Moses the Lifeguard

This cartoon came my way on Facebook today:

While it is just a bit of silly humor, it can be the jumping off point for a reflection on something more serious and timely.

A lot of religious believers make it a point of dogma to affirm that miracles happened as described in the Bible. But miracles, as depicted in the Bible, were never a dogma to be affirmed. They were experiences treated as God demonstrating power. No faith was required to believe that they had occurred. The issue in the stories is never faith in the sense of believing things had occurred without having evidence, but trust and faithfulness in response to the experiences the community had.

Making believing that miracles occur an axiom of faith misses the point entirely. And this cartoon illustrates what is wrong with focusing on the supposedly miraculous, impressive and human,y impossible feats. Moses is showing off his power, instead of taking care of the safety of others. That is a lot like those who focus on affirming that miracles occurred in Moses' time or whichever other. Those acts, whether they literally occurred or (as is more likely) are purely symbolic expressions of the conviction that God had been at work, elaborated and exaggerated with the retelling, they are not about showing off power but about liberation of slaves.

In our time, when people claim to be able to heal the sick, we find them going from stadium to stadium, not hospital room to hospital room.

My own view, as a liberal Christian, is that neither conservatives nor liberals ought to be debating whether miracles did or did not happen in the past, at least not as a major focus of our identity. We need to focus on serving others. Any other focus is misguided and probably egotistical. But when we get our focus right, then whether the experience of being rescued and set free that people have as a result of our stand for justice and care for others involves literal miracles, or just a subjective experience of something being too wonderful for words, we probably won't care to debate the point, because such questions lose their significance for those whose delight is to see slaves set free and the oppressed lifted up.

  • MartinPierce

    Do you actually think that cartoon is funny?

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

      No.

  • http://c-orthodoxy.blogspot.com Ken Brown

    So is the diver Pharaoh?

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

      Love it!

  • Rebecca Trotter

    This is an excellent treatment of miracle stories. Should I be ashamed of myself for laughing at the cartoon, though?

  • http://c-orthodoxy.blogspot.com Ken Brown

    Also, whoever installed such a huge diving board on such a tiny pool should be fired. :P Great post, by the way!

  • http://lotharlorraine.wordpress.com/ Lothar Lorraine

    Hello James.

    “My own view, as a liberal Christian, is that neither conservatives nor
    liberals ought to be debating whether miracles did or did not happen in
    the past, at least not as a major focus of our identity. ”

    I don’t know.
    I’m quite open to the possibility of miracles, but as I’ll explain in the future on my blog, God does not need to violate the laws of physics to do extraordinary things, even to raise someone from the dead.

    Theologically, if you believe that God does no miracle you’re face with the problem of coming up with a good explanation why it is so, but if you allow for the possibility of miracles, you’re faced with the question: but why are there so few, and why are a few helped or saved from death whereas countless others are dying under an atrocious pain?

    Now I’ve an unrelated question: are you open to the possibility, like William Dever, that there might have been a historical Moses leading a SMALL group of slaves out of Egypt?

    Greetings from continental Europe

    Lothars Sohn – Lothar’s son

    http://lotharlorraine.wordpress.com

    • joriss

      There is, in my view, no discrepancy whatsoever between having one’s delight seeing people delivered from slavery and believing miracles. Why make such an artificial separation? Obviously miracles should not be a dogma in itself, but if you can’t trust the many, many God glorifying events in the NT, how can you trust the other events or even the words of Jesus that are written in the same gospels?

      • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

        Joriss, that is a very strange argument you offer, since words are the sort of thing that historians can assess the evidence for in terms of the probability that they bear some relationship to historical reality (even though there were no actual recordings, and so we rely on human memory and will rarely get the exact words), whereas miracles are inherently improbable by definition, and so historical study can never declare it likely that a miracle occurred.

        Lothar, I tend to like William Dever’s work, and felt that way even before I knew that he graduated from Butler University!

        • http://lotharlorraine.wordpress.com/ Lothar Lorraine

          If you define “probability” in terms of statistics, I obviously agree.

          But if you consider a more intuitive definition of probability, it is only unlikely if you have certain assumptions about God.

          Greetings from continental Europe

          Lothars Sohn – Lothar’s son

          http://lotharlorraine.wordpress.com


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