One of my more memorable experiences with the “supernatural” or the “miraculous” occurred early in my Christian walk. I was struggling with some overwhelming issues late one night when I heard God tell me to “go out to the church and pray.”
This was not just any church; it was a beautiful church that sat up on a hill overlooking Lake Travis in Austin. Ironically, I had never actually attended this church, but had several times gone out there to pray, sitting in my car in the parking lot. It was also the very parking lot (as shared in 2 of my previous posts: “Why I Was Kicked Out of Vacation Bible School” and “Losing My Religion”) where for the first time I heard the “voice” of God.
Now God was calling me back to that same place, presumably to hear his voice again.
Obviously, I was very excited about the possibilities. Immediately, though, I remembered a conversation I’d had with my dad earlier that week in which he expressed that he didn’t like me out driving so late at night because of all the drunk drivers. It was after midnight already, and while I’d been out late many times prior with no incident, I pondered the reality of that risk. However, I reasoned, if God is truly calling me out to this church parking lot at this time of night and something happens, it will happen for a reason.
Well, you guessed it, I was rear ended full speed by a drunk driver that night…just as I was starting to pull into the church parking lot. My tiny blue 1978 Toyota Celica was totaled, but I was “miraculously” okay and ended up experiencing no whiplash or even any kind of pain.
The miraculous did not end there, however. The story is too long to go into all the details here, but aside from the fact that the driver was unable to flee the scene because his large pickup (which was not that damaged) would not start back up, and aside from the fact I became convinced afterwards that an actual “angel” drove us to the nearest convenience store to call the police (no cell phones in those days), I also ended up praying with the driver. He had fallen away from the faith and prayed with me that he would “get right with God” again.
I also felt compelled that night to specifically pray that he would not get in trouble for drunk driving. Please note: I do not believe that should be the case in most circumstances. I believe there is value in people facing their consequences – especially in the area of drunk driving. However, for some reason I felt specifically compelled that this particular person that night should not. I watched almost amusingly afterwards as the police officer refused to even consider him for drunk driving, in spite of the obvious odor on his breath and in spite of my dad’s pleading for the officer to do so.
This was obviously a very exciting time for me because I saw what I had experienced as a “miracle.” But my eyes were opened quickly when the first response by one of my non-Christian friends was, “It’s amazing what some people (referring to the driver) will say and do in order to stay out of trouble.”
Suddenly my story of being miraculously used by God to change someone’s life had become merely a story of coincidence and manipulation.
As I shared my story with others I became increasingly aware there was a divide – between those who believe in and tend to see the “supernatural” and those who see only the “natural.” My guess is many of you reading this now are equally divided regarding my story.
It’s as though there are two different worlds – the natural and the supernatural. Some believe in both worlds, while others believe the second world is merely imagination.
The divide increases as you get into the sciences, with one end of the spectrum believing that everything in the universe could only have occurred entirely naturally and the other end believing it requires some type of supernatural force behind it. Ultimately, one belief system is pitted against another.
As I quoted in a previous post, in the film Nacho Libre the character Esqueleto humorously declares, “I don’t believe in God, I believe in science!” – as though faith in God and science cannot exist in the same universe.
But in my rethinking of God, I’ve come to believe that the “supernatural” line that divides both worlds does not actually exist, or at least is a misnomer.
By implication the “super” in “supernatural” means that God is outside of the natural. But is that true? For if God is the ultimate law that is the source of everything that exists (and, in fact, is existence as defined in my book Rethinking God), then what could be more natural than God? God is the natural law and all the rest of nature is merely a reflection of that law. Consequently, if there is a “natural” to the universe, God is the original natural.
The problem is that “supernatural” often becomes a moving line. In the earliest days of humankind, much of what people witnessed in nature was beyond their understanding. It was a big world with many unexplainable things. Consequently, they relied on supernatural gods to explain it all. However, as man has progressed over the years and understood more and more of the natural universe, that supernatural line has continually shifted. This is especially true over the last few centuries due to the enlightenment movement and significant advances in science.
The result is that the “supernatural,” and consequently God, continually gets smaller and smaller – for some folks ultimately shrinking to nothingness.
But God has not disappeared because existence has not disappeared. Nor is God any smaller. As existence, or the governing law of all things, God undergirds and surrounds all that there is. God is the law that makes all of nature tick.
Are there things about God that we cannot comprehend? Absolutely. And if you define “supernatural” as “outside of our current understanding or control of nature” then it is a valid term.
Both scientists and theologians agree that there is both a visible world and an invisible world, with the visible often being a reflection of what goes on in the invisible. But as science advances and technology increases, thus allowing us to not only understand the invisible through the visible but also be able to see more of the invisible, the line between the two shifts.
When we see this line as merely one of understanding or control there is no issue. But when we understand this line (of the natural vs the supernatural and of the visible vs the invisible) as a separation of two worlds and of God existing on only one side of that line, then as one side of the line (the natural) becomes more and more real, the other side becomes less and less.
A side-effect of this separation of the natural from the supernatural is the creation (at least in our minds) in society of the secular versus the non-secular or religious.
The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines “secular” as, “not spiritual: of or relating to the physical world and not the spiritual world.” The Oxford Dictionary states, “Denoting attitudes, activities, or other things that have no religious or spiritual basis.” The general implication is that there is a place for God or his involvement in some parts of our lives but not in others.
Both theists and non-theists push forward such a belief: theists when they label such things as “secular” versus “Christian” music, films, theme parks, etc. and non-theists when they declare that religion should not have a part in certain areas of our lives.
It is very common even for many who claim to have faith in God to separate out “religious” activities in their lives from “secular.” We often have separate days for both.
Out of all this comes the continual battles of “separation of church and state,” “faith versus science,” “war on Christmas,” and infamous red cups.
But if God is existence, or the governing law of all things, you ultimately cannot separate him out from any parts of our lives. Existence is everywhere.
By believing in two different sets of existence, natural versus supernatural and secular versus non-secular, both theists and non-theists do themselves a great disservice. They miss out on a God that can be both personal and scientific at the same time.
God identified himself to Moses at the burning bush as the “I Am.” Non-theists tend to focus on the “Am” part of existence, missing out on the very personal “I.” Theists tend to focus on the “I” part, often missing out on the “Am,” or the reality of what is.
Many of the claims about the historical conflict between the church and science over the years have been highly exaggerated or misrepresented. It is far more checkered than the black versus white claims often made about it, with the church both rejecting various scientific theories and directly sponsoring some of science’s most significant discoveries.
Where people of faith currently fall today in terms of their support of scientific theories are wide and varied, with some, for example, believing in the possibility of theistic evolution and others holding fast to the belief in a new earth created in a literal seven days.
Yet there is one thing that the theistic minded often hold in common – that there are supernatural explanations verses natural explanations, but not both at the same time.
Consequently, any natural explanations for something previously considered supernatural can be felt to be threatening to one’s faith. If a “miracle,” for example, can be explained away entirely with scientific or rational reasoning, then it no longer can be credited to an intervening, purpose-driven God. If the answer to how everything came into being from nothing could somehow be explained entirely naturalistically, it would consequently eliminate the need for an intelligent, personal God. The “I” in “I Am” could no longer be real and we become nothing but the products of an impersonal universe.
Having believed there is a hard separation between the supernatural and the natural, those of faith are left with two choices when faced with mounting evidence pointing to the reality of any naturalistic explanation – either outright reject the explanation and science behind it or question their faith in the supernatural they’ve always believed.
Theists’ tendency to look for God only in the supernatural means the potential of missing out on a whole vast universe of information about God that is both billions of miles away as well as right in front of them.
On the other end of things, non-theists do themselves a disservice by seeing the “supernatural” side of things as unreal and consequently rejecting the possibility of the existence of a personal, living God.
If there really is such a God who made the universe, is active in it, and is the root law of nature itself, then any scientific exploration or attempts to understand the universe and all the natural world certainly demand recognition of that. Without such recognition, it means there is a whole vast array of potential other information being ignored and makes science not truly objective at all.
Because of the scale of the universe, both large and small, it is highly unlikely, if not impossible, for humankind to ever discover all that there is to know about the universe. But if there really is a personal God actually willing to directly engage with us one on one wouldn’t it make sense to do just that? The opportunity to personally interact with the very being who not only exists at the vast ends of the universe but also created all of it to begin with would have the potential to reveal far more than we can ever discover for ourselves.
If we remove the false supernatural line, would we discover that theists and even non-theists are ultimately searching for the same thing? Is it God we are really searching for even in the sciences? And can an honest pursuit of God cause us to run toward the sciences rather than away from them? Should Esqueleto’s line in Nacho Libre really have been, “I believe in God because I believe in science!” and “I believe in science because I believe in God!”?
As a result of believing that the supernatural line is false, I’ve also come to believe there is no such thing as miracles – at least in our traditional understanding of miracles as something that occurs outside of the natural.
However, if one defines a miracle, like the supernatural, as simply something that is outside of our natural understanding or control then I fully believe it. The burning bush that did not consume its branches was a miracle for Moses because he did not understand how it was happening and likely would never have been able to make it happen on his own. But that does not mean it was in no way a natural occurrence – for, after all, it did happen within the laws of the universe that the I Am allowed for.
And if science were ever to come up with a plausible explanation for how it occurred or if we were ever to recreate it, that in no way makes it less miraculous for Moses. It would simply mean that we now know how the I Am made it occur. Likewise, it could be said of the parting of the Red Sea, or the plagues that struck Egypt, or the falling of the walls of Jericho, or turning water into wine, or the raising of a man from the dead.
With stars and planets that are billions of light years away and depths of the oceans we may never reach and particles too small for the eye or even our instruments to see, it is likely we will never understand all there is to know about the universe or its laws. Scientists, such as Stephen Hawking, have even expressed doubt we will ever really find the famous Theory of Everything. And yet the I Am, which is the ultimate governing law of all things, knows all and controls all.
In other words, there really are no “miracles” for God. There really are no surprises for him to the point where he goes, “Whoa, how’d that happen?”
At the same time, as the governing law of all things, God is actively present all around us, undergirding all that nature does. In other words, there are miracles, caused by God, all around us. And for as long as we do not understand everything and cannot control everything, there will always continue to be miracles all around us.
We just too often take them for granted. And as soon as we do begin to understand something, we too often then write God out of the equation, as though the source law of all things had nothing to do with it, simultaneously forgetting the many things around us we still do not comprehend.
So rather than diminish the occurrences of miracles, it is my hope that you see the miracles that occur right before your eyes every day. You don’t need a call to go out and pray at a church parking lot in order to witness the miracles of life and nature all around you.
And the greatest of these miracles is that there is an “I” behind all that you see – the ultimate governing law of all things and the most personal of beings who not only interacted with people like Moses, but also wants to interact with you and show you his wonders.
–portions of the above are adapted from Rethinking God: Because God is Bigger, Closer and More Real Than You Think.