Splashing around in theology.

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Location: Ottawa, Canada

I read lots. I have a cat. I drink coffee. Therefore, I am.

Friday, April 07, 2006


To the left is an image of the beautiful stained glass window of the Methodist Church in Findlay, Illinois.
It depicts Jesus walking on the water, a New Testament story that can be found in Matt.14:22-33, Mk.6:45-51, and Jn.6:15-21.
Today I made the mistake of reading the paper.
You think the Bible is crazy sometimes? Try reading the paper. It’s more crazy. Anyway, there was this article, out of Miami (Reuters). And I quote:

The New Testament says that Jesus walked on water, but a Florida university professor believes there could be a less miraculous explanation – he walked on a floating piece of ice. Professor Doron Nof also theorized in the early 1990’s that Moses’s parting of the Red Sea had solid science behind it. Nof, a professor of oceanography at Florida State University said this week that his study found an unusual combination of water and atmospheric conditions on what is now northern Israel could have led to ice formation on the Sea of Galilee. Nof used records of the Mediterranean Sea’s surface temperatures and statistical models to examine the dynamics of the Sea of Galilee, which Israelis know now as Lake Kinneret. The study found that a period of cooler temperatures in the area between 1,500 and 2,600 years ago could have included the decades in which Jesus lived.

With all due respect, that entire premise involves a real lot of could haves!

Here is the problem I personally have with this kind of research.
First of all, it assumes that what is recorded in the Bible is an actual event that occurred in history.
Then, moving from there, it begins to try and discover possible ways in which what is described as a miraculous occurrence may have been the result of natural events. [Professor Nof is doing the same thing with the Red Sea study as he is with the walking on water episode].
So far, this is not so bad, it is not anything for which anyone should be summarily euthanized or whatever [even though I really think it is already quite bad]… but granted, even if God performed miracles through men in these instances, we can assume he [God] may have used a sort of acceleration of natural forces to accomplish what he [God] wanted to accomplish. After all, this may be the very definition of “miracle.” Something like, “a surprising and welcome event that is not explicable by natural or scientific laws and is therefore considered to be the work of a divine agency.”
A temporary bending of the rules, yet something that USES the rules, nonetheless. For instance, uses a mighty wind to part the waters of the Red Sea. Winds occur elsewhere, in much less dramatic fashion, in other words.
But to assume [in this instance] that Jesus hopped aboard this extremely serendipitous Middle-Eastern iceberg [and there are so many of these, you know]… well, it misses the whole POINT!
Either the event described was a miracle in the sense of being clearly UNDERSTOOD as a miracle, or it was not!
In other words, what Nof’s research fails to address is the very intent of the writers of the biblical account[s].
Was this perhaps an exaggeration of an actual event? An exaggerated legend that developed between the time of the event described, and the writing about that event? [Which I happen to believe is the case regarding the story of the crossing of the Red Sea].
But my point is simply this… when we read of Jesus later healing the blind man, by smearing mud upon the eyes, and telling the person to go and wash it off in the pool of Siloam [Jn.9:6-7]… are we now going to have to wait for some special modern Siloamian Mud Research Team© to tell us how Jesus accomplished this?
When he cast demons from demoniacs, are we going to have to wait for someone to tell us how this person was actually an epileptic, having a seizure which simply ran its course at about the time Jesus prayed about the situation?
If you apply this sort of…. logic…. to the long list of miracles attributed to Jesus, you begin to realize that his greatest "miracle" is being in the right place at the right time, when all of these confluences of nature happen to be happening! He’s there, wanting to surprise his disciples by walking out to them on the water. JUST AT THE SAME time as the iceberg floats by.
It is ridiculously absurd.
It is National Enquirer stuff, and nothing else!
Miracles are meant to defy logic, not support it!

But here is how it goes, as I see it.
There are only so many possibilities, and we all have to make our decision, as to how we are going to perceive the many miracle stories of the Bible.


1) They happened just as described. I mean, in real time. Not only did the Israelites make it through the towering walls of water on either side of them [Charlton Heston made it look so easy] BUT the Egyptians got drowned, as it closed down around them, directly afterward.
Not only did Jesus walk out to the disciples, but Peter got out onto that iceberg too, for a while!
Not only did the mud heal the blind man, but no man since has been able to heal blindness by smearing mud just like Jesus did that day. And this, taking into account that he promised that his followers would do “even greater” things than he did [Jn.14:12].

2) The miracles happened, but they happened as a result of natural laws that went haywire for a moment, and these haywire events took place just at the time that certain people wanted them to take place. This is what many scientists, including Professor Nof today are trying to tell us. In other words, God was not the source of the miracles, several freaks of nature, were.
Or, God's role was to bring the freaks of nature near enough to be accessible to those who were privy to their presence.

3) The things themselves [the miracles] did not actually happen in real time, AS DESCRIBED. Things happened, yes, but not at the magnitude described. Much legend and hyperbole developed between events described, and events written, as is the case with all folklore and oral tradition.
The fish that was caught got bigger and bigger, until, when it was reeled in, it was found to have a coin in its mouth [Matt.17:27].

As you know by now, I am currently favoring this third sort of route, and if anyone can come come up with a fourth or fifth set of possibilities, please let me know. I will add it to the list.
But I have come to the conclusion that my choice of option #3 does not mean that I love God any less, nor appreciate his [her, its] goodness in my life any less than the person who is trying so desperately to walk across the swimming pool yonder….
You can’t do it, my friend.
And neither can I.
And [I believe]… neither has anyone.
Little "a" or capital "A".



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