Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Miracles And SuperHeroes

Christian Piatt write an article on miracles and superheroes. Just a few comments
I was fascinated by Jesus’ miracles as a kid. I pictured him alongside the Green Lantern and Batman stickers, adorning my canary yellow toy box. There he’d be, fists on his hips, a giant, red “J” on his chest and his long, blond locks, flowing in the wind.

It’s Super-Jesus!
He mocks this as a silly and childish way to think.  I think this is precisely why we love superhero stories. It points us to Jesus. We might not know it but we have an innate hunger for a person to step forward that does not have the weaknesses we all have. Somebody who is truly good and amazingly powerful and is willing to do what it takes to save us. This is the kind of child-like faith that Jesus wants us to hang on to rather than grow out of.
The older I’ve gotten, the more circumspect I am about the nature of miracles and what they mean in the context of faith. I’m not in a place where I’m ready to qualify all of the miracles in the Bible as metaphor — though I think some likely are — but I am wary of affording too much weight to them, as if my own faith depended on them being literally true.
The question is not what your faith depends on but whether you have faith or not. When someone approaches the word of God and is wary about giving too much weight to its truth then I wonder. What does it meant to have faith? You expect faith to be reasonable. But is a miracle inherently unreasonable? Not at all. God can do anything. But miracles are uncomfortable. Our modern scientific minds are scandalized by them. Interpreting God's word and expecting it to be reasonable is one thing, expecting it to be comfortable is quite another. It is putting our mind over God's mind. It is the opposite of faith.
I started thinking more about this when I saw a magician, maybe 20 years ago, whose routine largely was built on replicating the miracles described in scripture. No, he didn’t raise anyone from the dead or heal them of any sicknesses that I’m aware of, but there are more “minor” miracles of transformation (water to wine), levitation (walking on water) and multiplication (fishes and loaves) that are all part of a modern-day magician’s wheelhouse.
A modern magician can do these things. If he has time to plan it, get material together, rehearse it, etc. The point is Jesus had no chance to do this. The gospels make clear Jesus did not have that quantity of wine or that quantity of bread available for tricks. Remember his disciples were amazed, not just the "audience."
When I met my wife, Amy, she described miracles more broadly as something wonderfully inexplicable that we choose to attribute to God. This made sense to me, but then I watched Michael Phelps achieve superhuman things in the water. He was accomplishing things no one in recorded history has ever done before. I can’t explain or really comprehend how he can do it. And although he did them, I attribute his physiology and gifts to God. So is what he does in the Olympics, according to Amy’s definition, a miracle?
This is nonsense. If this meets anyone's definition of a miracle then they need to get out more. We can be amazed but it is a different level of amazement.  It is a human thing. Yes, it awakens in us our inner hunger for a superhero. But we know Phelps isn't it. He just reminds us of what we are looking for in some ways.
It almost seems that we worship him as if they were miraculous acts. We literally put him up on a pedestal and adore him, much like how people adored Jesus. And just like with Jesus, these amazing feats, whether or not they are literally miraculous acts, are simply not enough. The fall will inevitably come.
People want to worship in response to such a thing. We need to realize that the ultimate credit for such things goes to God. We can thank God for inspiring people like Phelps. Some will get carried away and give to Phelps what belongs to God. Often it is because our worship of God is inadequate. It is not because our response to Phelps is bad.
If they were, Jesus wouldn’t have been abandoned at his most vulnerable moment. Some will argue that he saved the biggest and best for last, raising from the dead, which finally put all of his doubters in their place. Really?  Then why are our numbers, at least in the Western World, in such precipitous decline?
Miracles do make it easier to believe. They do not compel us to believe. At least Jesus never did enough miracle-wise to compel us to believe. He wants to leave us a choice. Still many more people choose to believe when there are miracles. It makes sense. Even the odd little glimpse of the supernatural makes it a lot easier to know it is there.

I think we are unwise to assume we are above that sort of thing. Sometimes we can buy into the materialist assumptions of the culture we live in. We just recoil at the very idea of a miracle. Something in our mindset changes when we accept a miracle. Like God has entered a whole new area of our world.
If we focus solely on the supernatural, fantastic stories of Jesus, he becomes removed, unreachable, less human. And if we justify our faith by such miracles, what happens if someone else comes along who appears to be equally miraculous? Will we know the difference? Call it off-the-cuff amazement, but I’ve heard people describe the tricks performed by magicians David Blaine and Criss Angel as miracles. Do we even know the difference?
We don't want to focus solely on miracles. Miracles point us to God. So do saints. So do sacraments. So does morality. The focus needs to be on God. But should we reject some of the ways God reveals Himself? If we do it likely points to a problem with us. Will we start worshiping magicians?  I can't imagine that being a problem. The devil does have supernatural powers as well. We could be fooled. We should be careful. That is why we involve the church in the discernment process.
For me, the critical question is what we find beneath it all, or perhaps the better question is, where does it all point? In the cases of Michael Phelps, Criss Angel and David Blaine, the ultimate focus is themselves. I’m not saying this to condemn them, but rather to distinguish them from Jesus in this important way. It seems to me, based on my understanding of the Gospels, that Jesus always pointed toward something other than himself — toward God — in all he did and said. And in doing so, he performed what I consider his greatest miracle; complete transcendence of self.
Actually Jesus always pointed at Himself. His main reason for doing miracles was so that people might believe in Him. So this is a really poor way to solve his non-problem. How can you talk about Jesus transcending Himself? Jesus is God. This seems confused. 

The distinction is the one he refuses to make here. That is Jesus claimed a power beyond the material world. Neither magicians nor athletes do that. If such a claim is made and backed up with miracles then it matters a lot whether the miracles are truly beyond natural explanation. If they are then they give us a good reason to take the claim seriously. If they are not then we should be dubious. So when we say a biblical miracle was somehow faked we don't leave the bible with one less miracle story. We give people reason to reject the idea that Jesus is God. Conversely, when we point out evidence for miracles associated with Jesus and the Church we give people reason to accept the claims they make about themselves. We can sow seeds of faith or we can sow seeds of doubt. We don't know whether they will grow in the hearts of others. We do know they will grow in our hearts. We will reap what we sow.

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