God invokes nature – is it still a miracle?

God is bigger than His miracles. If that were not so, he would be merely a “God of the gaps”. If God were responsible merely for the events science cannot explain then what would become of Him as science explains more and more?

…the idea of an immanent God, which is the God of evolution, is infinitely grander than the occasional wonder-worker, who is the God of an old theology.
(Henry Drummond, theologian, Boston, 1893)

There was a time when Creation was understood differently and therefore attributed to God. Just because we now better understand the Origin of Man does not, for me, make it any less of a miracle. And the scientific explanation for the rainbow does nothing to lessen my wonder at this gift from God.

Now scientists from the US National Center for Atmospheric Research have conducted a study into the Exodus account of the parting of the Red Sea (probably the Reed Sea). They’ve run weather simulations over an area of the Nile Delta as it might have been several thousand years ago:

The computer simulations show that a strong east wind, blowing overnight, could have pushed water back at a bend where an ancient river is believed to have merged with a coastal lagoon along the Mediterranean Sea. With the water pushed back into both waterways, a land bridge would have opened at the bend, enabling people to walk across exposed mud flats to safety. As soon as the wind died down, the waters would have rushed back in.
(Carl Drews and Weiqing Han, 21 September)

According to the model, a storm force wind (55 knots) blowing from the east for 12 hours “would have pushed back waters estimated to be six feet deep. This would have exposed mud flats for four hours, creating a dry passage about 2 to 2.5 miles long and 3 miles wide”. Find the report in full here.

So, possibly, another miracle is explained. I reject the argument that suggests God had no part to play. I choose to accept He is the hand behind nature. For me this remains a miracle. As Henry Drummond pondered, our Creator is indeed an “immanent God”. I had to look word this up… it means He dwells within the universe and time; not outside it. He does not interfere with the laws of nature. He created them. (See comments for more)

What’s more… He has already offered an explanation – broadly consistent with the scientists’ – for what happened:

Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and all that night the Lord drove the sea back with a strong east wind and turned it into dry land. The waters were divided, and the Israelites went through the sea on dry ground, with a wall of water on their right and on their left. The Egyptians pursued them, and all Pharaoh’s horses and chariots and horsemen followed them into the sea…
…The water flowed back and covered the chariots and horsemen—the entire army of Pharaoh that had followed the Israelites into the sea. Not one of them survived.
(Exodus 14v21-23&28)

Is Allah God?

Malaysia has confiscated 10,000 Bibles, because they refer to God as Allah. Apparently this may upset Muslims. No doubt there are aspects of all religions that many people, of all religions and none, might find offensive.

It is a key factor of belief that there is no universal philosophy held by all and known to be true. Religious beliefs are a matter of faith because doubt must have its place. Faith without doubt cannot be true faith.  One who does not doubt may claim to know; but not all knowledge is true! Read John Ortberg on “Faith and Doubt” for more on this.

Koran/Bible

What do we call God?

All the monotheistic Abrahamic religions have in common the belief in one God. A single Creator and Ruler of all.

The word used in Arabic for God is Allah. No surprise then that God should choose to be known as Allah in the Koran in His revelation to the Arabic-speaking Prophet Muhammad. But for Muslim believers, the Allah of the Koran is also the God of the Christian and Jewish Scripture. So why all the fuss?

Well Arabic is not the first tongue for Malays. So are the Christians seeking to win over Muslims by adopting the Arabic expression for God? Perhaps there might be an element of proselytising. I don’t know. But I do understand that Islam is the largest official religion of Malaysia, so the word “Allah” is widely understood to mean God. In the UK, we use the word “God” and even many Muslims will use this word interchangeably with “Allah”. Certainly “Allah” is the word Arabic-speaking Christians will have used before the dawn of Islam.

It’s a circular argument. Allah is God. God is Allah. It’s much more important to consider who is God/Allah than what we call Him. I imagine most Muslims in Malaysia feel the same. Just don’t say Jehovah!

Bible Top Ten

Let’s start with the bottom ten.

The Ship of Fools recently published “Chapter & Worse“, the ten worst verses of the Bible. Check it out for bemusement or to confirm any prejudices you already have about what a nasty piece of work the Bible is. For me it’s difficult to reconcile the enormous influence the Christian movement had on the abolition of slavery with St Peter’s exhortation to slaves to submit to their masters! See 1 Peter 2v18, the last of the listed ten worst verses.

The Bible is a library, of course; it contains a varied selection of books. Some books are more challenging than others, particularly in the consideration of some individual verses as outlined by the Ship of Fools.

All Scripture is God-breathed
(2 Timothy 3v16)

So what does that mean for us? There’s an interesting feature here about that particular verse. It explores a number of other sources that are drawn upon within the Biblical canon. It is a difficult area, but it is without doubt that there is a wealth of wisdom and knowledge contained within it. Even if you question some of it, it remains a remarkable historical document and much of the writing is legendary.

 

"God-breathed"

"God-breathed"

I wonder what books I would include if I needed to draw up a shorter canon? I can’t imagine how that need would arise, but it would be an interesting exercise to envisage what a top ten of the Bible might look like. I’m not talking here about a pure top ten; not ten standalone works of inspired God-breathed literary genius. I’m thinking ideally of a top ten that might best encapsulate what the Bible stands for and what it means. It’s not easy, but here’s my attempt:

Genesis – The story of creation and the beginning of all things. It’s difficult to justify the entirety of Genesis as literary truth, but theologically it’s crucial.

Exodus – The beginning of Judaism and the Law. Much of it boring and repetitive, but surely a necessary part of the wider story.

Samuel (both parts) – Another important part of the Jewish story, the lives of Saul, David and Solomon in particular. Early ideas of the authority of God invested in the state.

Isaiah – A prophecy which brings meaning to the Gospel truth.

Daniel – A wonderful story of trust and faith. More prophecy, much of it still to come.

Luke – The most comprehensive single work on the life of Jesus.

John – A different perspective of Jesus, concentrating more on who He was than what He did.

Acts – the birth of the church. Miracles abound. The Big Bang of Christianity.

Romans – Much to my frustration, the only part of St Paul’s work I have space to include, but surely his best(?) A great exposition of what it means to be Christian and what that walk is all about.

James – Very practical advice written by the brother of Jesus Himself. How to manage temptation and live out our faith in a way that truly helps others. The manual on Jesus’ call to love others as ourselves.

Well, these are my thoughts. Controversial, no doubt. They’re not the ten foremost Christian texts, but perhaps together they provide context for each other. They’re the ones I’d recommend to someone who’d read none of it or who knew none of it.

I stand ready to be corrected!