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Home Forums Evidence for Biblical miracles Naturalistic vs. spectacular supernatural Reply To: Naturalistic vs. spectacular supernatural

  • Zachary Klein

    March 18, 2021 at 11:57 am

    There has been much good discussion in this group and I’ve been unable to follow all of it, but I wanted to address this original post since I think there’s a few elements that haven’t been brought up (at least, that I’ve seen).

    First, I appreciate and agree that the distinction between supernatural/natural is, itself, a very materialistic one. It assumes that the “norm” is a sort of self-sustaining naturalism and that the miraculous refers only to those semi-rare occasions when God peeks in and tweaks something in a non-“natural” fashion. That view a foreign to Scripture. Creation is upheld by God (Colossians 1:16), and the natural order itself works according to God’s decrees with the purpose of proclaiming his glory (Gen 1:14, Job 38:32, Psalm 19, Romans 1:20, etc). So then it is perfectly fair to say that God’s ordering and commanding over elements of his creation are truly “miraculous”, regardless of how “spectacular” a particular observer finds them. I love the Patterns series, but Mahoney’s repeated return to his favorite Cecil DeMille depictions of the Read Sea crossing as the drive for his preference of a deep water crossing is a weakness in my opinion – Hollywood is a poor reference for determining the necessary level of “spectacle” to qualify as a Biblical miracle!

    However, the reason that I (and many others) are inclined towards a “spectacular” event during the Red Sea crossing is because that seems to be plainly what the Hebrew text depicts. Yes, a “strong east wind” is clearly involved (suggesting that some natural forces were certainly at work in this miracle), but the results are extraordinary. The sea is “cleaved” (בָּקַע), a strong term that connotes a violent parting and breaking of the waters (note the same word in particularly strong contexts like 2Chronicles 25:12 (bodies broken from a high fall), Amos 1:13 (massacring of expectant women), Zechariah 14:4 (splitting of the Mount of Olives), as examples). The water stood as a wall (חוֹמָה) on their right and left (the same forms of both words are used only once more, speaking of Gideon’s infantry in Judges 7:20, to describe their equipment held in either hand). The Hebrews walked on “dry land” (יַבָּשָׁה) a very specific term (taken from the root יָבֵשׁ, “to dry up”, or “wither”) indicating that the sea bottom was somehow “dewatered” and a dry surface.

    There’s probably more I could add to this (I just went over the Hebrew text now and only got through v21-22). The point I think is that, if one comes to this text with a view of God’s total sovereignty over the created order, and of his purposes in saving the Hebrew people with a “strong hand and outstretched arm” (God’s preferred motif in the Pentateuch for the events of the Exodus), it is difficult not to understand the Red Sea crossing to be a truly spectacular event that cannot be entirely accounted for through a “miracle of timing” through natural forces. What’s fascinating to me is that natural forces clearly are a part of all this – there’s a strong east wind for some reason! So I think this view is perfectly parsimonious with your point – there need be no hard distinction between miracles of God worked through natural phenomena and those that seem to go far and beyond what natural phenomena would normally do. God can and does do both – harnessing the creation and the forces he decreed, while also bringing to bear his own unique power to go even beyond his regular order. I don’t think God even makes much a distinction himself – however, we as humans can and do distinguish between acts of “providence” and those that involve truly unique, spectacular phenomena (like “cleaved” seas, walking on water, and the resurrection of the dead). And I think the Bible indicate that God, at times, intentionally goes above and beyond for the purposes of making a demonstration, a “show of force” if you will, so that his people will remember these particular points in the history of redemption. That doesn’t make the “everyday miracles” any less miraculous – it simply means that God knows we are inclined to take him for granted, and periodically he does something so “over the top” that there’s no missing the point. As one commentator (who I’d rather not name) said in the documentary, “It was something God did to blow their minds.”

    <font face=”inherit”>Of course, God’s reasons for performing a “spectacular miracle” are, in one sense, neither here nor there – the reason I hold to them (while not denying that there are also miracles involving the working natural </font>phenomena<font face=”inherit”> in the Exodus) is because the text of Scripture clearly describes them. Given that’s what the text states, and that the Bible clearly ascribes to God the power and wisdom necessary to perform such acts (as well as a clear </font>motivation<font face=”inherit”> to do so, in the case of the Exodus), I see no reason to prefer a “less spectacular” explanation. Cecil DeMille may not have given us the most accurate depiction, but in this particular case, I think the reason the story grabbed his artist’s mind is because it was </font><i style=”font-family: inherit;”>intended<font face=”inherit”> to do so – as Moses proclaimed to the nation at Sinai (</font>Deu<font face=”inherit”> 4:34), “</font>has any god ever attempted to go and take a nation for himself from the midst of another nation, by trials, by signs, by wonders, and by war, by a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, and by great deeds of terror, all of which the LORD your God did for you in Egypt before your eyes?