Friday, March 2, 2012

No Miracles Please

If it be granted that Jesus really had an abnormal power in action, it is evident that this very fact would stimulate rumour and imagination to exaggeration and embellishment and invention of miraculous incident. It is evident that we may quite properly approach the miracle narratives with a certain expectation of finding such features in them; and that it will not do, in face of some sheer prodigy, to rest content with "the mysterious gift" as a solution to every difficulty. Thus a raising from the dead, as that of Lazarus, or a changing of water into wine (both stories only in St. John) is excluded from the region of the historically conceivable and admissable. And there is in the Synoptists also matter enough that passes these limits, e.g., the walking on the sea, the feeding of the five thousand, the tale of the Gadarene swine. When such stories have been deducted, then practically all that is left in the Synoptics are cases of healing, though of course some of these are of an astonishing character.

Rudolf Otto, The Idea of the Holy, 1917

Liberal theology is a complete mystery to me. Rudolf Otto was a Christian; a Lutheran. He seems, in fact, to have been a man of sincere faith. He believed Jesus Christ was the son of God. He believed Jesus rose from the dead, though not bodily (despite the Gospels straining to stress the bodily nature of the Resurrection, with the boiled fish and the hand in the wounds).

But miracles? Not at any price, thank you. (I can't help smiling at the idea that raising a man from the dead and turning water into wine are equally "inadmissable".)

This scepticism doesn't make sense to me. If God is such an interventionist as to send His only-begotten Son into the world, why on earth would He hesitate to override the usual laws of nature for the sake of that Son?

I suppose the story of Jesus, denuded of miracles, is still historically plausible. I suppose a man could be so charismatic as to gather such a following on the strength of his teaching alone, and that teaching could represent such a threat to the religious and civil establishment that they would have him killed.

But the Gospel stories seem utterly gutted by the omission of miracles; there is nothing incidental or purely decorative about them. They seem, as it were, artistically necessary.

I do, however, find something endearingly quixotic in a mind that cannot accept supernaturalism, but still hails Christ as its Lord. There seems something rather noble in that quasi-agnosticism which cannot, for all its rationalism, turn away from the face of Our Saviour. I suppose you might call it the witness of the dubious.

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