No Miracles = No Christian Hope

resurrection jesusWhether it be Gnostic mysticism, or German Liberal Rationalism, throughout Christian history there have been numerous attempts to separate the effects, or “inner truth” Christianity from it’s concrete grounding in the narrative of God’s interaction with Israel and the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus the Messiah. In other words, we want the value of “loving your enemies” and “forgiveness” without grounding it in the Cross where the Godman concretely loved his enemies and forgave them with his own blood. We want the sense of gratitude and joy on a sunny day without grounding it in the Creator God who gives  it to us and currently sustains all things in things in being.

We have seen this in the 20th Century with various atheistic philosophies of hope that try and take their inspiration from Jewish-Christian eschatology, and transpose them into an immanent, or naturalist key, stripped of God and the miraculous. They want the hope without the “extras” of divine revelation that points beyond the limits of reason alone–they want the substance without the form.

In his Reformed Dogmatics, the great Herman Bavinck comments on the impossibility of such attempts by those rationalist theologians who tried to keep the content of revelation, without admitting the category of special revelation and miracle:

Accordingly, faith  in special revelation is ultimately one with faith in another and better world. If this world is the only world and the best world, then of course we have to be content with it. Then the laws of nature are identical with the decrees of God; then the world is the Son, the Logos, the true image of God; then the order of nature in which we live is already the full and exhaustive revelation of God’s wisdom, power, goodness, and holiness. But then what right do we have to expect that the “there” will one day become “here,” that the ideal will become reality, that the good will triumph over evil, that the “world of values” will one day prevail over the “world of reality”? Evolution will not take us there. Nothing comes out of nothing (nihil fit ex nihilo). This world will never turn into a paradise. Nothing can come forth from it that is not in it. If there is no beyond, no God who is above nature, no supernatural order, then sin, darkness, and death have the last word. The revelation of Scripture makes known to us another world, a world of holiness and glory. This other world descends into this fallen world, not just as a doctrine but also as a divine power (dynamis), as history, as reality, as a harmonious system of words and deeds in conjunction. It is work, no, as the work of God by which he lifts this world out of its fall and leads it out of the state of sin, through the state of grace, to the state of glory. Revelation is God’s coming to humankind to dwell with it forever.

-Reformed Dogmatics Volume 1: Prolegomena, pg. 376

In other words, if there is no miraculous intervention, if God is to be boxed away inside the laws of nature, restrained from acting beyond the patterns of the ordinary, if he is not allowed to decisively and supernaturally reveal himself as the redeemer of nature as he has in the narrative of Israel and Jesus, then we have no hope–not any that deserves the name “Christian”, at least. Nothing about the causes immanent to nature, or the history human nature lead us to expect more than a superficial, technical progress in the future–if we don’t destroy ourselves with it. No, Christian hope is grounded and sustained solely in the God beyond nature who can actually do something about the world because he is not limited by it.

On a slightly different note, the apostle Paul put it this way:

Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in Christ we have hope in this life only,we are of all people most to be pitied. (1 Corinthians 15:12-19)

The form and the content of Christian hope go hand in hand. You cannot hope in God if that God is not the God of Resurrection and miracle.

Soli Deo Gloria

And This is Why I Read Bavinck: Jesus–the Miracle of History

Jesus 3Yesterday I posted a killer Gospel quote by Calvin that basically sums up the glory of Christ in the Gospel and simultaneously explains why I read him so much. I ran across a passage in Bavinck over the weekend that similarly serves to point us to Christ, and hopeful whets your appetite to read him:

The coming of Christ is the turning point of the ages. Grouped around his person is a new cycle of miracles. He himself is the absolute miracle, descended from above, and yet the true and complete human. In him, in principle, the creation has been restored, again raised from its fall to its pristine glory. His miracles are the signs (semeia) of the presence of God, proof of the messianic era (Matt. 11:3-5; 12:28; Luke 13:16), a part of his messianic labor. In Christ there appears a divine power (dynamis) that is stronger than all the corrupting and destructive power of sin. This latter power he attacks, not only peripherally by healing diseases and performing all kinds of miracles, but centrally, by penetrating the core, breaking and overcoming them. His incarnation and satisfaction, his resurrection and ascension are God’s great deeds of redemption. They are in principle the restoration of the kingdom of glory. These facts of salvation are not only means of revelation by are the revelation of God himself. Miracle here becomes history, and history itself is a miracle. The person and work of Christ is the central revelation of God; all other revelation is grouped around this center.

–Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics Volume 1: Prolegomena, pg. 339

Soli Deo Gloria

God Didn’t Just Create the World to Spin on its Own

Last night I talked to my college group about the issue of miracles and the laws of nature. One point that came up was that too often Christians have a limited view of God’s creative activity. They think of him in an essentially deistic fashion–that God created the world and then just left it spinning to itself. On that view, miracles become somewhat random interventions of an absent God. No, instead the Bible presents us with a God who not only creates, but sustains the universe in existence, governing it in wisdom and with fatherly compassion.  On this picture, a miracle is not an “intervention” from a distant God, but a sovereign action of a God already intimately involved with maintaining his creation. It was a good discussion–I love my job.

As I thought back on it this morning, it called to mind Calvin’s excellent comments on God’s creation and governance:

Moreover, to make God a momentary Creator, who once for all finished his work, would be cold and barren, and we must differ from profane men especially in that we see the presence of divine power shining as much in the continuing state of the universe as in its inception, For even though the minds of the impious too are compelled by merely looking upon earth and heaven to rise up to the Creator, yet faith has its own peculiar way of assigning the whole credit for Creation to God. To this pertains that saying of the apostle’s to which we have referred before, that only “by faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God” [Hebrews 11:3]. For unless we pass on to his providence — however we may seem both to comprehend with the mind and to confess with the tongue — we do not yet properly grasp what it means to say: “God is Creator.” Carnal sense, once confronted with the power of God in the very Creation, stops there, and at most weighs and contemplates only the wisdom, power, and goodness of the author in accomplishing such handiwork. (These matters are self-evident, and even force themselves upon the unwilling.) It contemplates, moreover, some general preserving and governing activity, from which the force of motion derives. In short, carnal sense thinks there is an energy divinely bestowed from the beginning, sufficient to sustain all things. But faith ought to penetrate more deeply, namely, having found him Creator of all, forthwith to conclude he is also everlasting Governor and Preserver — not only in that he drives the celestial frame  as well as its several parts by a universal motion, but also in that he sustains, nourishes, and cares for, everything he has made, even to the least sparrow [cf. Matthew 10:29]. Thus David, having briefly stated that the universe was created by God, immediately descends to the uninterrupted course of His providence, “By the word of Jehovah the heavens were made, and all their host by the breath of his mouth” [Psalm 33:6; cf. Psalm 32:6, Vg.]. Soon thereafter he adds, “Jehovah has looked down upon the sons of men” [Psalm 33:13; cf.Psalm 32:13-14, Vg.], and what follows is in the same vein. For although all men do not reason so clearly, yet, because it would not be believable that human affairs are cared for by God unless he were the Maker of the universe, and nobody seriously believes the universe was made by God without being persuaded that he takes care of his works, David not inappropriately leads us in the best order from the one to the other. In general, philosophers teach and human minds conceive that all parts of the universe are quickened by God’s secret inspiration. Yet they do not reach as far as David is carried, bearing with him all the godly, when he says: “These all look to thee, to give them their food in due season; when thou givest to them, they gather it up; when thou openest thy hand, they are filled with good things; when thou hidest thy face, they are dismayed; when thou takest away their breath, they die and return to the earth. If thou sendest forth thy spirit again, they are created, and thou re-newest the face of the earth” [Psalm 104:27- 30 p.]. Indeed, although they subscribe to Paul’s statement that we have our being and move and live in God [Acts 17:28], yet they are far from that earnest feeling of grace which he commends, because they do not at all taste God’s special care, by which alone his fatherly favor is known.

-John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, 1.16.1

Calvin, and Scripture, remind us that we serve a God who didn’t just create the world and leave it spinning. No, instead we have a God who, with fatherly kindness and great concern, reigns over it with wisdom and power.

Soli Deo Gloria