Nov 14 | Stumbling Over the Supernatural

I find it most fascinating to trace the movements of culture through a human being’s conception of reality and how reality relates to the mind. What I learned in Education for Ministry, above all other things, was that the movements of culture are really more like a pendulum than a straight line (and I wonder if this view is the marker of a truly post-Enlightenment child – perhaps even a neo-Medieval child). The ancient Greeks argued over whether there were ideas that existed beyond and past our ability to perceive them, and really, we’re in the same argument now. Each age that passes seems to be more heavily weighted to one side or another. I believe right now we’re living in a liminal space between two extremes, with Fundamentalism on one side and New Atheism (super-rational-materialism?) on the other. To claim that there are things we cannot see that yet exist may not be so controversial, but to claim that they have their own wills, operating completely independently from ours, is a little too much for some of them.

The Holiness movements in modern North America, particularly in the United States, were only the first in a long line of rebellions against the naming of rationalism as the highest truth (and, Kant would argue, good). I’m really not sure how I feel about them! On the one hand, they galvanized a people to proclaim the authority of God by joyfully shouting that miracles did still occur! On the other, the third incarnation of this movement was, in a way, our fruit of the knowledge of good and evil. We believed we knew the difference between right and wrong, good and evil, and our eyes were opened to the world around us in a new way. However, it led us into a terrible bondage – the sins we fed through colonization that we are still paying for in deserved but rather toxic guilt. Suffice to say that these movements threw old paradigms such as the predictability of the world and its unending service to unwritten and/or undiscovered laws of nature into question.

As I grow older I begin to look with more curiosity and – I’ll admit – not a little longing at movements like this, where everyone is sure that their everyday lives are touched by God, whereas I am always questioning. Although I am comfortable with uncertainty and am a meaning-maker out of necessity (as most humans are), it can be a great comfort and a sense of awe to be able to explain and fully consent intellectually to the notion that God intervenes explicitly and directly with humankind – however often it happens. I know, though, that I was never created to be such a person. I am a quiet doubter. My mind always mutters, “It can’t possibly be that simple.” I have found Marcus Borg sometimes to be helpful in the questioning of supernatural events. When asked to describe how Jesus healed, he writes that he does not know, but also that he does not think Jesus’ healings were fictional. Rather, he refers to them as “paranormal,” outside normal experience and difficult to explain. I always like to leave a little room for the Spirit to move and breathe. Do I believe God moves in these Holiness movements, which sometimes still occur on a smaller scale in the rapidly growing Pentecostal communities of the world? Absolutely – God moves in all things, and that’s what I mean when I call something a “movement.” Do I think that God intervenes supernaturally in some instances (but, as no-one can deny, not others?) I’m not sure. “Oh Lord, you know.”

leave a reply