Tuesday, November 28, 2017

God's lighthouse

Why does God perform a miracle at one time and place but not another? Why does he grant miraculous answers to prayer for some desperate Christians but not for others? Possible answers vary according to the function we assign to miracles.

i) On one traditional and influential view, the purpose of miracles is to validate religious claimants. I think that's one purpose they serve, but not the only one.

ii) Some miracles are acts of mercy. When Jesus healed the sick and cast out demons, that wasn't just to demonstrate who he was, as if he didn't care about the people he healed or exorcized. He acted from compassion for suffering souls. So it would be a false dichotomy to contend that it's only to validate the religious claimant.

Conversely, while (i) and (ii) are combined in some cases, they may also be separable in other cases.

iii) In some situations, God may perform a miracle, not for the benefit of the immediate recipient, but for the delayed effect. It precipitates a desired effect further down the line.

iv) But there's a neglected consideration I'd like to briefly explore. Here I'm expanding on an observation by Craig Keener.

Although a fallen world can be made a better place, there's a low ceiling for improvement. Medical science is limited, and even if medical science could make all of us perfectly healthy, that just scratches the surface, for healthy people retain a great capacity to be miserable and make others miserable. The frustrating quest for love. Our capacity to hurt those we most love, or be hurt by those we most love. Not to mention malevolence.

A miracle is not a floodlight or heat lamp that's designed to turn a frigid winter night into a balmy summer day. A miracle is not a spotlight with a steady beam.

Rather, a miracle is a blinking light guiding travelers to the world to come. A lighthouse has a rotating light that shines in darkness. It doesn't provide interior illumination for a ship at sea. Rather, it directs the ship. It draws the ship to land, to safe harbor. 

Although miracles happen in this world, they point to another world. God performs enough miracles, now and then, here and there, to remind us of a better country from afar. A beacon hope beyond this veil of tears, a beacon of hope beyond the grave. 


  1. Speaking of supernatural experiences, here's one that's not specifically Christian. In the following link well known atheist Bill Maher asks fellow comedian Martin Short about how 30 minutes before he found out his brother died he became inexplicably sad. Both seem to acknowledge that something akin to something spiritual or supernatural seems to have happened.


    I'm reminded of this quote:

    "One of my favorite grad school professors at Yale once confided to me something that, he said, as an atheist, really bothered him. "Get enough really smart people in a room together, give them enough to drink, and eventually you'll hear stories that don't make sense in an atheistic, materialistic universe." He looked perplexed. And he was right." END QUOTE - Tom Morris

    1. Early in Martin Short's autobiography titled "I Must Say", he wrote the following. He was 12 and his brother David was 26.

      My inadvertently interfaith upbringing notwithstanding, I was never particularly stirred by the spirit of the Lord as He or She is presented in organized religion. Nor have I ever put much stock in the paranormal, the occult, or anything smacking of clairvoyance. With one notable exception...................................[ four paragraphs later]......................................On the morning of July 18, 1962, near the end of my allotted three weeks at Camp Wanakita, I awoke in an unfamiliar, befogged state: oddly depressed, lethargic, weighted down, burdened by a sense that the whole universe was out of sync. My unease was conspicuous enough, and sufficiently out of character, for one of my cabin-mates to take notice and ask, “Are you okay? Are you sick?” I didn’t know how to respond. “I’m fine,” I said. “Something’s just weird.”
      Twenty minutes later I was called down to the head counselor’s cabin. After an awkward greeting, with him unable to look me in the eyes, the counselor blurted, “There’s been an accident. Your brother David’s been in an accident, and it killed him.” What an odd way to put it.
      That strange, unsettled moment of waking, just minutes before the counselor’s horrible announcement, is the only extrasensory experience I can ever claim to have had. And I still can’t make sense of it: why or how I knew—or my body did, or my subconscious, whatever—that something terrible had happened. Why did my twelve-year-old psyche, which otherwise seemed to exist in a perpetual state of bouncy, wired joy, feel, for the first time, a true sense of despair?

      The entire chapter is an interesting read. He also mentions how the randomness of his brother's death and the comments of a neighbor who said she would eventually get over this caused his mother to write a poem. One that relates to the topic of this blogpost. Part of the poem includes the following:

      But no, if there is only one omnipotent God,
      He could not surely choose—
      —“You I will slay, and you protect.”
      In petty favoritism.
      ’Twas but an accident of fate.
      A single moment out of time.
      A tired and nodding head perhaps,
      That hurled him to his death
      Upon a lonely road.

    2. Later in the book he writes about the death of his wife:

      I think everyone was a little apprehensive of leaving ol’ widower Marty alone in his big house in the woods, but it felt completely right to me. I was very clear to everyone: if being here all alone gave me the heebie-jeebies, I’d bail and return to L.A. in a heartbeat.
      But I’ll tell you, I felt at peace up on the lake. I spent a further three weeks in Canada, and I enjoyed the solitude. I kept a journal to scribble down my jangled thoughts....................................................At one point Mel Brooks phoned me................................Mike Nichols also called, urging me to “just keep the conversation going.” This was valuable wisdom, because the constant banter I maintained with Nancy was like oxygen to me, and to suddenly no longer have it in my life seemed incomprehensible—and, in bad moments, suffocating. In a funny way, I was kind of rooting for something weird to happen, for a sign from my wife. I’d had only that one quasi-paranormal experience as a boy: the profound sadness I felt at summer camp the morning I learned of my brother David’s death.
      So there I was, sitting in my kitchen in Snug Harbour, staring at a coffee cup for ten minutes: Move, for Christ’s sake! Nan . . . where the hell did you go?
      And indeed something odd did happen while I was alone. I’m not saying that it means anything, but it was a little strange. The first night I got to the lake, as night fell, I got up from my armchair to turn on the lights. I went to switch the stairway light on: pop, it flickered out. Next, the upstairs hallway light: pop, it flickered out. Next, our bedroom light: pop, it flickered out. Then the boys’ room: pop, it flickered out.
      I told Goldie and Kurt about this the following day. Goldie totally believed it was some kind of sign, saying, “Babe! Oh, babe! This is classic. Read any book on the paranormal. It’s the first thing that happens.”
      Kurt, on the other hand, responded in his typical man’s man way. “Y’know what I’d do?” he said. “I’d phone Gord. I think you got a short.”
      Gord Gallagher, our caretaker, came over. He checked things out and said, “I’ll replace the bulbs, but Marty—there’s no short.”