Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Miracle, magic, & sacrament


Is it really "magic and superstition" to believe that Christ can save us through matter? Remember when he healed the blind man by using his saliva, clay, and water? Or how Paul's clothes got special powers. All this points to the way he saves us in the sacraments . . . even Calvin agreed.

# posted by Hello : 2/07/2006 1:16 PM


“Hello” poses some good questions, but we need to draw a few necessary distinctions.

i) Matter isn’t evil. God created matter. The sensible world is good. Bodies are good. Food is good. Sex is good.

ii) God often works through material media, even when (although not always) acting in miraculous fashion.

One reason is to accredit the messenger of the message.

iii) There is a fundamental difference between saying that God made use a material medium to effect a miracle, and saying that God made use a material medium to effect our salvation.

iv) It is natural to use physical pollution as a metaphor for spiritual pollution. Hence, the baptismal action depicts the “cleansing” action of God’s grace. But, of course, sin is not actual dirt which you can wash away with actual soap and water.

Baptismal regeneration involves an obvious and elementary level-confusion between a visible figurative action and the spiritual action of God. And since the relationship between the two is symbolic, the outward action does not necessitate the analogue, as if these occupied the same domain, ranging along a common casual continuum.

v) We also need to avoid the basic mistake of turning a narrative description of a particular event into a universal imperative.

Should I, as a rule, use table salt to decontaminate toxic water (2 Kgs 2:21), or baking flour to cure food poisoning (2 Kgs 4:41), or the bones of a holy man to resuscitate a heart-attack victim (2 King 13:21), or spittle to cure the blind (Mk 8:23) and heal the deaf (7:33)? If I come down with a bad case of eczema, should I hop on a plane and dip in the Jordan River seven times (2 Kg 5:10-14)?

No, for there’s no standing command to do so.

Should faith-healers hawk anointed prayer cloths and tubes of holy water? I don’t think so, do you?

vi) BTW, we need to read Acts 19:2 in context. What you have, both here and throughout the book of Acts, is an anti-magical polemic in which the Apostles trump pagan magic and thereby expose its bankruptcy. Notice not only how this pericope begins (19:11), but how it ends (v19).

Notice the fate of the Jewish exorcists who, in a low-tech specimen of identity-theft, were using the name of Jesus as a magic incantation (vv13-16). Notice the fate of Bar-Jesus (13:4-12).

vii) Complementary to this are the OT prohibitions against dabbling in the occult.

viii) We are entitled to attribute to the sacraments whatever sound exegesis entitles us to attribute to the sacraments.

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