My latest post over at The Electric Agora.
While He spoke these things to them, behold, a ruler came and worshiped Him, saying, “My daughter has just died, but come and lay Your hand on her and she will live.” When Jesus came into the ruler’s house, and saw the flute players and the noisy crowd wailing, He said to them, “Make room, for the girl is not dead, but sleeping.” And they ridiculed Him. But when the crowd was put outside, He went in and took her by the hand, and the girl arose. And the report of this went out into all that land (Matthew 9:18, 23-26)
Did Christ really raise the girl from the dead?
Faith, it can seem, is to answer “yes” even though it seems unbelievable. As though even if we have no rational basis to believe Christ is the savior, we are compelled by Christ’s performance of the miracles to believe he is the savior. As if the miracles are proof of his grace and his power. The way clouds are proof of coming rain.
The difficulty with this view is apparent. The miracles cannot compel belief, since without belief the miracles don’t compel. Without prior belief and faith, statement of the miracles are just funny statements. Poetic at best. Confused at worst.
So what gives? If you already have faith, then you will believe the miracles. And if you don’t have faith, you won’t believe them. Faith seems to be prior to belief in the miracles, more fundamental.
And yet the miracles are the foundation of faith. Without them Christ is – as the humanists say – just a good person. Without the miracles, Christ’s message is basically morality. Which is fine, since moral living is good. But is spirituality the same as morality?
Morality concerns what we do, within the expectations of established and accepted norms. Spirituality goes beyond this. Morality is about being and doing good. Spirituality is about transformation.
The circle of belief and miracles is summed up by Jesus:
As the crowds increased, Jesus said, “This is a wicked generation. It asks for a sign, but none will be given it except the sign of Jonah. For as Jonah was a sign to the Ninevites, so also will the Son of Man be to this generation.“(Luke 11:29-30)
On the one hand, Christ says no sign – no miracles as proof of his Divinity – will be given to those asking for proof. But then, at the same time, he says that no sign will be given except the sign of Jonah. Which refers to His resurrection after three days, just as Jonah resurfaced after three days in the belly of the Whale.
So He will not give the proof that people want, except that His resurrection – His greatest miracle – shall the main proof? What if people don’t believe he did resurrect?
Here it can seem, as it does to many atheists, that Christ is engaging in the kind of double talk characteristic of religious talk. One wants to say: “Damn it! Just talk plainly. Back up your assertions with non-circular proof. That is just respecting your listener.”
This presupposes that the primary context of miracle talk must abide by the norms of proof. If the miracle is proved, then we can assert it. Otherwise not.
But the primary context of miracle talk, as of spiritual language generally, is not the context of proof. That is what Christ means by saying no proof will be given. Faith is a kind of balm, a soothing ointment for a wound. Of course it is rational for someone to say, “prove to me I have a wound, before i have to apply the ointment. Don’t force the ointment on me.” Christ himself agrees. Forcing faith on someone, even on oneself, is pointless and counter-productive.
The primary context of faith is affirmation of someone who (a) feels they are wounded, in pain, and (b) who feels Christ is the energy helping them through the pain. This is why Christ says no sign will be given except for the Sign of Jonah. Meaning: no sign will be given except as aid during each person’s spiritual transformation, which is symbolized by the resurrection.
Only one going through the transformation, and who realizes the futility of all else to help – money, prestige, thinking through the pain – and who then turns to Christ – by living in the present, surrendering all to Him – will know the reality of Christ’s miracles. That person, who has tried all else and is in despair and has given up hope and feels certain he is doomed to be broken, will know the miracle of rebirth when, in the midst of his pain, he sees the light and the hope of life on the other side of the pain. The miracle is to see that the pain is not just meaningless suffering and death, but part of a transformation into a fuller, greater and more real self.
“Well, why couldn’t Christ have just said that? Why do you have to interpret it this way?”
I am not interpreting what he said. Just making clear the context within which he spoke, and the context of those who converted and followed him. He wasn’t saying to random strangers, “I will be resurrected. Therefore you have to believe in me.”
He was speaking primarily to people who felt him helping them through the pains of their transformation. And secondarily, he was speaking to those who were trying to stop him because he was was a threat to their business of religion.
To the latter, he was saying that they won’t understand his signs until the process of transformation starts for them. Christ, unlike organized Christianity later on, was trying to convert others. He was simply minding his own business – of spiritual healing – and dealing with nonbelievers when they thrust themselves in his path.
The greatness of Christ – the essence of his message of faith in Him – consists exactly in this: “Focus on your personal transformation. Forget all else. Especially what others ought to do. Even what they ought to do regarding you. Whatever they do is for you just more material for your own transformation. Look not to them. But look within. Everything in you resists this change. But do it and you will see the miracle I am creating in your life right now. You don’t have to worry about miracles I did with others. Others are no matter to you. Look for me among them and you won’t find me. Look only to your needs – your deepest needs – and you will find me ever present with you.”
Are Matthew and Luke reporting the miracles like journalists? No. Or as giving proof? No. First and foremost, they are speaking from grace, from inspiration, from the joy and peace of finding Christ within their own lives.
Read the Bible in that spirit – and not in the spirit of the Christian trying to convert others or that of the atheist resisting conversion – and the miracles of Christs will speak personally to your unique path.
Or maybe it won’t. Which is fine. Maybe you are a Hindu or an atheist. Find that spirit in which ever way you do. Christ comes in all forms and languages, without any coercion. He is primarily what and and how you need Him. He is selfless that way. That is another of His miracles.