Miracles and Iron Ships
If God came into the world in the person of Jesus of Nazareth as the NT witness claims, that itself would be a profound miracle.
The Virgin Birth is fitting, then, for such an entrance. If Christ’s leaving the world was extraordinary why would we be surprised if his entrance was extraordinary?
Theoretical questions like, “Could he have entered another way?” miss the point. If we’re to be fair to the biblical Story we’ll want to know what it says, will want to understand its own inner logic, will not stand over against it questioning it at every point because that isn’t listening; it’s just a war of attrition. To deny anyone a fair hearing is a foundational blunder and it’s no less a blunder when approaching the biblical Story.
What, on theoretical terms, might be hard to accept becomes almost expected given the right context. Who would find it easy to believe that a man would spend the night in a brothel without being immoral? If he were a close friend of ours and a doctor, a man of known character and deep piety, it would be easy for us to believe it. And if we heard that one of the ladies there had sustained a serious injury, we would immediately nod our heads at the report of his having been there. “Of course,” we’d say, “and where else would he be?”
There’s no doubt in my mind that a fair and sympathetic listening to the whole biblical Story— even if in the end it’s reluctantly rejected—would enable people to expect miracles to be a part of the unfolding message. Hearing the Story as a whole we would be greatly surprised if there was no mention of miracles.
A world of physics and mathematics is a real ‘world’ and it isn’t a shock that such a world reveals no miracles. We call it a world of maths and physics because that’s what they deal with; we conceptually exclude miracles as “the out of the ordinary”. (Which is partly why Einstein refused to believe that at the sub-atomic level reality becomes “lawless”.) But that world is only one aspect of reality and mustn’t be regarded as all of it. What you wouldn’t expect in one realm might be perfectly at home in another without universal chaos resulting.
In the days when it was believed that sailing ships had to be made of wood, someone made the bold proposal that ships of iron would float. One blacksmith insisted that that was impossible and threw a horseshoe into a barrel of water. It sank and the blacksmith smiled—case proved! It’s easy to see the poor blacksmith didn’t give the proposal a fair hearing.
We’re not to treat the biblical Story that way.
The biblical testimony is this: on certain occasions when he thought it wise, the God, who manifested himself in and through Israel’s history and peculiarly in the man Jesus of Nazareth, worked miracles.