Expecting a Miracle?

[This post is part of a conversation on the new book, 12 Miracles of Spiritual Growth, by E. Kent Rogers, now featured at the Patheos Book Club.]

A number of years ago, I published a text on the healings of Jesus.  I was happy with the first part of the title – I had suggested it – God’s Touch. But, I was a little uncomfortable with one of the words behind the colon – and, of course, these days books must have colons! -  Faith, Wholeness, and the Healing Miracles of Jesus. It took a bit of time for me to come to terms with the use of the “miracle” in the title.  I believed that inserting the word “miracle” in the text would give people wrong impression about what I was trying to say.  I didn’t want my progressive vision of healing to be confused with the supernatural and flamboyant approaches of Benny Hinn and Oral Roberts!

To most people, the mention of miracles evokes images of supernatural in-breakings of divine power that happen to some people and not to others.  They violate the causal relationships characterizing an orderly universe and appear completely arbitrary.  Often they are seen as answers to prayer, but what about the equally faithful prayers that aren’t answered?  Does God somehow choose some and not others?  Does God have a mysterious plan that defies human rationality or morality?

I must assert at this point that I believe that certain types of transformative events occur: there are quantum leaps in energy that change lives; prayers do make a difference in the environment around those for whom we pray and may even open the doors to greater manifestations of divine power; unexpected surprises happen that no one can explain.  These events, in my estimation, are relational rather than unilateral, and lawful rather than arbitrary.

The problem with most understandings of miracles both in the church and among those who claim to be healers is that they are grounded in the modern world view which asserts the following:

  • God is outside the temporal world.
  • God’s actions come from the outside into our world.
  • God must “break” into the normal process of causation, implicitly violating the laws of nature, to change our lives.
  • God’s activity is unilateral and sovereign.
  • God’s activity is not dependent upon human actions, although God appears to be answering our prayers.

At the heart of the modern religious world view is the vision of “supernaturalism” which asserts that any significant divine action in the universe involves the likelihood of suspending, at least for a brief moment, the laws of nature and normal processes of causation.  Supernaturalism is necessary if God is perceived to be an external actor.  But, our understanding of miracles as “acts of power that reveal the divine intent for humankind,” a definition much closer to the New Testament world view, opens the possibility to a non-supernatural understanding of life-changing events in our lives.

What I am suggesting is naturalistic miracles.  It sounds almost like a contradiction in terms -  natural miracles!  But, my intent is to affirm God’s activity in the world and preserve the orderly nature of causal relationships, shaped on macro level by divine intentionality and influenced at the micro level by God’s intimate presence in the causal relationships of our lives.

God can be powerful, without being all-powerful, all-determining, or supernatural in activity. From this perspective – and I say this with the humble confession that I may be wrong – God works within the many factors of life to bring about healing, wholeness, transformation, abundance, and inspiration. These divine actions are never unilateral but work within the world and our lives, using the materials at hand – the events of our lives – to bring about something new and wonderful.  Indeed, if God moves through our lives in a way analogous to the holistic notion of the interdependence of mind and body, then the divine mind is present in every experience, from the inside as well as through the environment.  All things, to paraphrase Meister Eckhardt, reveal something the divine word.

The vision of God I am suggesting involves the following affirmations:

  • God is present within the world as well as beyond it.
  • God influences the world and is influenced by the world.
  • God acts in congruence with the world as it is to create the world as it could be.
  • God moves through minds, bodies, spirits, and relationships seeking abundant life for all in the dynamic interdependence of life.
  • God’s power is exerted as one force among the many factors of our lives.
  • God’s shapes each moment along with the other factors of our environment.
  • God works within DNA, our immediate environment, the prayers of others, our attitudes and spiritual life, our health condition and lifestyle, and the medical or complementary resources available to bring about abundant life in every situation.
  • God’s power is relational and limited, not unilateral and deterministic.
  • We can be partners with God in our healing process and in healing others.
  • Our prayers make a difference to those for whom we pray by helping to shape a positive environment around them.
  • Our make a difference to God, opening the doors to greater influxes of divine activity in those for whom we prayer.
  • Our calling is to be God’s partners in healing the world.

I affirm naturalistic miracles and belief that this understanding is congruent with the gospel portraits of Jesus’ healing ministry.  A close look at the healings of Jesus indicates that personal transformation involves the interplay of God’s power, Jesus’ intentionality, and  the faith of persons and communities.   Where there was no faith (in  Jesus’ hometown), his powers were limited; where people awakened to divine presence, great things happened – quantum leaps of energy – the energy of love residing in all things that transforms bodies, minds, spirits, and relationships.

The good news for us is that the divine energy of love, present in the Healer from Nazareth, lives on in our world today.  In the quantum entanglement of life, it provides possibilities and the energy to live out Jesus’ promise to his followers and us – you can do greater things!

Bruce Epperly is a theologian, spiritual guide, pastor, and author of twenty two books, including Process Theology: A Guide to the Perplexed, Holy Adventure: 41 Days of Audacious LivingPhilippians: An Interactive Bible Study, and The Center is Everywhere: Celtic Spirituality for the Postmodern Age.  His most recent text is Emerging Process: Adventurous Theology for a Missional ChurchHe is the author of a number of books on healing and wholeness, including  God’s Touch: Faith, Wholeness, and the Healing Miracles of Jesus and Healing Worship: Purpose and Practice. He also writes regularly for the Process and Faith lectionary. He may be reached at drbruceepperly@aol.com for lectures, workshops, and retreats.

Frank Rogers’ Practicing Compassion: A Book Review
Watch Your Tongue: A Q&A with Author Nelson Searcy
Blessed Mourning: Reflections on ALOOF, Chapter 10
On the Messiness of Life and the Mystery of God: A Review of Ken Wytsma’s “The Grand Paradox”
About Bruce Epperly

Bruce Epperly is a theologian, spiritual guide, and Pastor of South Congregational United Church of Christ, Centerville (Cape Cod), Massachusetts. He is the author of twenty five books, including Process Theology: A Guide to the Perplexed, Philippians: An Interactive Bible Study,The Center is Everywhere: Celtic Spirituality for the Postmodern Age, and Emerging Process: Adventurous Theology for a Missional Church. He also writes regularly for the Process and Faith lectionary. He has served as chaplain, professor, and administrator at Georgetown University, Lancaster Theological Seminary, Wesley School of Theology, and Claremont School of Theology. He may be reached at drbruceepperly@aol.com for lectures, workshops, and retreats. His latest book is Healing Marks: Healing and Spirituality in Mark’s Gospel (Energion).

  • Peter Beacham

    I notice, Mr. Epperley, that in your list of 12 of God’s characteristics you did not include whether or not you consider God to be an individualized entity. Would you care to answer that one?

    Also, I am puzzled by your insistence on degoding God and redefining God in human terms – limited, relative, influenced by the world, and only one of many factors in our environment that shape each moment. Has it not occurred to you, for example, that those “other” factors in the environment are also God? Or, are you suggesting that God is not everywhere all the time. This would certainly be, shall we say, an original viewpoint.

    So, please explain why you are intent on dumbing God down to your version of what it is to be human instead of raising human understanding up toward an awareness of their innate divinity and their ultimate identity with God in all God’s fullness and mystery? Is it because you are a member of a sect such as Baptists that mistakenly believe that people are inherently evil and bad?

  • http://lamchildren.org Kent Rogers

    I see reality as the ever-unfolding revelation of Divine Love. God is imminently present within all reality in fullness, and yet God is also transcendent of reality. I believe we don’t see spiritual influence in the natural world such as miracles very often because we have so trained our mind to envision reality as mechanical and lifeless. The more I open my mind to the idea that reality is not a machine, but a living entity reflecting God’s Love, the more I feel miracles to be all around. Not only do I mean I feel awe for what is, but that miraculous things do indeed occur. It is so difficult to undo the scientific materialism paradigm into which we are trained. But it’s worth the effort. Love is the fundamental nature of God and love is what makes us truly human. Thus, God is very human. Love is what gives us intelligence; thus God is very intelligent. The direction in which my search has led me points towards the ideas that God is not nebulous, but a tangible, real, Divine Human who is revealed in all things and all people.

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