Monday, July 13, 2009

natural miracles

We just returned from ten days traveling with our guests, Anna's parents, in the next province over, KwaZulu-Natal. We stayed in St. Lucia, a lovely little village set on a lake which features over 1,000 hippos and 3,000 crocodiles. Just minutes outside the town is Isimangaliso Wetland Park.

Isimangaliso is a Zulu word meaning wonders or miracles (the same word exists in Xhosa with only the minor difference of a prefix, imi- instead of isi-). In English, we often speak of natural "wonders". Natural "miracles", however, is an oxymoron; "miracles" is something that has been relegated to the supernatural realm.

As the indigenous southern African languages point out, that separation in common English usage is artificial. The natural world is both "wonderful" and "miraculous". It also is God's world. God is not confined to a separate "supernatural" world, something humans have constructed in order to shut out the everyday "interference" of God in their lives. The "natural" and the "supernatural" are the same world.

The relevant distinction is not between "natural" and supernatural", but between Creator and created. God interacts with the world God has created--sometimes in ways beyond our expectations, sometimes in line with them. We may call this unexpected goodness "supernatural", but really it is simply "wonderful". We may call expected goodness "natural"; it too is simply "wonderful."

In Christian perspective, the event of unexpected goodness is the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. To us it seems truly out-of-the-ordinary, extraordinary; we do not know humans to rise from the dead. On the other hand, the resurrection, that end-of-life event, is no more miraculous than conception/pregnancy/birth, that beginning-of-life event. Justin Martyr, the great Christian apologist of the second century, explicitly made the comparison. Reflecting the ancient view that the human being to be was contained in the sperm or "seed", he argued for the reality of the resurrection on the basis of the reality of life's beginnings.

"And then they who observe things can see how men are generated one by another, and can marvel in a still greater degree that from a little drop of moisture so grand a living creature is formed. And certainly if this were only recorded in a promise, and not seen accomplished, this too would be much more incredible than the other; but it is rendered more credible by accomplishment."

Indeed, the difference in "credibility" according to human wisdom between the miracle of birth and the miracle of resurrection consists in frequency of occurrence; we are accustomed to birth, not to resurrection. The scriptures too admit this. Jesus is the "firstborn from the dead" (note the confluence of birth and resurrection in the title), the "first fruits" of a harvest still to come (Col. 1:18; Rev. 1:5; 1 Cor. 15:23).

As Paul said, "we do not hope for what is seen, but for what is unseen" (Rom. 8:24-25). But true hope in things unseen should produce delight in things seen.


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