day. If I can find the post associated with that I will add a link to it here. As I noted in the post you referred to the NT does not use the term miracles so much as it uses the word δύναμις (dunamis)  which means "act(s) of power." Also, though, let me remind you that this is one of the places thinking of God as A Being rather than as the ground of being or being itself is particularly destructive. Our God is the ground and source of all that is, the ground and source of all meaning and value, and of course the ground and source of all life. God is Love but more, we sometimes say that God does not just love us, God IS love-in-act. So yes, all of these pieces come together to provide answer to your questions about miracles.

When we think of God as the dynamic, loving source and power of everything that is rather than as A being (even the biggest and most supreme being) it begins to be much easier to understand the possibility of miracles or what the NT calls δύναμις or acts of power. It also becomes much easier to dispense forever with a God of the gaps which is constantly diminished by increases in human knowledge. (Just the opposite would turn out to be true with the One who is ground and source! Such a God is transcendent and can never be understood via science, but precisely because this infinite God is transcendent and also the deepest ground of all that is (which means "he" is the depth dimension of being, meaning, beauty, truth, personhood, and all relatedness), his existence ensures that doing science and the possibility of making amazing scientific discoveries will never end.) Similarly then, we no longer need to think of God as someone breaking into our natural realm from outside, an interventionist God who overturns the usual laws of nature. And all of this is so precisely because if God is as theologians today describe God, if God really is the ground and source of existence, then the acts we ordinarily call miracles really represent the in-breaking of the deepest law of nature itself, namely love. What I am saying is that the miraculous is not the overturning of the laws of nature but the shocking and shaking revelation of the deepest law, principle, reality, or dynamic of the whole of creation.

Here in California we have earthquakes and when there is a quake what sometimes happens is things break apart to reveal a deeper and constitutive reality which is always present, always moving and changing, but whose presence we hardly suspect much less think about. Another even more vivid example might be volcanoes. For centuries they lie dormant --- or seem to be so --- and then, with hardly any warning at all a huge explosion can reveal the deeper reality at the heart of the volcano. As a result we never see that quiet mountain in quite the same way again and although over time we see the mountain re-clothe itself with grass and trees and fauna of all sorts, we know that there is a creative and destructive power deep within whose symbol is fire and bids we never forget it. What is really astounding is that power --- that ground and source of all life and creativity we call God --- dwells within each of us in a privileged way. When we love another it is that power at work, that God acting through us --- and at the same time we are most truly ourselves at these moments. (This is the greatest paradox of being human, namely, we are most ourselves when it is God acting in and through us and least ourselves when we act of our own accord.)

In any case so much of understanding the potential for the miraculous has to do with developing (or accepting) the new theology associated with our renewed sense of cosmology. We live in an unfinished universe moving towards a fullness we cannot imagine. Theologians today are turning out work in a new cosmological key and though the dogmas of our faith do not change they are alive with a new life and freshness which can resolve the seeming insoluble questions which resulted from seeing science and theology or science and faith (reason and faith) as adversarial. For instance, the work of John Haught has gone a long way in giving us a God and universe in which science and theology represent different ways of knowing the same reality or at least dimensions of the same reality. Ilia Delio, a Franciscan Sister and systematic theologian, has written books like The Unbearable Wholeness of Being, or The Emergent Christ, and Christ in Evolution, which put love seeking and achieving incarnation at the center of an evolving and unfinished universe. Elizabeth Johnson has done Ask the Beasts: Darwin and the God of Love.

There is so much now available which would assist you with your questions and invite new ways of under-standing which are both profoundly faithful to Catholic dogma and respectful of science's challenging and exciting knowledge. I would encourage you to take a look at what is out there. I do not suggest you start with Ilia Delio's work mentioned above, though I hope you get to it eventually. It is both intellectually and aesthetically beautiful and challenging --- and it is not to be missed, but I would suggest you start with something like John Haught's What is God? or something like Is Nature Enough? and then maybe move to Science and Religion or one of his other really fine books on God and Evolution, Science and Theology. These works are no less challenging than Ilia Delio's, but I found them a bit easier going and perhaps a bit more directly pertinent to your questions.

The bottom line here in terms of your own questions is the idea that what we call miracles are not the result of an interventionist God so much as they are the very deepest "law" (source and ground) of reality breaking through our more ordinary and sometimes sinful reality in ways we find utterly shaking and transcendent. Again, miracles (acts of power) are not an abrogation or overturning of the laws of nature so much as they are the profoundly powerful revelation of the deepest "law" or dynamic of the whole of creation.