What Does “Supernatural” Mean?

What Does “Supernatural” Mean? March 1, 2024

What Does “Supernatural” Mean?

I am often asked what I mean by “supernatural” and many people, including many Christians, reject the term and concept—including many Christians. I understand why. There are two reasons. First, the word itself has come to be identified in the popular mind with the occult. Second, the word itself seems to reflect a dualism between nature and God or nature and spirits.

I object to these misunderstandings of “supernatural.” But I have sometimes had trouble explaining what I mean by and what I think it actually means—as opposed to its misunderstandings.

Occasionally, though, I come across a paragraph (or more or less) that helps me explain what I mean by “supernatural.”

I must begin, though, by quoting Glenn Tinder, author of The Political Meaning of Christianity, about “the world.” What he means by “the world” is what I mean by “nature.” And it leads into a good definition of “supernatural.

”We may define the world most simply as the dimension of being that is made up of objects, or things—realities that are purely spatial and temporal, sensibly perceptible in their entirety, and fully understandable in terms of causal relationships. The world is altogether impersonal.” (39)

Simply substitute “nature” for “world” and that is what I mean, most simply, by “nature.” What then is “supernature?” That dimension of being that is not made up of objects or things—realties that are more than purely spatial and temporal, sensibly perceptible in their entirety, and fully understandable in terms of causal relationships. Everything truly personal is supernatural—in this sense that I mean.

God is the ultimate supernatural being; God is not part of nature. Most supernatural beings are both—natural (worldly in Tinder’s terms) and supernatural. Only God is not at all natural or worldly because he is pure person, not limited by nature or world as Tinder and I define it.

Can someone believe in the supernatural without believing in the occult or miracles? Of course. In fact, everyone who believes in libertarian free will believes in the supernatural. Thomas Reid and Horace Bushnell, two 19th century Christian thinkers, made this point very strongly. I agree. That does not mean, as they carefully explained, that human free decisions and actions have NO causal influences. It simply means natural or worldly causal influences cannot exhaustive explain genuinely free and responsible creaturely decision, choices and actions.

*Note: If you choose to comment, keep it relatively brief (no more than 100 words), on topic, addressed to me, civil and respectful (not hostile or argumentative), and devoid of pictures or links.*

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