Miracles Can’t ‘Prove’ God: The Evangelical Heritage

I don’t want this post to be another one of those posts that bashes the Christian Fundamentalist and Evangelical past; the past that I was weened in, and moved and breathed in (still do, somewhat!) for my whole life. But, I grunewald_crucifixionam afraid some of this post will have to be just that. I, indeed, grew up under the intellectual and spiritual strictures of what it meant to be an Fundy/Evangellybelly. A essential part of that growing up process was to follow a mode of existence that engaged with Scripture and Christian life in a way that hearkened me to have to conceive of ways to constantly defend Scripture’s viability, and to defend the miraculous stories therein; in contrast to those who were ‘attacking’ it, like the higher critics and ‘Liberals’. And so my whole life, like many of yours, was involved in this task; much of my undergrad and graduate studies involved, in one way or another, a development and sophistication of this kind of way (i.e. being an apologist, before being able to be a theologian).

What I have come to realize over these last 12 years (starting in seminary) is that I have got it all wrong. God does not need me to defend him, I need him to defend me from my incurved self and desires (that are against him, that are anti-Christ). What I have realized is that we cannot and should not separate the work from the person of God in Christ, as if we could talk about his purported works (which are miraculous) in abstraction from the person from whence these works flow; and then use those works in a way that props him up, for ourselves and for the world to see. This is the wrong direction to take, and the wrong way to think by way of order. God precedes us (simply because he created us), we do not preceded him. How we know what we know has an ontic (i.e. the very essence of reality itself, ‘being’) ground supporting that; in other words, we will either ground how we know what we claim to know about God by grounding that from somewhere in ourselves, or we will recognize the actual ground as it is given to us in God in Jesus Christ. And so the consequence of this recognition is that we will no longer attempt to work our way to God by proving his existence by first proving the viability of his works (‘miracles’) in creation. We will instead, stand under them, and allow who he is to contradict our puny attempts to make him known to ourselves and to the world.

There is no one better to confront this kind of problem than George Hunsinger on Karl Barth. The following quote comes from a section where Hunsinger is discussing divine-human agency, in general, and in particular, the reality of ‘revelation’ and ‘miracle’, and the way that miracle functions within the sphere provided it by God’s Self-revelation:

God is not identical with any cosmic process, and therefore God is “not identical with the laws known to us” (III/3, 161). God is identical only with God’s sovereign freedom, “with the free disposing and directing of his own good-pleasure.” God does not overthrow the order of creation when miraculously engaging in self-revelation. “Naturally there can be no question of his contravening or overturning any real ontic law of creaturely occurence. This would mean that he was not at unity with himself in his will and work.” We must allow, however, that our perception of these laws is creaturely and finite. “We must allow that he can ruthlessly ignore the laws known to us, that is, our own perception of the ontic laws of creaturely occurrence…. He is not bound by our human concepts of order, however great may be the noetic clarity and certainty we believe them to possess” (III/3, 161). Everything depends on theology’s offering a conceptual redescription of the biblical narratives that remains faithful to the witness that is found there:

The more definitely the coming of the Son of God is announced in the Old Testament, and the more directly his revelation is attested in the New, the more natural it appears to unprejudiced reason that mention has to be made of events which can be understood only as an activity supra et contra naturam, as an ordering and forming which is beyond the stage of development so far reached by our concepts. And the final revelation of the Son of God at the end of all times was an event of this kind. We must be quite clear in our minds that what is revealed in these events is not a miraculous exception but the rule of divine activity, the free goodwill of God himself, i.e., the law at which we are aiming with our concept of law. And we must also be quite clear in our minds that with all our concepts of law we can never do more than aim at this law. (III/3, 129-30) [George Hunsinger, How To Read Karl Barth: The Shape of His Theology, 183-4, Nook.]

It is a constant temptation to feel as if we must rush to the defense of God’s existence, in general, and his reality, in Christ, in particular. But we must submit to God, resist the devil, and he will flee from us (James 4). Resisting this temptation might cause us to look like fools to the world, we might appear weak (I Cor. 1:17-25); but the message of the cross always does. I am not suggesting that we cannot actively engage the world through proclamation; in fact we are commanded and commissioned to do so (Mt. 28). What we can do, in apologia or in defense of the Gospel, is to call ourselves, and the world to sit under the Self-revealed categories given by God in Christ. What we can do is to argue that if someone is going to think Christianly (even if they aren’t one yet), is to think from the internal and eternal consistency of God’s Self-revelation, and demand that if they or we are going to think Christianity from anywhere, it must be under the constraints and integrity of its own reality found in Jesus Christ; it will only be from this vantage point that the weakness of God will be seen as power, and the foolishness of God as wisdom.

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