Seeing Miracles with Fresh Eyes; Belief St. Louis

Article excerpt

Several times over the course of the last few centuries, people have tried to come up with a form of Christianity that does not include believing in miracles.

No less a figure than Thomas Jefferson produced his very own version of the New Testament, a version that excluded nearly all references to anything supernatural, to the Trinity, and to the divinity of Christ. He also removed all the miracle stories and even the Resurrection itself.

And when I say he removed them, I mean that literally. His first edition of this abridged New Testament was made by taking a pair of scissors to a Bible and cutting out all the offending passages. What he was left with, when sewn back together, filled a mere 46 pages.

The flip side of this kind of rationalism is Biblical literalism. I mean this historically as well as conceptually. It was the very advent of enlightened thinking that led to the lockdown on scriptural interpretation that now goes by names such as literalism and inerrancy.

Absolute claims about scientific knowledge and absolute claims about scriptures authority have tended to grow up together, like evil twins locked in mortal combat.

Reading ancient and medieval sermons, things written and preached before people had created this artificial battle between science and religion, opens up a different world entirely, a world where one finds a shockingly imaginative, almost fanciful, approach to the interpretation of Scripture.

When St. Augustine gets going on the fourfold sense of Scripture (only one of which was literal), his rhetoric can only be described as ecstatically playful. He plays with the words and images, stretching his masterful intellect and linguistic skill to their gargantuan limits, all in service of that which matters more to him than anything: the inspired Word of God.

So, back to miracles.

Lets take the example of the wedding at Cana, which is considered Jesus first miracle. You probably know the story, even if youre not a regular churchgoer. Its the one where Jesus turns water into wine. Do I think this story is a metaphor, that it is a story designed to help us see the world in a new way? Yes, I do. Does that mean that I think it didnt really happen? Not at all.

When were faced with a miracle story the important thing is not to figure out how it happened, either to debunk it or to prove that it is factually accurate. …