|Dr. Manhattan ponders the possibility of miracles by reading this absurdly long essay.|
This "second greatest" objection makes "revealed religion" of any type-- whether Christian or non-Christian-- appear foolish, hokey, folksy, credulous, silly, superstitious, and fundamentally ignorant of the way the world works. This, of course, is the objection against miracles. Because if miracles are impossible, and therefore false, it renders any kind of Divine intervention or communication impossible and false. And if there is no Divine communication, then all religions that claim to be based on it are fundamentally flawed.
I would like to deal with this objection from my unique threefold perspective: First of all, as someone who has grown up in the fastest era of technological change known to humanity. Second of all, as someone whose favorite genre of literature is science fiction. And thirdly, as a committed if somewhat progressive follower of the Risen Lord Jesus Christ. I think these perspectives can help us understand the issue in a way that avoids the pitfalls of merely rejecting miracles on one hand, and accepting illogical and impossible claims of the miraculous on the other.
1. The Modern Objection to Miracles
Since the rise of Newtonian physics-- if not before-- miracles have often been understood in a way similar to the Scottish philosopher David Hume. In his book, "An Enquiry concerning Human Understanding", Hume defines a "miracle" as "a transgression of a law of nature by a particular volition of the Deity, or by the interposition of some invisible agent." These "laws of nature" are established empirically and universally by "a firm and unalterable experience" as they are tested and re-tested by operational science.
Because the "laws of nature" are understood by Hume as physical constants that govern everything in the universe in a mechanistic and clockwork manner, that is universally experienced everywhere by all, this rules out miracles a priori as events that simply cannot happen. As Hume says:
"Nothing is esteemed a miracle, if it ever happen in the common course of nature. It is no miracle that a man, seemingly in good health, should die on a sudden: because such a kind of death, though more unusual than any other, has yet been frequently observed to happen. But it is a miracle, that a dead man should come to life; because that has never been observed in any age or country."
This last quote is obviously a jab at the believability of the central Christian miracle of the resurrection of Jesus. But it is not just the resurrection that this objection puts in question. It is ANY communication between a supposed Transcendent Divine Agent and a finite empirical universe. A "revealed" religion is a religion that rests on a theory of Divine communication, in which Something or Someone BEYOND the universe enters into the Universe to make the Divine will known to other sentient beings (such as humans).
Most major world religions are based on "revelation" or Divine Communication. The Hindus have their rishis, or seers, who wrote the Vedas by hearing the revelation of the Brahman through the devas and devis of ancient Hinduism. Indeed, even the later Hindu scriptures claim revelation. Arjuna received revelation from Krishna in his chariot in the Bhagavad Gita (called the "Song of the Lord"). The Jews, of course, have the giving of the Torah through Moses, and the oracles of God through the prophets. Christians claim that God has revealed Godself fully in Jesus, through his Virgin birth, miraculous life, sacrificial death, and victorious resurrection. Muslims claim the Quran-- literally the verbal words of Allah-- as their central miracle. And even a non-theist faith like Buddhism is based on Gautama Siddhartha's enlightenment and experience of a nameless transcendent Nirvana that is beyond life and death, beyond being and non-being.
If miracles are ruled out a priori as a violation of physical laws, then none of this can be real or true in any way, shape, or form. All religions based on "revelation" of any sort are simply delusions, lies, and histories of error. And any of the specific physical acts associated with these "revelations"-- whether healings, exorcisms, walks on water, multiplication of food, moving of mountains, parting of seas, incarnate Gods, rising from death, eternal life-- all of them are damnable frauds or ignorant misinterpretations of physical data.
So, can a postmodern person with a realistic concept of physics believe in miracles or in revealed religion?
If Hume is right and miracles are violations of physical laws, then no. I do not think belief in miracles or revelation can long be maintained.
However, what if Hume is not right? What if fundamentalist skeptics who follow in Hume's footsteps, as well as fundamentalist religious believers that fall into the same trap, have a fundamentally flawed understanding of "miracle"? What if miracles are something else entirely?
2. Defining Physical Laws and Miracles
Let's start off with the idea of "physical law", or "laws of physics", or "laws of nature". Are these laws in a literal sense, with a literal "Law Giver", who commands that matter and energy follow them?
Hume's use of language seems at times to fall into the crass literalism of physical laws seen as judicial orders, such as when he says miracles are a "transgression" of nature's laws. Modern fundamentalist skeptics also seem to fall into the same literalism when they speak of miracles "contradicting" or "violating" natural laws. How can one "transgress", "contradict", or "violate" something that is merely a description of how things seem to work? One can only "transgress" if a Lawgiver says "Thou Shalt Not!"
If physical laws literally are the same kind of thing as judicial laws, then it would actually be no contradiction for the Law Giver (i.e. God) to simply abrogate them for a certain time period to do an act that "violated" these laws. This is NOT the argument I want to make, for it is a "cure" that is worse than the disease. If God created flawed laws, and then has to abrogate them to act in the universe from time to time to set things right, then this raises questions about how "good" the universe is that God created, and how competent God is as a Creator.
However, if one crassly holds to the idea that "physical law" is like a literal "judicial law", this would be a rather easy way out of the objection. But it does not seem that this is an accurate way to understand what "physical law" is. Neither the major Empiricists of the 1700's, nor physicists in the 2000's, would hold such a view of "physical law".
I think a good layman's understanding of "physical law"-- and I am definitely a layman in the realm of physics-- would be that they are constants which describe what we already see matter, energy, space and time doing in empirical, operational science. They are not prescriptive laws that tell the universe what is SHOULD do, or MUST do. Rather they are descriptive laws that tell what the universe does do, expressed in mathematical constants. These constants are defined as equations, such as the "law of gravity" that says matter accelerates at approximately 9.82 meters per seconds squared (A=9.82m/s2) on our planet, assuming no gravitational anomalies. Or there is Einstein's famed equation for the conversion of matter and energy, which states that energy (E) equals matter (M) multiplied by the speed of light (C) squared (E=MC2).
These constants are thus "laws" only in a metaphorical sense. They do not tell us how the empirical universe MUST act in the future, but rather they predict that the universe WILL act in a certain way because it is assumed that these constants are universal and enduring (that is: the empirical universe will keep acting in the future the way it has in the past up until the present). This, of course, is an assumption of faith in the "most probable explanation". We cannot be sure that the future will have the same physical constants as the past. We cannot legislate that it should or must act in the future the same way it has in the past. But based on probability and experience, we hypothesize that it will in fact keep acting the same.
I have heard from friends who are mathematicians and physicists that there is indeed some question as to whether or not the "fabric" of space-time is constant across the entire universe, or across all time in the universe. If space and time are elastic, there is some possibility that as we move across large spaces and times, the very constants that seem to "govern" how the whole system works may in fact change. Constants may not be all that constant across variables of millions of years or millions of light years.
All of this has led some people to use another metaphor to describe "physical laws": Computer code. Just as a system of information (Computer Code) governs how data objects relate to one another in the symbolic universe of a computer, so also the laws of physics are a type of informational code that governs how objects of matter-energy-space-time relate to one another in our empirical universe. To use a crass analogy-- but one which is less crass than physical laws as judicial judgments-- the relation of physical laws to the empirical universe is a bit like computer code in the game "Minecraft".
In the Minecraft universe you can create an incredible plethora of inventions and structures, so long as you create them in accordance with the programming of the computer code. Every now and then, the creator of Minecraft will issue an "update" which allows even more functionality and possibility into the Minecraft universe. And, if one is a talented Code Monkey (i.e. computer programmer), then you can actually hack the Code of the game to allow you to do even more things. Although, if you don't know what you are doing, the variables you introduce could contradict the old Code, leading to mathematical absurdities that will crash the entire "universe".
With that analogy on the table (as limited and crude as it is), it is easy to see why some physicists speculate that, in the future, we can develop technology which will allow us to transcend the empirical world by "hacking" the very Code of the Universe. This would allow us to do things that previously seemed impossible, and perhaps even create what some call "pocket universes". This is all supremely speculative, and doubtless will not turn out exactly as we predict. But, if past experience is any indicator, the future will lead us to develop technologies that are as strange and surprising to us now, as our technology would be to someone who lived in the 1813, and as their technology would have been to someone from 813.
So, now that we hopefully have a coherent concept of what Physical Laws are, let's discuss miracles. If miracles are not violations or contradictions of the laws of nature, what are they? Speaking as a theologian from the Christian tradition, I want to start with what a "miracle" is in our sacred writings. And it may be no surprise that, in the New Testament, the idea of "miracle" has no direct connection with physical laws as we conceive them now. Rather, what we think of as a "miracle" is actually three Biblical terms that are often used together: "signs, wonders, and powerful deeds" (cf. John 4.48; Acts 2.19, 22, 43; 4.30; 5.12; 6.8; 7.36; 14.3; 15.12; Rom 15.19; 2 Cor 12.12; 2 Th 2.9; Heb 2.4).
A sign (Greek seemion) is some event that points beyond itself to a Signifier or Purpose or Meaning that transcends the deed itself.
A wonder (Greek teras) is some event that triggers a sense of awe or "the Numinous", a sense that a Mind from another dimension of Reality has acted on our reality.
A powerful deed (Greek dunamis - often translated as "miracle") simply means a deed that shows great power or ability.
These three terms really get at the heart of what we mean by "miracle" in a Christian sense. If I were to combine these three into a single definition, while keeping Hume's critique in mind, I might say this:
A Miracle is an event in which an Transcendent Intelligence works within the "laws" and dimensions of Reality to produce an event which would be infinitely improbable without conscious, intelligent design and ability (cf. dunamis); This event signifies, or points to, this source of Transcendent Intelligence in such a way as to communicate its will to us (cf. seemion), thereby causing an aesthetic response of awe and wonder at being in the presence of such a Transcendent Reality (cf. teras).
So then, a miracle does not have to be defined as an "impossible event" nor even as a "transgression of physical laws". It is merely an act that demonstrates power, signifies intelligence, and creates a sense of awe in the recipient.
3. Miracles, Minds, and Laws
Now, even with this definition of miracle in mind, I grant that miracles are highly improbable and completely unpredictable by empirical science. They appear to us as something like magic or miracle, and we have no idea how to reduplicate them.
Science fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke states in his third law that "any technology, sufficiently advanced, will appear as magic [or miracle]". Miracles do not have to be conceived as events that violate or contradict physical laws. Rather, they can be highly improbable events that work with physical laws when directed by an intentional mind. When intentional intelligence is applied to physical laws, suddenly highly improbable events can happen which work with, not against, physical laws.
For instance, food suddenly heating up on its own with no fire, no oven, and no discernible heat source is infinitely improbable if left to its own, with no involvement of intelligence. However, it is common place when 20th century humans develop microwave ovens.
With no intentional mind involved, it would be infinitely improbable for a multi-ton lump of metals, silicone and hydrocarbons to suddenly lift off the ground, speed through the air at hundreds of miles per hour on a steady trajectory, and softly land on the other side. However, it is a daily occurrence when sentient beings create and fly aircraft.
The same type of argument can be made for nuclear explosions on our planet, medical miracles in pill form, and cell phone communication. Although all of these things are infinitely improbable on their own, without a mind involved, they do not contradict physical law. Rather, they are an expression of mind working with physical law to do things that demonstrate power, signify intelligence, and instill a sense of awe.
And, if the physical laws of the universe are something like "Computer Code", then it is also not a contradiction if some day we learn how to "hack" the Code to allow even more powerful, impressive events to happen, such as faster-than-light transport, wormhole teleportation, or existing in multiple locations simultaneously.
And note that this is not the same as saying the Physical Laws need to be "abrogated" or "ignored". It means that Physical Laws could carry within themselves the potential to be adapted, tweaked and evolved by intelligent minds to that they can actualize potential inherent in the "Coding System" of the Universe. To go back to the Minecraft analogy: When someone makes a "mod" for the Minecraft universe, they are not ignoring or abrogating the Code of the Minecraft universe. Rather, they are unlocking a potential that is inherent, but as of yet un-expressed, in the original Code of the system.
If God is something like an infinite Mind, who can intend consequences and communicate Godself, then it is not at all inconceivable that God may act within the Physical Laws (which themselves are an outward expression of the Divine Mind). It is also not inconceivable that God could "hack" our Physical Laws to express Godself more fully in accordance with the inherent potential of the empirical universe.
And so, to say that miracles are "impossible" is thus as enlightened as scientists 150 years ago saying it was impossible for vehicles to go faster than 100 mph, or it was impossible to build an aircraft. Miracles are not impossible, merely highly improbable without an intentional Mind guiding physical processes.
Almost any technology or event viewed in abstract, is highly improbable. The lump of metal flying, in the abstract, is highly improbable. A person walking on water, in abstract, is highly improbable. A person walking into a hole and appearing on the other side of the galaxy, in abstract, is highly improbable. Someone flipping a switch and giving light to an entire city, in abstract, is highly improbable. A virgin conceiving and giving birth, in abstract, is highly improbable. Need I say more?
But when we situate any of these events in a story, in a narrative causality with intelligent minds at work, it becomes probable. Planes fly through the air. Saviors walk on water. Wormholes fold space to provide faster than light transport. Electric grids power cities. The Virgin Mary conceives Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit. All it takes is a mind of sufficient intelligence, in harmony with natural law, to make improbable events become probable, and in some cases, to happen every day.
The same thought is put more poetically and graphically by Alan Moore in his graphic novel "Watchmen". One of the key characters is a "post-human" named Doctor Manhattan. Manhattan starts the story as nuclear scientist Jon Osterman, who undergoes a freak accident which transposes his body into pure energy and intelligence, which he can materialize and transform at will.
At a crucial scene in the novel, Manhattan has lost all empathy for humanity and is considering allowing the world to die in a nuclear apocalypse without intervening. His lover, Laurie Juspeczyk, tries to persuade this God-like post-human that humanity is yet worth saving. Manhattan regains his sense of empathy, and awe, when he realizes:
"Thermodynamic miracles... events with odds against so astronomical they're effectively impossible, like oxygen spontaneously becoming gold. I long to observe such a thing. And yet, in each human coupling, a thousand million sperm vie for a single egg. Multiply those odds by countless generations, against the odds of your ancestors being alive; meeting; siring this precise son; that exact daughter... Until your mother loves a man she has every reason to hate, and of that union, of the thousand million children competing for fertilization, it was you, only you, that emerged. To distill so specific a form from that chaos of improbability, like turning air to gold... that is the crowning unlikelihood. The thermodynamic miracle."
Juspeczyk retorts: "But... if me, my birth, if that's a thermodynamic miracle... I mean, you could say that about anybody in the world!"
Manhattan: "Yes. Anybody in the world. ..But the world is so full of people, so crowded with these miracles that they become commonplace and we forget... I forget. We gaze continually at the world and it grows dull in our perceptions. Yet seen from the another's vantage point. As if new, it may still take our breath away. Come... dry your eyes. For you are life, rarer than a quark and unpredictable beyond the dreams of Heisenberg; the clay in which the forces that shape all things leave their fingerprints most clearly. Dry your eyes... and let's go home."
At this, Manhattan's human empathy combines with his godlike power and intelligence, and he intervenes to save the world from itself, so that humanity itself can hopefully evolve into the miracle humanity was meant to become. And this does not happen without some serious plot twists and turns. But so is life. Every event that has any significance to us at all is a highly improbable miracle that has countless odds against it happening. These events simply do not make sense outside of a narrative framework. But when you add a story, with intentional minds causing intentional acts, suddenly the improbable becomes probable and even predictable.
Such a way of viewing the empirical world does away with the prima facie "anti-supernatural" case against miracles. In fact, arguments such as Hume's are revealed to be a case of thinking in a mechanistic mode reminiscent of the 19th century. It is true that Hume's idea of "miracles" as "transgressions of natural law" would of course be impossible by definition. Yet, Manhattan's idea of "thermodynamic miracle" allows us to not only open the door to Biblical signs, wonders, and powerful deeds, it also allows us to see the miracle of everyday life and every person we meet.
All of this, of course, does not mean any particular miracle is empirically true. It just means that the claim of a miracle cannot be brushed away a priori by a mechanistically materialist opinion about how the laws of physics can and cannot work.
4. Miracles and Technology
All fine and good so far. Miracles are highly improbable events that demonstrate power, signify the intention of a Mind who causes the event, and elicit awe in their receivers. But isn't there a problem here still? When highly improbable events occur in our time, they occur with the use of technology that is external to the person causing the event. We heat up food IN a microwave oven. We fly IN a plane. If we become able to fold space, we will probably do so IN a device created to cause this.
But all the classic miracles of revealed religion seem to occur WITHOUT any external technology. Some miracles seem to happen without any causality at all, such as parting the Red Sea or sending fire from the heavens. Other miracles seem to happen because of a mystical energy that flows through a "miracle worker", such as the case of Jesus healing people, multiplying food, or walking on water.
Surely if a miracle was to occur, there would be some apparatus or technology beyond the human being. And if we don't find technology or other external apparatus in a story, we can automatically discount the miracles in it, right?
I think there are at least three routes to take in dealing with this objection.
First, and perhaps simplest in many reports of miracles, is simply to "demythologize" them to be understood as "normal" events that are given Divine significance. Perhaps the primal memory of the parting of the Red Sea at the exodus of the Hebrews is a metaphor for the powerful experience of liberation they felt when they left their Egyptian oppressors. Perhaps it felt LIKE the seas had been parted, and felt LIKE they were escaping from an oppression that was drowning them in pain and sorrow. And over time, as the story was retold, the "LIKE" became "WAS": The sea WAS parted, and they WERE rescued from literally downing in the sea.
Perhaps the "flood" of Noah was a metaphor for the way that ancient culture was flooded with evil, violence and destruction. And when that culture imploded upon itself, only a few escaped. Or perhaps Noah's flood is a dramatic re-telling of a primal memory of a Great Tsunami that wiped out ancient cultures around the Indian Ocean. There are other ancient cultures from all around that region that have flood myths, such as Sumeria, South Asia, and Australia. And there is evidence of meteoroid impacts-- such as the Burckle Crater from around 5000 BCE-- that could have caused such a primal flood memory.
So, there are many miracle reports, particularly those lost in the depths of history, that can be easily demythologized and explained by other factors, whether as metaphors, or "normal" events. Many have done this with newer reports of miracles as well, such as what we find in the New Testament stories of Jesus and the early Church.
The problem is that New Testament miracle reports tend to be much more localized and specified to few specified persons, often in the presence of many other witnesses. In addition, some of these miracles-- particularly the resurrection-- are directly tied to claims of Jesus' divinity and salvific power. It is much harder to "demythologize" these miracles in a similar way without painting them as either deliberate fraud by the disciples, or monumental incompetence on behalf of the observers.
Although this would take us far afield to discuss here, I do not think that the disciples were fraudulent deceivers. Con men always have a reason for what they do. They use deception to gain wealth or power or prestige or popularity. And yet, the early disciples, even after decades of sharing the "Jesus Story" with others, gained nothing but scorn, opposition, persecution, and often execution. Either they were the worst con men in history, or more probably, they actually believed what they preached.
Now, they could have sincerely believed what they preached, but been sincerely wrong. Yet, there were plenty of eye witnesses to Jesus and the early Jesus movement who could have convicted them of being in error, if they were in deed in error. Furthermore, if they had just "convinced" themselves that they had experienced the Risen Christ when in fact they did not, one would expect that after a few years of suffering and hardship for the Jesus Story, they would have just given up and realized the error of their ways.
So, I think that it is improbable that the basic core of the Jesus Story-- that he was a miracle worker who appeared alive bodily after being murdered-- is based on monumental incompetence or invincible ignorance by a committed band of followers who stuck with the Story for decades despite persecution and murder.
So, for these and many more reasons-- such as the textual reliability of the New Testament and confirmation of key details in the story by archaeology and historiography-- I think that the most probable explanation for these events cannot be obtained by simply "demythologizing" them. And that leads us to two more ways of understanding how miracles could happen without the aid of "external technology".
The second way to understand how these miracles happen is to look at the universe and God as an analogue to our body and our mind. Our mind is able to act through our body to make the body do highly improbable things. To start with, the idea that millions of cells in my hands and arms should coordinate to type this essay is highly improbable, especially since each of those millions of cells is made of millions of complex organic molecules that have to work together in very precise ways. And yet they all do, to put thousands of words on a computer screen-- another miracle of human intentionality-- to signify the thoughts inside my mind.
And this is just a commonplace application of my mind to use my body in improbable ways. What about the gymnast who can hurdle through space with precision, or the high jumper who sets a world record, or the sprinter who wins the olympics, or the powerlifter that presses many times more than her body weight? The mind is able to hone and direct the body in such a way as to have it do something that only has a one in a billion chance of success.
If the Universe is something like the self-expression of God, and if her physical laws are something like a reflection of the order and intention of the Divine Mind, it changes how we could view miracles. And this is not mere pantheism or process theology, in which the Universe is a prison for God, which God cannot transcend or go beyond. Just as our mind transcends our body by "metacognition"-- being able to think about what we think about, and grasp the potential we have yet to actualize-- so also God transcends every possible universe as the Infinite field of potentiality that we actualize only partially in any given universe.
Thus, if God is to the Universe as our mind is to our body, then it would seem rather obvious that God could cause the Universe to do improbable things for a purpose in the same way that we can cause our bodies to do improbable things for our own purposes. And since the connection between our mind is holistic, integrated, and organic, it does not take any external "technology" to make our bodies do improbable things (although it may take a lot of practice!). So also, it would seem that the connection between God and the universe would also be holistic, integrated, and organic, not taking any technology or apparatus outside of Godself to cause the universe to act in improbable ways in accordance with the physical laws that are expressions of the Divine Mind.
Third and finally, there is yet another way to deal with the technology objection. And this is to look at the trajectory of technology in our own experience. If we look at what happens to the size and unwieldiness of technology, we see that it becomes smaller and less obtrusive over time. in fact, if electronics are any indication, the eventual goal of technology is to make it so integrated with the body that it becomes an extension of the body, while being completely connected to information sources outside the body (such as the internet). Think of all the wearable technology that is coming out even as I write this in 2013. The ultimate goal is for technology to be INVISIBLE and completely integrated with the human body.
What if a mind that is capable of intelligence, communication, and sentience-- such as our own minds-- already has within it the capacity to act in harmony with natural laws in ways we have only begun to understand? What if we already have "technology" embedded within the structures of our consciousness that would allow us to "hack" the Code of the Universe and do incredibly improbable things which are nevertheless in accordance with the capacities inherent in the laws of physics? What if we only need to harmonize our mind-- our self, our soul, our heart-- with the order of the universe to tap into the power inherent in the mind-matter connection?
We know that there are many ways to bring our minds in harmony with the universe. One way is the way of cognition and understanding. We study the way the world works. We engineer technology based on that understanding. We affect the world in highly improbable ways with our technology. That is one way.
But there is another way to intuitively come into harmony with the universe. We see this with great musicians who feel the music and transmit it to others with great power through their performance, often without much direct cognitive intervention. They just "flow" with the music without being consciously aware of the laws of physics or special techniques that actually allow them to perform.
In the same way, it is conceivable to imagine a person who is so in harmony with the Divine Mind that they are able to intuitively channel the intention and action of God through themselves, and so become a conduit of improbable events which are done to signify the presence and intention of God.
Something like this is the claim about Jesus. The mind of Jesus was in complete harmony with God because he is the Second Person of the Divine Trinity. And based on this harmony, he was a unique conduit for the activity of the Holy Spirit to release healing and compassion into the world, in ways which were extremely improbable, and yet worked within the inherent possibilities of the laws of physics.
And we can sit in judgment on those miracles as enlightened scientific people, but those miracles are precisely the kinds of things we would do if we had sufficient technology today. Let's take Jesus' multiplication of loaves and fishes to feed the multitudes. Could that be demythologized hyperbole used to describe how Jesus inspired people to share their food with one another? Perhaps. But what if it wasn't?
If we could multiply food to feed the masses on demand, would we? Yes we would. In fact, one of the staple technologies of the science fiction show "Star Trek" was the ability to synthesize food on demand. And we have technology to "print" food using 3D printers right now. And that technology will only get smaller and more powerful until some day humans will probably be able to synthesize food out of any type of matter with apparatus that may be part of their own bodies.
And what about walking on water? What if that is more than a demythologized metaphor for how Jesus "calmed the rough seas" of our troubled lives? Wouldn't we try to do that if we could? Imagine if there was technology that could alter the molecular surface tension of water so that it could temporarily hold vehicles that drove across it. The applications of such tech would be incredible. Supply caravans driving across the seas! And then the tech would get miniaturized for motorcycles, bicycles, and eventually shoes.
And aren't we already looking for technology that instantaneously heals disease, activating the healing powers latent in the body to restore itself to full functioning? And if we could create a technology to restore life to the dead by putting their self consciousness in a transformed, radiant body, wouldn't we? And if the human race continues to grow and evolve without killing ourselves, is it really so far fetched that we would create technologies that will do all of these things?
All of this is to say that if we look at Jesus' miracles without the jaundiced eyes of someone who has a prior commitment to prove him wrong at all costs, we find that his "miracles" were not hokey or foolish, merely improbable. We dream of doing the same things in science fiction, and if we had the technology to do them now, we would. And we already know in our own case that a mind in harmony with the laws of nature can do extremely improbable things, especially by using technology.
So, if we can imagine our own finite minds doing all of these things, why is it impossible to imagine an Infinite Mind doing them? And if such a Mind exists, and were to enter into human form, why would it be impossible to imagine that person manifesting the ability of the Divine Mind to cause extremely improbable events in accord with the laws of physics? Granted, if there were no compelling records of such events happening, there would be no necessary reason to posit them. But, if we do have records that are compelling, perhaps we should take a second look.
5. Miracles, Reliability, and Forensic Science
Am I now saying that all reports of miracle, even all Biblical miracles, are literally true and should be accepted without question? By no means! I think that many, perhaps even most, claims of miracles are either frauds, wishful thinking, or misinterpretations of "normal" phenomena. I think we must be extremely careful, and very discerning, when someone claims a miracle has happened. And I think we should always try to look for the most probable explanation of the event, taking into account the best science that we have available.
However, if even if only one in a thousand, or one in a million, miraculous claims actually seem reliable and impossible to "demythologize", that would still be a large phenomena across human history. Thus, what we cannot do is simply dismiss claims of miracles "out of hand" as impossible. We do not have access to exhaustive knowledge of all of Reality, and therefore do not know everything that is possible, nor any event that is strictly impossible.
And, since past events cannot, by definition, be exactly reduplicated without reduplicating the entire universe and all the initial conditions for the occurrence, reports of miracles cannot be re-created in a lab setting. They must be investigated as a probability through forensic science, rather than as an ongoing actuality in operational science.
What I mean by this is that past events are the product of a nexus of causes. They not only include the possibilities allowed by the laws of physics, but they also include the intentions of all the minds involved in the event, both human and Divine. To recreate and test any past event, we would have to recreate EVERY initial condition, and the EXACT mental state of every mind, to be able to "re-run" it in real time.
But ascertaining the causes and credibility of past events is not strictly an operational science. Operational science is the use of the scientific method, to reproduce empirical phenomena in a laboratory setting, by limiting the variables to as few empirical factors as possible, so that key empirical causes can be identified. Operational science-- as opposed to say "social sciences"-- also does not take into account the intentions of minds. Rather, operational science seeks to find out how empirical phenomena happen in and of themselves, without any use or misuse or intervention by minds. Because of its limited and real-time nature, operational science is simply not able to recreate the entire nexus of causes and mental intentions of an event that happened 20 years ago, 200 years ago, or 2000 years ago.
This is where forensic science comes in, which is operational science's more street smart, but less exact and less predictive older brother. Forensic science looks at past events, taking into account any empirical evidence of the event that is still remaining, but also taking into account the psychological and sociological states of the persons involved, and tries to argue back to the most probable explanation of the event. Forensic science takes into account our knowledge of physical laws ascertained by operational science, but it is also aware of how intentional minds make use of physics to do improbable things that could not have happened without a certain motive behind it.
Forensic science has been the staple for many "detective dramas" over the last century, from the novels of Sherlock Holmes, to the modern day "cop shows" such as Law and Order or CSI. And while the science is greatly simplified for readers and TV audiences, the principle is the same: A good forensic scientist not only pays attention to the operational science of how physics works. They also pay attention to the social and psychological situation of the people involved, knowing that intending minds use the laws of physics in exceedingly crafty and improbable ways.
So, we need to investigate claims of the miraculous not only with operational science that takes into account empirical data, but with forensic science that also takes into account mind and motive.
And as I have said above and elsewhere, there are many reasons to take some (not all!) religious literature as highly reliable accounts written by fundamentally honest narrators. In the case of the New Testament, there are textual, archaeological, historiographical, sociological, and psychological reasons for accepting the narratives within it as basically reliable, although by no means inerrant, and definitely written with a bias toward convincing the reader of the claims of the Story of Jesus.
And if the miracle claims of the New Testament seem to be written by reliable, sane authors, and not all of these miracles can be readily "demythologized", we really only need one compelling feature to make these extremely improbable events suddenly probable: A cohesive narrative, in which intending minds exhibit sufficient harmony with natural laws, so that they cause such events to happen in order to advance the plot of a certain story.
If such a story exists which ties everything together in a reliable, cohesive way, then suddenly the improbable is rendered probable. And furthermore, if one wants to discredit the miracles of the New Testament, one would not merely have to show its miracles to be improbable (which they are, when considered in abstract). They would also have to discredit the story that makes them probable, and then offer a more compelling story to replace it and better interpret the relevant data. And this is extremely hard to do, since the New Testament cannot be simply demythologized, shown to be the product of fraud, or demonstrated to be the product of gross incompetence or insanity.
But the question still remains: Is there a compelling narrative that makes sense of why "miracles" should happen at any time in general, or in the New Testament in particular?
6. Beginning the Story with Transcendent Value and Infinite Potential
Here I would like to paint a broad brush stroke picture of a narrative into which the New Testament and other great religions fit, which posits a Source of Infinite Love and Beauty, who wills to communicate with sentient beings, and acts within space and time, in seemingly improbable ways, as needed, to make clear the intentions of the Divine Mind. It is this basic Story of Love reaching out to his beloved which offers a compelling case for miracles and revelation. And yet, this revelation of the Infinite Mind is always received by finite minds who are conditioned by their biology and culture to see reality in certain ways, and thus the individual revelations of the individual religions always bear the stamp of their finite vantage points on the Divine.
It all starts with an intuition that Infinity is real, that Goodness transcends us in some objective sense, and Beauty exists somehow independently of whether we perceive it. It is a feeling that there is a Love that draws us, and which is experienced in all our lesser loves. It is a sense that there is a Real transcendent moral value to good and evil, beyond our tastes or preferences or even our own self-preservation. When we say "it is good" that a child is healthy and flourishes, we are not saying something merely personal and subjective like "I like ice cream". Likewise when we say "it is evil" to torture babies to death for fun, we are not making a statement of personal preference like "I hate long movies".
There is no "proof" for this. No way of demonstrating it in an empirical, logically necessary way. It is a completely "surplus value", a meaning without purpose that gives meaning to all else. And yet, it comes with an inescapable feeling that we are grasped by an infinite goodness, and called by an inexhaustible Love to become people of such beauty as we cannot now imagine.
We can of course reject the "objective" independent Reality of moral and aesthetic values. We can come up with ways of explaining them as personal preferences, or species survival strategies, with no enduring, infinite, eternal meaning. But most of us sense that there is more to it than that. That if we should die, or even the whole human race should perish, or even the whole universe should cease existing, there would still be a Real value to our brief existence, and a Real loss to our death.
And if such values are Real, then they transcend any possible empirical universe, and touch on something of infinite value. This connects with the idea that as the universe grows and develops, it is continually actualizing more and more of an Infinite Field of Potential. Thus, there is a "unprovable" sense that there is an Infinite Potential and Value that transcends us, yet beckons us ever forward to fulfill more and more of the potential that we were born into.
But is Something (or Someone) like a transcendent, infinite Mind is a reasonable assumption? Is transcendence possible, or are our minds locked within the constraints of our space-time universe? A possible demonstration of infinite transcendence comes by looking at the nature of observation and knowledge.
Even if one were to attain a comprehensive knowledge and understanding of all causal factors for any single event-- and that is a dubious claim for any finite knower-- but even if that were possible, it would still be possible to transcend that knowledge. This is because the comprehensive knowledge of the event does not include a comprehensive knowledge of the Knower of the event. And if one was to attain comprehensive knowledge of the event and the Knower, there would still be comprehensive knowledge of the Knower of the Knower. And so the chain of transcendence would continue infinitely through each Knower of all previous Knowers and events into Infinity.
And so, if this Infinity is another Name for God, we see how (in theory) God ever transcends any level of finitude, no matter how great that finitude is. There is always another level of knowing, another thought to think, another possibility to discover, another level of intimacy, as we "fall in Love" into the Infinity of Godself. God is that infinity that we ever grow into, throughout eternity, in a process the ancient theologian Gregory of Nyssa termed "epektasis".
And if we are "made in the image of God" (to use ancient Hebrew language) then that means that our own metacognition is an artifact of this transcendence. We are always able to transcend our own finite vantage point, to better know our own knowledge, and to think about what we are thinking about. Human consciousness is thus linked with the Divine Mind who transcends our knowledge and our universe, in the similar way to how our minds transcend our brains and bodies.
7. An Inclusive Christian account how the Story unfolds
So, let us posit that Infinity is real, that this Infinity ever transcends any level of finitude, and that this Infinity is known to many under the term "God". And if this Infinity holds within itself every potential that could ever happen in any possible universe, then this Infinity holds within itself personhood, since persons are obviously a part of at least this Universe. Thus, this Infinity would possess aspects we associate with personhood: Thought, intention, emotion, will, mind, and heart. Furthermore, this Infinity would possess these aspects in an way analogous to us, not literally the same as us, such that our personhood and mind could not constrain all that it means to be Divine Person or Divine Mind. The Infinite God then is not merely a "person" or merely "personal", but hyper-personal as a "super-person".
And if the Infinite God is a "super-person", what might that look like? We begin to understand why many religions have said that God is either an un-namable transcendent reality beyond personhood (such as Judaism or Islam), or they have said that somehow the Divine is known through many persons.
Hindus say that Brahman (the divine essence) is known through 330 million devas and devi (divine beings), with three Divine Beings being the central expression of the Divine. And although the Brahman ever transcends even these three primary Gods, nevertheless Brahman is most fully represented by the God of Creation (Brahma or the Mother Goddess), the God of Preservation (Vishnu and his avatars), and the God of Destruction and Transformation (Shiva).
Likewise, in many forms of Buddhism the transcendent Nirvana is said to be expressed in the threefold form of Buddha nature: First in the celestial Buddha body; Second in the earthly bodies of the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas; and Third in the cosmic body of the Dharma, or Buddha teaching. These demonstrate the religious intuition-- perhaps even revelation-- that God is somehow "super-personal", known as some sort of community-in-unity.
The Christian Story presupposes something like this in the idea of God as "Trinity". And for Christians, it is not as if these other religions are wrong and Christianity is right. Rather, if God is a super-personal infinite Mind, seeking to express itself to sentient beings, then perhaps these are forms of revelation pointing to the concept that is made explicit in the Trinity. Because the Trinity, at its core, is a profound statement that the Infinite Divine is not merely personal, but a super-personal community-in-unity, existing eternally as Love, the Beloved, and the act of Loving they share. This analysis of the Trinity as Love comes to us from the ancient theologian Augustine. In more traditional Christian language , we speak of "One God in Three Persons of the Father (i.e. Love), the Son (i.e. the Beloved) and the Spirit (i.e. the Loving)".
Another even more modern analogy of the Trinity (which I think is from Karl Barth) is "Thinker thinking Thought". In this understanding of Divine Persons as interconnected modes or dimensions of Divine Life, the Thinker is the Father, the Thought is the Son, and the process of Thinking is the Spirit. The Christian Tradition has a long history-- derived in part from Plato and Neo-Platonic philosophy-- of viewing the Son as the Thought that is eternally born from the Thinker, or Divine Mind, of the Father.
in fact, the Gospel of John in the New Testament puts it in these terms:
"In the beginning was the Logos, and the Logos pointed to God, and the Logos was God. All things came into being through the Logos, and apart from him, not one thing came into being... And the Logos became flesh and dwelt among us." [cf. John 1.1-18].
The word Logos means "Word" or "Message" in a generic sense, but in a more specific sense, it refers to the inner logic, shape, meaning, and essence of an outwardly expressed message. The Logos is thus another name for the "Son" or "Thought" of God. The Logos is the full self expression of the Infinite God. And the historic human Jesus of Nazareth is said to be the fullest human embodiment of this Son, or Logos, of God.
Now we return to our postmodern analogy of the Laws of Physics as the "Computer Code" of the Universe. This is precisely the kind of concept that is being communicated through the idea of the "Logos of God". The Logos is the logic of the universe, the Code that keeps it running, the "Law" that makes the universe an expression of an Infinite Mind who intends a universe to exist which can evolve and adapt and produce highly improbable sentient persons who can then learn to know and love the God who is their Source.
In Colossians, the writer states that Jesus Christ, the Logos incarnate, "is the IMAGE of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all things have been CREATED THROUGH HIM and for him. He himself is before all things, and IN HIM ALL THINGS HOLD TOGETHER. He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything. For in him ALL THE FULLNESS OF GOD WAS PLEASED TO DWELL, and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross." [Colossians 1.15–20, emphasis mine]
And so, the Logos-- the Logic, Order, Purpose, Plan-- which holds all things together is also the same consciousness that lived earthly life as Jesus of Nazareth. The Physical Laws are empirical expressions of the order and purpose of the Infinite Mind that intended such a universe as this, brimming with the potential to evolve life which could share in the Divine Love of the Triune super-personality.
And that Logos is Love, and as such desires to know and be known by other sentient persons made in his image. Not only that, but this Infinite Logos desires to experience life AS a finite person, because genuine finitude is a unique experience to a Divine Mind that is, by definition, Infinite. The only limitation on Infinity is not having the experience of being limited. And so, in Christ, the unlimited, infinite Logos becomes limited and finite to share in our experience and communicate Godself with us.
And not only this, but God appears to have intervened and communicated himself at other times, in other cultures, using other religions and social constructs, to leave a trail of "cosmic breadcrumbs" (so to speak) that lead up to the incarnation of God in Christ. Healings and exorcisms are reported in cultures around the world, from ancient times until the present. When legitimate, these point to a Source of Healing and Hope that desires to liberate and empower humanity.
Ancient pagan mythologies have tales of gods becoming human, being born of virgins, dying sacrificial deaths, going to the underworld and coming back to life. These are intermixed with the social norms and moral foibles of their originating cultures, so that they often paint the "gods" as petty and morally ambiguous personalizations of natural phenomena. But nevertheless, they start a trajectory toward what actually happens when God becomes incarnate in Jesus. And the possibility of Divine Incarnation is predicted in Hindu tales of divine avatars who embody Vishnu in the human form of Krishna or Rama, as well as Buddhist Bodhisattvas that embody the undying life of full enlightenment.
So, it begins to make sense why someone would posit a universal, infinite Source of life and love which is the Ground for spiritual experience, moral action, and the diverse legitimate miracles found in world history. Viewed in this way, it all points to a God who enters into the human experience, and takes on human nature, so that we may know and see God, and so that God may also take into the Divine Experience the true finitude and limitation of created personhood.
In classic Orthodox Christian theology, such as represented by Gregory of Nyssa, all of this is NOT done so that the mass of humanity will be lost or suffer in hell for being "wrong" about Jesus, or religion, or miracles. Rather, in the words of the Gospel of John: "God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him." [John 3.16–18]
In other words, the Incarnation of God in Christ posits an infinite hope for every sentient being, no matter how much or little they know of the historical Jesus Christ. By uniting humanity and divinity, infinity and finitude, Creator and creation, in Jesus, God has made possible the deification and salvation of the whole created order and all who live in it. We are all put on a path of growth, development, evolution, and healing, until we grow into the fullness of the Image of God, which we see most fully revealed in Jesus (even as we see hints and preparations of that image in other religions).
This path of growth is not always enjoyable. It entails pain. It entails eventual death. It may even entail overcoming "hell" to attain "heaven". But it also promises eventual resurrection and fulfillment in accordance with the resurrection of Jesus. As Colossians says, in Jesus "God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things", and as 1Corinthians 15 says "As in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive".
Many who reject miracles, reject them at least in part because of the exclusivist claim that often accompanies miracles. Many religions claim that if you reject their miracles and their revelations, then you are consigned to hell forever by a God who will not forgive you. I contend, along with a strong minority of Christian thinkers across time, that precisely the opposite is the case. Miracles, and above all the Incarnation and resurrection, are guarantees of inclusion. They are signs that God will eventually reach all sentient beings across all time, if they will just receive and embrace Divine Love. As the first letter of John says:
"Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love. God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us." [1John 4.7–12]
8. The Story as Operating System and Explanatory Hypothesis
If this "Jesus Story" is something like what is actually the case, it can explain why God might cause miracles in order to communicate in specific ways. This version of the Jesus Story also has the potential to unravel some other supposedly "supernatural" phenomena that are common in ancient religions. Let us return to the idea of natural laws as the "Computer Code" of the universe to explore this.
We know from advances in computer technology that, as processor speed and memory increases, so also increases the complexity and potentiality of computer programs. Eventually, it is hypothesized by many futurists, computers will be of such speed and power that they will be able to hold within themselves sentient software programs, which are capable of thinking and functioning independently of their original programmed parameters. These sentient programs, or "Artificial Intelligences" (AI's), will eventually be able to communicate with each other within the "Virtual World" of the operating system, and perhaps even hack the operating system itself.
Now, if the universe we live in happens to be something like a supercomputer, and the Logos is the operating system that expresses itself in the "Code" of our physical laws, then we are specific, finite program objects given objective existence so that we can actualize the potential inherent in the Code of the Universe. The empirical world we inhabit is a real world, given existence within the Code, so that we can grow and evolve and learn how to Love in the Image of our Creator.
However, it would make sense that the Code also has various subroutines that contribute in certain ways to the upkeep of the Operating System environment. These subroutines would also be like AIs, functioning with some sentience and creativity, yet not in an "embodied" way like we do. If such sentient subroutines exist, we might find ourselves calling them something like "messengers" or even "angels" sent by the Code. And if such sentient subroutines exist, it is also possible that they would possess the freedom to reject their created potential and seek other ends. Perhaps they envy or resent the embodied life of other sentient beings and either want to inhabit them or destroy them. These malevolent sentient subroutines would thus become viruses or malware, and from our perspective, we might call them "demons".
Yet, we don't even have to posit "sentient subroutines" to understand why the ancients would want to personify the forces of nature and speak of "angels" and "demons". The "subroutines" of the Code of the Universe are another way of speaking of certain patterns of information and action which occur in the complex systems we find in nature and human society. These pervasive social patterns are often called "memes" by social scientists and biologists, and these memes seem to gain a life of their own as they are transmitted and adapted from one generation to another. They become pervasive ways of interpreting information and shaping society that has profound effects on the inhabitants of these societies.
And it is clear that some subroutines/ patterns/ memes can lead to robust societies that can develop and adapt to change, resulting in the full flourishing of their inhabitants. Yet other memes lead to self-destructive societies that use and abuse their inhabitants in parasitic ways. Since these memes seem to function independently as systemic epiphenomena, and they control how persons interpret information and act, it is easy for ancients to personify positive memes as "angels" who bring the message of the God(s), and negative memes as "demons" who destroy what is good and true and beautiful.
What are we to do as "Sentient Program Objects" who live within the "Code" of the Laws of Physics, confronted with "Subroutines" that we may call angels and demons, faced with the possibility of "miracles" that are implicit within structure of the "Operating System"? Well, taken as an analogy of a total explanatory hypothesis, or "worldview", such an analogy would allow us to both fully embrace science and the regularity of the empirical universe, while also embracing spirituality and the miraculous potential of the universe. Rather than causing us despair, it could cause us hope, as we look forward to ever fuller discoveries of God's Love and Life. Rather than causing us certainty and complacency, such a view would assure us that there is always more to explore, more to know, more to grow, as we "explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life forms and new civilizations, to boldly go where no human has gone before" (in the words of Gene Roddenberry).
9. Technology, Cosmology, Theology and Singularity
So, from fairly sensible first principles that "improbable empirical events happen when intentional minds express themselves" we are now suddenly confronted, after a few dozen steps, with a whole "supernatural" worldview that includes an Infinite Trinity, an Incarnate God, miracles, angels, and even demons. We are faced with a world reminiscent of Plato and his "Forms". We find ourselves in a cosmos of appearance (maya) formed by the play (lila) of the Hindu gods. We find that even matter itself, as solid as it seems, is merely an expression of a Code that grounds our empirical existence. Solid matter becomes something non-permanent, non-substantive, and ever changing (or in Buddhist terms, anicca and anatta).
Is this not patent foolishness and wishful thinking? Perhaps.
But perhaps it is science fiction helping us understand science fact. The scenario I am proposing above is not that different from what is fictionally conceived by the Watchowski brothers' "Matrix" movies. And it is not fundamentally different from what some of our futurists propose when they talk about an event called the "Singularity" that may happen with the rise of Artificial Intelligence in the future.
The Singularity is an event horizon we cannot see past or predict the effects of, because of the nearly infinite complexity and intelligence it represents. When we develop Artificial Intelligence that can improve itself and re-write its own programming faster and faster, we may eventually find ourselves inhabiting the universe with Intelligences that exceed our abilities in the same way we exceed an ant. Thus, we cannot predict what will happen. But we can predict that what will happen will be so unpredictable and improbable from our current level of technology, that it will appear as magic or miracle to us.
And so we return to Clarke's third law.
The Singularity is a very rich concept, and not just for "science fiction futurists", but also for cosmologists and theologians. Cosmologists are forensic scientists who investigate the origins of the cosmos, in accordance with what we know through our current operational science.
Cosmologists have long hypothesized that the entire universe arises from what they call "The Singularity". This cosmological Singularity is a point of Infinite density and heat, which erupts and explodes, creating the very fabric of space-time, and all matter and energy within it. It is possible that, from this Infinite Singularity, arises not only the Universe we know, but perhaps an Infinity of Universes that actualize all potential outcomes that could ever be imagined or predicted. Although this "Multiverse" theory of Reality is not accepted by all Physicists, it is commonly accepted that the cosmological Singularity is effectively infinite in potentiality and density. We can understand the universe down to millionths or billionths of a second, but in increments smaller than this, it is simply too infinite to explain or predict. And thus, it is called the Singularity.
So, not only do we arise from a cosmological Singularity of infinite potentiality (which is impossible to predict or explain), but it seems we are also advancing toward a technological Singularity of infinite potentiality (which is impossible to predict or explain). And I confess that I think that as humanity evolves, we will be able to peer further and further into both of these Singularities and "unveil", or progressively reveal, more and more of their potential. But there is yet a third Singularity to discuss.
In Exodus 3.14, when God unveils Godself to Moses, God reveals to him the Divine Name, the Nameless Name, the Name above all Names. This name is abbreviated by the four Hebrew letters YHWH (often pronounced YaHWeH). The full version of the Name can be translated in many ways: "I AM who I AM", or "I AM what I AM", or "I WILL BE who I WILL BE", or some other permutation of non-reducible personal identity. In short, the Name is more of an Anti-Name, or a refusal to be held captive to any convention of naming. It is a verb, an action, an activity. It is the One who names all else yet is beyond Naming.
The Divine Name is a way of asserting that there is no other Reality like the Source of all Reality. That the Source is too Infinite and complex to be held within the formula signified by any single name. Yet, since, in our finitude we must represent this Reality with some signifier, we often choose the signifier "God". Nevertheless, we should not let the word "God" fool us into thinking we have the Infinite contained. God transcends all else, and is singular and non-reducible to any other word, concept, reality or experience.
YHWH, or God, are thus other words for Singularity: An Infinite Reality so complex we cannot see past it, define it, explain it, predict it, or even properly name it.
And so technology, cosmology, and theology all point to a Singularity from which we arise, to which we return, and with which we relate. This Singularity is arrived at by different ways, but each resolves into an Infinity beyond which we cannot see. If we live in the sight of this Infinite Triune Singularity-- past, present, and future; Father, Son, and Spirit-- then suddenly we live in a non-reducible cosmos, which is more like "Mind" than like mere matter, and in which improbable empirical events can be part of the ongoing Story which is written across space and time.
10. Human Ability, Species Evolution, and Divine Potential
Now that we have opened Pandora's box, it is not the skeptic of religion which I must deal with, but the believer. Because what I have posited, in no uncertain terms, is that humans possess Divine Potential to perform miracles, if not now, in the future. Furthermore, in principle, assuming the human race keeps evolving and does not kill itself, we will be able to explain and reduplicate the miracles of Jesus Himself. In fact, as we actualize humanity's Divine potential, we will do "miracles" which not only compare to, but surpass, the miracles of Jesus of Nazareth. And from one perspective these miracles can be seen as "unaided" by God, accomplished by human technology alone.
The believer exclaims: Is this not impudence and hubris of the highest caliber? Is this not pride run amok? Is this not a demonic subversion of the gift of Divine Revelation? Is this not Satan declaring himself to be equal with the most high? If we think in this mode, are we not asking to become Icarus who falls to our death because we flew too close to the sun?
But perhaps we also need to go there theologically and philosophically, because we are ALREADY going there technologically. And if we do not think about what we are doing with our technology, we will almost certainly become Icarus and doom the entire human race. Whereas if we take full responsibility for our Godlike ability and increasing technology, perhaps we can learn to use it in a way that goes with "The Fabric of the Universe", exemplifies Divine Love, and embodies the healing potential of Jesus Christ.
So, let's not hide from our potential to become "gods" (with a lowercase g) who embody the life of "God" (with an uppercase G). We are quickly headed to becoming technological gods whether we like it or not. It is time we work on becoming gods morally and spiritually as well. Indeed, Jesus did not shy away from this. He blatantly confronted people with both the promise and the responsibility that becoming gods entails:
Jesus answered [his opponents], "Is it not written in your Law, 'I said you are gods'"? If he called them ‘gods,’ to whom the word of God came—and Scripture cannot be broken— what about the one whom the Father set apart as his very own and sent into the world? [John 10.34-36]
The writer of Second Peter makes the case even more clearly:
"His divine power has given us everything needed for life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Thus he has given us, through these things, his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may escape from the corruption that is in the world because of lust, and may become PARTICIPANTS IN THE DIVINE NATURE." [2Peter 1.3-4, emphasis mine]
We are made in the image of God, and this gives us the vocation-- the calling, the mission-- to grow "into all the fullness of God" [cf. Ephesians 3.19]. As such, we are made by God (capital "G") to become gods (lowercase "g") who show forth the glory of God in our lives. In Eastern Orthodox theology, this is called "theosis" or "deification", which refers to the divination of humanity as we participate ontologically in the nature of God through the incarnation of God in Jesus.
The theologian Athanasius illustrates this concept in his seminal bumper-strip summary of Theosis in "On the Incarnation". The most memorable English translation of Athanasius says: "God became human so that humanity might become god". This is a slight paraphrase of section 54.3, which reads "Αυτός γαρ ενηνθρώπησεν, ίνα ημείς θεοποιηθώμεν", and translates literally as "Indeed he [the Word of God] was humanized in order that we may be divinized".
Even the conservative and westernized theology of the Roman Catholic Catechism recognizes this fundamental fact of human evolution into Christlikeness by becoming "Godlike" through theosis. In paragraph 460 it states:
The Word became flesh to make us "partakers of the divine nature": "For this is why the Word became man, and the Son of God became the Son of man: so that man, by entering into communion with the Word and thus receiving divine sonship, might become a son of God." "For the Son of God became man so that we might become God." "The only-begotten Son of God, wanting to make us sharers in his divinity, assumed our nature, so that he, made man, might make men gods."
So, it is not hubris to talk about human deification. It is the clear trajectory of the Scriptures and the greatest theological traditions of Christianity. We were made to become gods, by God, so that we may do the miraculous to heal and make whole all of creation, following the pattern of Jesus Himself. Jesus also foretells this in no uncertain terms:
"Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father. " [John 14.12]
In context, the "these" in "greater works than these" refers specifically to the signs and miracles that Jesus had done to demonstrate his identity as the the Way, the Truth, and the Life in human form, who reveals the very Image of the Father [cf. John 14.6-7]. So, Jesus is flat out predicting that humans have the capacity to perform even greater miracles-- even more improbable events-- than the acts of healing and expelling evil that he had done.
And this passage is not the only one to hint at the ability of Jesus' followers to walk in Jesus' footsteps and do works like Jesus. Such works are commonly alluded to across the New Testament [cf. Matt. 21:21; Mark 11:13, 16:17; Luke 10:17-19; John 1:51, 7:39, 14:28, 16:7; Acts 2:4-11, 33, 3:6-8, 4:4-12, 16, 5:15, 6:7, 8:7, 9:34-40, 10:46, 16:18, 19:12; Rom. 15:19; 1Cor. 12:10-11]. As Paul succinctly puts it: "For those whom God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn within a large family." [Romans 8.29]
Jesus connects this ability specifically with being faithful to following the "Pattern" or "Logos" found in Jesus (i.e. doing our works in his "Name"), while we rely on the guidance of the Holy Spirit:
"I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it. If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you." [John 14.13-17]
"I have said these things to you while I am still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you." [John 14.25-26]
And yet again:
"I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come." [John 16.12-13]
It is not hubris to speak of the Divine potential that humanity will actualize, if we do not cause ourselves to go extinct first. It is actually in accordance with the very teachings of Jesus, who Christians posit as the very life of God in human form. And we can evolve into gods long as we follow the guidance of the Advocate, the Spirit of Truth, who shows us how to actualize Divine Love.
11. Technological Evolution and Moral Evolution
So, following the pattern of Jesus Christ, walking in the trajectory he began, we are called by God grow and evolve ever Godward. But this is not just technological growth. It also has to be moral growth. A mind working in harmony with the Code of the universe can do amazing things. We already glimpse snippets of that in technology. But it is also true that the more powerful a technology is for good, the worse evil it can create.
Nuclear power can give cities electricity, or annihilate them in one blast. Genetic engineering can wipe out disease, or create a disease to wipe out the planet. Terraforming technologies can be used to save the environment, or destroy the environment as we harvest it for resources.
So then, we are faced with a choice when given the gift of infinite technological growth: Either we use such growth to become gods, or we use it to become demons. Either we become subroutines in the Operating System that increase the life and potential of the whole system, or we become viruses and malware that decrease and destroy potential.
We must evolve morally as we evolve technologically, or we will wipe out the human race, and perhaps the whole planet with us. And if we do not take our Godlike potential seriously, we will never take seriously the need to evolve morally. If we keep thinking that all our technology is child's play, that no lasting harm could ever be done by our experiments and industries, then we will remain at the moral level of children. It will all remain a game, where "the one who dies with the most toys wins".
So we need to grow up. Or, as Paul puts it: "By seeking the truth in love, we must grow up into him who is the Source: Christ" [Ephesians 4.15, author's translation]. We need to realize we are gods in the making, and start acting like it. And we can see what it means to live like a god when we look at God in human flesh, Jesus Christ.
Another way of saying this is derived from Jesuit theologian Teilhard de Chardin, who spoke of Jesus as the final goal of human evolution appearing in the middle of history. Jesus is not only the person of God in human form. Jesus is also the fullest extent that a human consciousness can be in harmony with the Divine Mind, and so actualize the potential inherent in human nature. Jesus represents the fullest capacity of humans to evolve without external technology. His masterful use of nature's laws to perform miracles represents what sentient beings can do if they will surrender themselves fully to the Divine Energy that is the existence and life of all things. This Divine Energy is known by many names. Christians call her the Holy Spirit. Jews call her Wisdom, Spirit, or Glory. Hindus call her Shakti.
And I am not saying that if we found Jesus' DNA we would find what humans will become in a million years. Jesus' human DNA is probably just one of countless organic forms of life, across countless planets, that can allow truly sentient persons to transcend themselves and grasp the Divine. Any organic life form-- or a computer for that matter-- can become a sentient person who bears "the image of God" if it has sufficient complexity to create the capacity for self-transcendence, abstract thought, symbolic communication, empathy, and consciousness. The evolution that Jesus represents is how a sentient life form can be so in tune with the Divine Mind, that it is able to perfectly manifest God's Love, expel evil forces, and release Divine Energy to heal and make whole. Such a life as Jesus beckons us to strive for the potential that he embodies fully.
So, when we ponder Christ's life, and follow the guidance of his Spirit, we are drawn into an ethical life of Love. Divine Love is altruistic self-giving for the good of the other, so the other can grow into their full potential. Such Divine Love is exemplified in Jesus' ministry of sacrificial Love, leading up to the cross, tomb and resurrection. Divine Love is thus "kenotic": It is self-emptying, using one's blessings to bless others, and so enhance the totality of the created order, instead of just hoarding resources for oneself.
Such Love is defined poetically in 1Corinthians 13, where Paul writes:
"Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends... And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love."
In fact, the Path to self-transcendence is Christlike kenotic Love. We can only "get outside of ourselves" by giving ourselves away. As John the Baptist says in John 3.30 "I must decrease and Christ must increase". This is the paradox of growth into Godhood. We do not attain our fullest potential by trying to attain our own potential for ourselves. This would put us on the narrow track of a very self-limiting vision of what our potential is. We cannot grow into the fullness of ourselves only caring for ourselves. We must be interconnected with others, challenged by others, helped by others, engaged with others, so that our potential combines with their potential in ever new and infinitely variable ways, and we grow into what we never expected to become. By Love we become gods, in the image of the God of Love, who is eternal self-giving, in the interrelatedness of the Trinity.
This is why philosophies and economic theories based on selfishness, greed, and narrow visions of "self-interest" are ultimately dehumanizing and limiting. They stunt human growth, both individually and as a species, and blind us to the totality of our potential. They set ME the narrow track of what I think I need, to become what I want MYSELF to be. This emphasis on self is obviously myopic, and if continued for long will lead to megalomania or insanity.
These philosophies also often assume a scarcity of resources, so that I have to take from you in order to become fully me. They are based in a zero-sum ontology, in which my gain has to come at the loss of someone else. Thus, they divide every relationship, every "moral" act, into winners and losers, users and those they use, masters and servants. The goal of such utilitarian systems is not the growth or evolution of the human species as a whole, or even the fulfillment of individual potential for the sake of truth, goodness and beauty. The goal is rather the myopic accumulation of pleasure, popularity and power for a few. And while such a system makes a few at the top very wealthy, and enables them to pursue a modicum of potential growth in a very narrow direction, it diminishes, demeans, and destroys others to do so.
Contrast this with a vision of Divine Love, in which we all give ourselves to all, with all, for all to become more than any single one of us ever imagined we could be. We would no longer cut off avenues of potential by selfishly exploiting and harvesting the potential of others to serve our own limited interests. We would find ourselves exploring ever-increasing, always-unfolding, mutually benefitting fields of potential as we all grow ever Godward together.
And, ironically, the Ultimate Value of Divine Love is precisely why the importance of miracles is DEMEANED in most religions. None of the major world religions-- Hinduism, Judaism, Buddhism, Christianity, or Islam-- say that the most important aspect of the religion is contained in the miracles it is based on. Rather, the most important aspect of each religion is how well we live into Divine Love, Social Justice, Merciful Compassion, Forgiveness, Healing, and Peace.
Prior to the First Corinthians passage above, Paul deals directly with this:
"If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing." [1Corinthians 13.1-3]
Miracles, improbable acts, deeds of power, awe-inspiring signs are utterly worthless if they are not directed in the Godward trajectory of Christlike Love. And this is why, no matter how great humans become technologically, there will always be a need to rely on the guidance of the Holy Spirit, because the Holy Spirit is the very energy of Divine Love.
So, in the final equation, our Godlike abilities are something like the opposite of hubris. They lead us to meekness and humility, through a profound recognition of how powerful we really are, and what great responsibility that implies. As Peter Parker's uncle says in Spider Man: "With great power comes great responsibility".
If we evolve morally as we evolve technologically, we will realize our profound dependence upon Divine Love to guide us and direct us to uses of technology that will cast out evil, so we can bring health, healing, and wholeness to the entire created order. Rather than "coming of age" and rejecting any need for God, we will become "adults" who realize friendship with God is essential to develop the kind of wisdom we need to live into our full potential as children of God.
As a species, I estimate that we are something like adolescents, and we act like an adolescent, with all of our drama and violence and self-centeredness. Like many adolescents, we have tasted of the powers and freedoms of adulthood, and we think our Parent is stupid and old fashioned. And, as one can find out from death statistics, adolescence is also one of the most dangerous times for people. They die in car accidents, drug overdoses, fights and wars, at higher rates than other ages, because they have yet to match their wisdom with their abilities.
It is an open question whether humanity will survive our species adolescence, or whether we will become a stain on the evolutionary chart because we killed ourselves by accident, pollution, violence, or war. But if we do emerge and evolve-- and I most certainly pray we will-- I think we will find a different mode of living. A greater wisdom. A social embodiment of Divine Love in an economic system that provides justly for all, while rewarding the hard work of those who give themselves for others. Furthermore, I think we will stop being so hostile to our Parent, and realize that the Divine Love of the Trinity is in fact the basis for a society of ever-increasing technology, resources, and potential. And we will depend on, and rely on, the Love of God shed abroad in the energy of the Holy Spirit, in ways we never thought of in our species childhood or adolescence.
12. Miracles and Theodicy
So now we have a coherent narrative that provides a probable rationale for miracles, and also predicts that we will (hopefully) manifest the same kinds of miracles as we grow Godward. This story gives us hope that an Infinite Source of Life and Love will welcome us at the end of our earthly journey. And yet this narrative leaves open for us the empirical question that faces our species: Will we doom ourselves to suffering and death, or will we evolve morally as well as technologically into the Image of God.
This, in turn, brings us out of the second biggest objection to Christian faith-- the question of miracles-- and to the biggest objection: Theodicy. Theodicy, briefly stated, is the question of how we are justified in speaking of God as Love if that God allows so much evil, suffering and death in the created order.
The starting point for answering the objection of Theodicy is to speak of freedom. Freedom is necessary for Love to be real. We must be free to choose Love or hate, compassion or apathy, good or evil. If the decision is forced upon us, or we are simply "programmed" to choose good only, then we would be mere automatons, and this would not be the kind of universe where Love could exist. And the freedom of persons is grounded in the freedom of creation: From unpredictable subatomic particles to chaotic weather systems. Without freedom at the basis of the universe, free people could not evolve who can choose good or evil, because freedom cannot arise out of a system that is merely mechanistic and pre-determined.
Now, such freedom necessarily entails suffering. It entails moral evil, in which free persons make moral choices against Divine Love. And this moral evil unleashes abuse and destruction in the world. But it also entails natural evil, in which chaotic natural systems cause disasters and diseases. And so the very gift of freedom from a Loving God also allows immense amounts of suffering as the Creation evolves, adapts, and develops over time.
However, if God can and does perform miracles for some-- specifically miracles of protection, healing, and even resurrection-- then why does God not perform miracles for all?
I think this insight may be the emotional basis of most objections against miracles. I don't think it is actually the possibility of miracles that most thoughtful people object to. Most of us know that there is much we don't know about the universe, and thus it is unwise to rule out something as "impossible" when we don't in fact understand everything that is possible.
Rather, I think at the base of many people's objection to miracles is a primal experience of suffering. They see claims that God heals, that God casts out evil, that God raises Jesus from the grave, and yet...
Thousands of children per day die of starvation and preventable diseases.
People are struck down in the prime of their lives by inexplicable diseases and freak accidents.
Natural disasters claim the lives entire families and wipe out entire villages.
Wars and violence snuff out the lives of productive citizens while allowing criminals to roam free.
This specific person that I know and love suffered and died for no apparent reason at all.
And where was God in all of this? If God can and does perform miracles, why didn't God intervene in these situations? Why doesn't God do more miracles? This is where objections due to Theodicy and miracles combine into a potent argument against the goodness and reality of God.
Why couldn't God create a system that was somehow free, but where there were no negative consequences for freedom? It seems that we can imagine such a place. Why can't God make it a reality?
I think there are some parameters of self-contradiction that not even God is able to "hack" or "abrogate". For instance, God cannot be real and unreal at the same instance. God cannot create and not create at the same instance. God cannot make 4 to be 3, nor make X to be non-X. In short, God cannot contradict his own reality, nor create a reality that fundamentally contradicts and subverts itself.
Thus God cannot make un-free freedom, nor make a universe in which there is both freedom and also no consequences to that freedom. We might imagine such a world, just as we might imagine drawing a perfect equilateral triangle. But we quickly realize that in empirical reality, one cannot draw a perfect triangle. Even if one were to shrink down to the sub-atomic level, one could not make a triangle that was enduring and perfectly equilateral.
In the same way, a real empirical world, in which freedom is always used perfectly, cannot happen in actuality. This cannot happen even if we (or God) might be able to conceive it in potentiality. So, if we live as free persons with a distinct identity from God, able to make free choices to grow into Divine Love or reject it, we will find that we live in a world of some necessary suffering.
The question is, what does God do, or help us do, to alleviate the suffering? Conversely, why does God not intervene when God could have, assuming the limitations that empirical reality entails? I think the answers to these questions are manifold and overlapping. But I want to present several possible answers, which are more or less relevant, depending on what angle one examines the issue from.
First, God may not intervene more because God is not asked to, or God is not actually trusted to act. I know there are manifold instances where people seek God fervently for guidance, protection, or healing and they do not seem to receive it. But surely there are even more instances where God is ignored altogether, dismissed as meaningless, and not sought at all.
If the great religions are any indicator, the Divine-human relationship is normally conceived as synergistic. God acts through and with human intentionality. If someone does not seek God, God allows their freedom to do so. If they do not want God involved, or they reject God as a possible source of strength, then God allows that. And God may not act in such cases in the same way God would have if someone was seeking to be in harmony with God. This does not mean that God never intervenes in the life of someone who rejects God, just that there is no way of predicting or understanding why God does or does not intervene if there is no relationship there.
So, let's put aside all of the cases where God is consciously rejected, and pay attention to only the cases where God is sought for a "miracle", but apparently does not act.
If God is the type of God I have described in this essay, some perceived "lack of intervention" may be a lack of perception. God may in fact act, but not in the way that was expected or intended. God may be using a physical sickness or injury to spur healing at an emotional or moral level. Often, physical suffering causes growth in our personality that could not have been achieved if the person was living in comfort. Other times, the suffering may be shortened by God in ways we do not perceive. God may "call them home" through physical death so they may embrace eternal life in God's presence. As a believer, I'm not sure that any prayer for healing ever goes unanswered, although the healing sought may happen emotionally rather than physically, in eternity rather than in time.
But what if we are not perceiving things wrongly. What if God simply does not seem to respond to a reasonable request for healing or protection? There is another more profound, systemic reason why God does not intervene more than God does. And this ties in with the insight that an actual empirical world is necessarily more messy and painful than an imaginary potential world.
We all know that too much hacking of a computer can crash the system, no matter how smart the hacker is. When the Code is tweaked, there can be chaotic, destructive systemic responses that we cannot predict when we begin. In other words, good intentions can have horrible consequences. To use a rather crude example, consider the best intentions of Western Colonialism over the last 150 years. Well educated elites from Europe and the United States knew what was best for the world. They had the technology, the medicine, the economics, and the ideals of democracy, in order to give the "backwards" natives of other cultures the resources to become "civilized" (often at exorbitant cost to their native resources!).
In our great knowledge and managerial skill, we reorganized national boundaries, installed governments, and set up school systems. What "good" did all of this cause? Over the past 60 years it allowed a massive backlash to the parasitic relationship of the Colonizers to the Colonized, with popular revolts, the rise of violent ethnic and religious fundamentalists, and a never ending succession of dictators and coups. Due to our "intervention" in places as diverse as Vietnam, Afghanistan, and Honduras millions have suffered violence, torture, oppression, and murder.
This rather visceral and long running example reminds us of the potential side-effects when Intelligence and power is imposed on people who did not ask for it, do not want it, and who are stunted in social growth by it. With such an example in mind, we may better understand why God in God's wisdom finds it better to allow many events to continue without direct intervention.
Perhaps God only intervenes enough to communicate God's Love, and fulfill a certain trajectory of history. Maybe God only acts directly in order to steer the overall direction of history in the direction of justice, altruism, compassion, and peace, when viewed over the duration of thousands or even millions of years. Perhaps if God intervened more, it might actually retard the unfolding of the Plot, and diminish our ability to grow into all of God's fullness.
For instance, it is easy to imagine that if we created a pain-free world, where no one ever had any struggle or suffering, that may well be the end of the human race. Without any pain, we might just loose the drive to grow and adapt, develop and evolve. Thus, some amount of pain in creation may actually lead us to be a healthier species, more actualized, more Godlike, more reflective of Jesus Christ.
Perhaps the limitation of Divine miracles might happen in order to spur us on the BE the miracle we are looking for. As we grow through our species adolescence into adulthood, perhaps when we look at God and ask "Why didn't you act to show your Love and Life more often?", God turns around and asks us back "Why didn't YOU follow the example of Christ, and manifest the Love of the Spirit, to give more of my life to the world? I have made you in my image and given you the Teachings, the Example, and the Power to do it. When will YOU use what I have given you for good and not evil?"
Like a good Parent, perhaps God the Father gradually takes away the "training wheels" of miracles in order to teach us to ride the bicycle ourselves. God gives us the resources and guidance we need to become the miracles we want to see in the world. But we have to make use of it. In the process we will fall. We will skin our knees. We will make mistakes and crash every so often even with the best of intentions. But there is no other way to spur us on into adulthood than to allow us our own independence.
I think something like this is the case with miracles, and how miracles fit into various chapters of the Story God is writing across the pages of the cosmos. But such a view only really works if, and only if, we have the hope of a final healing and restoration at the end of all things. If we can be assured that all of our suffering, all of our wrecks, all of our scrapes and bruises will one day be healed, and be drawn up into a greater Story with Ultimate Value, then this Story makes sense.
If not-- if there is no future healing and restoration-- then evil, suffering and death will get the last Word. God in the end would be proven to be incompetent, apathetic, and ultimately malevolent. If in the end we look at victims of torture, abuse, oppression, and genocide and say there will be no ultimate justice for them, and no end to the evil that destroyed them, then we have no hope. And that lack of hope is as much of a problem for those who reject God as for those who accept God.
But the Christian Story does not predict that end. The Christian Story says that the end of History has arrived in the middle of History-- in the person of Jesus-- in order to assure us that Love wins in the end. In Jesus, the God who created the freedom that entails suffering, takes that suffering into Godself in the rejection, suffering and death of Jesus. In Jesus, God descends into the depths of hell and human suffering with us, to go through all we go through, and put Godself in our place.
And then that same life that suffered with us also defeats death in the central miracle of the Christian Story. In the bodily resurrection, Jesus demonstrates that Divine Love is stronger than death, and that evil will never have the last word. The last Word of God will be the same as the first Word of God: That is the Logos, the creative Purpose of God to make an entire Universe to share in the fullness of the Triune God's Love.
Jesus' resurrection-- as incredibly improbable as it is-- demonstrates the power of God's Love to heal everyone eventually, it signifies the desire of God to reconcile the whole universe to Godself no matter how far they have strayed away, and it elicits a response of awe and adoration, that gives birth to a desire to embody that same Love in our own lives. This is because, as I have noted above, the resurrection of Christ is for many Christians an assurance that no sentient being in the Universe will ultimately left out of relationship with the Triune God. In the last book of the Christian Bible-- the Book of Revelation-- after everything that causes evil and suffering and death is burned up by the consuming fire of God's Love, we witness a vision of all people being restored to God. It says:
"Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them as their God; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away." [Revelation 21.1-4]
Earlier I raised the question of why God does not perform miracles of healing and resurrection for all. This question only works if we only consider a limited time frame, say, a normal human lifespan. If, however, the Christian Story is an accurate hypothesis to explain the intention of the Divine Mind who grounds existence, then a normal human lifespan is simply not enough time to answer the question. Because if the Christian Story-- at least as I have outlined it-- is accurate, then God will in fact bring about the ultimate healing, restoration, and resurrection of the Universe and all sentient beings that inhabit it. This will happen after every evil that destroys creation and holds people in bondage is burned away by God's Love, so that all who are made in God's image can participate in the fullness of the Triune Life forever.
For, as Paul says: "In all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord." [Romans 8.37–39]
May this be our final reply to the objection to miracles, the final answer to the problem of theodicy, and the consummation of the Story of Jesus that ties us all together in ways that are infinitely improbable, unexpected, delightful, and awe inspiring. Amen.
As an epilogue I would like to express my admiration and gratitude to Keith Ward, a theologian and philosopher who has done groundbreaking work in two fields: First, in Comparative Theology, which seeks to understand how different religious traditions conceive of God and the world, and how they compare to to one another in constructive, not just critical, ways. Second, he has done much to further a constructive understanding of how science and theology can contribute to each other and to the totality of human understanding. And he has done all of this as a follower of Jesus as the Incarnate God, and as a priest in the Church of England. Unlike the other thinkers and ideas I have cited in this essay, I cannot simply cite Ward at any particular point, because his general mode of doing theology is diffused throughout the entire work. If have inadvertently assumed any specific idea of Ward's without citation (or even awareness!), please let this serve as due notice that I do not claim these ideas as original to me. I sit piggyback on the shoulders of giants.