Too Enlightened To Believe?

"Raising of Jairus' Daughter" (detail) by Ilya Repin

“Raising of Jairus’ Daughter” (detail) by Ilya Repin

In the days when states of the United States were still “the colonies” and men wore powdered wigs, a new way of thinking captured the intelligentsia of the western world. “The miracle stories in the Bible and the lives of the saints may be quaint, entertaining, and even have symbolic meaning. But certainly we should not take them literally! Oh, God exists, for sure. But if the Creator made such a marvelous world, humming along according to the laws of nature which he designed, why would he ever step in and work against those rules? So let’s not be naive.”

Thomas Jefferson went so far as to take scissors and cut all the supernatural stories right out of his Bible, leaving only the moral teaching of Jesus. Others insisted on keeping their bible intact, but reading the miracle stories with a wink and a nod, just like they read Greek mythology. This movement, known as the Enlightenment, was just too sophisticated to take literally such primitive fantasy.

To tell the truth, the Enlightenment raised a very good question. Why would the creator of nature violate natural laws? Perhaps because not everything we experience in this fallen world is so “natural” after all.

The first chapter of the Book of Wisdom tells us that death is really not “natural.” God designed human beings to live forever. It was by the envy of the devil that death came into the world, and the spiritual death resulting from the sin of our first parents had a disastrous impact on all of creation. One of the foremost Enlightenment philosophers, Gottfried Leibniz, said that the world we live in was the best of all possible worlds. Genesis and the book of Wisdom beg to differ.

So perhaps God works miracles and defies seemingly “natural” laws to restore nature, to rescue his creation from the degradation and misery that sin has let loose in the world. Plus, in the case of truly natural laws, if He created nature, he is above nature. “Nature” comes from the Latin word for birth. Nature is that which has been born, which has come into existence. Our God, unlike the gods of the Greek and Roman myths, has no beginning or end. He was, He is, and He is to come. He is therefore transcendent, above nature, super-natural.

This is the point Mark’s gospel is making when it tells us about Jesus calming the storm, healing the woman with the flow of blood, and raising Jairus’ daughter (Mark 5:21-43). Standing in front of Jesus, we are in the presence of Mystery. He does not plead or conjure or recite incantations. He does supernatural things not through petition but by word of command. Sophisticated skepticism is a useless response to Him. So is fear. If I want to experience the saving, life-giving power that He offers me, the only useful and appropriate response is faith. Before the tragedies and challenges of life in this imperfect world, this is what faith says: “I can’t, He can, and I think I’ll let Him.”

Many children were ill in Palestine on that day. But Jairus believed that Jesus could do something about the sickness assaulting his daughter, and let him, despite the ridicule of his friends. Many adults physically touched Jesus on that day as he made his way through the crowd, but only one woman believed Jesus could heal her. She had the boldness to reach out and touch him with expectant faith, and healing power flowed out of him, changing her life forever.

If the Eucharist is truly the Body and Blood of this supernatural miracle worker, why don’t we see more healing, miracles, and sanctification going on in the lives of communicants?

Maybe it’s because many who shuffle forward in communion lines each Sunday are like the nameless people who bumped into Jesus in the square but were too busy to notice and too jaded to expect anything. Or maybe it’s because we’re just too “enlightened” to take such quaint Bible stories too seriously.

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  1. I always respond to the truth, whether I hear it, read it, or experience it. Thank you Dr. Marcellino D’Ambrosio, for telling the truth as it was meant to be realized!

  2. Catholic leadership like to say that they appeal to both reason and faith and that the two are not only compatible but necessary. However, is it truly reasonable to believe in any of the so-called “miracles” in the Bible? Why would a god instill the ability to reason in man only to require him to dispense with it in order to believe? Supposedly, Christ arose on the scene to reveal once and for all God to mankind and yet here we are over 2,000 years later and we are still as divided as ever.

    The rational, reasonable response is to say that even if there is a god he clearly has no interest in the affairs of mankind. Prayer has been shown scientifically to be of no avail and many of the natural phenomena that was once attributed to god has long since been shown to have merely natural explanations. We can use our brains to see that death, despair, suffering, etc., happen with impunity and that no amount of prayer or supplication has ever once made a difference in anyone’s life. Those who believe it has are misguided fools who attribute the supernatural to the ordinary, providence to happenstance. The mind simply attempts to make connections where there are none. Of course, it is almost comical (if it weren’t so sad) to hear Christians remark that unanswered prayers are simply God saying, “No”. We hear about things happening “in God’s time” to explain why one’s heartfelt prayer wasn’t answered. The mental gymnastics one has to perform to explain the reality of what is really going on here is mind-boggling.

    If God exists then he doesn’t care and, more importantly, there is no proof that he does – none. There is only subjective anecdotal “evidence” which is always based upon individual experiences. That is all and that is all there ever will be.

    To be a Christian means that one must leave his or her brain at the front door of the church. If that helps you get through life then I suppose no harm, no foul. For a thinking person, however, that “faith” is simply insufficient as it doesn’t answer anything: it’s just a cop-out from having to deal with the real truth: we are all we have.

    1. An interesting but highly questionable response, Thomas.

      You claim, ‘However, is it truly reasonable to believe in any of the so-called “miracles” in the Bible? Why would a god instill the ability to reason in man only to require him to dispense with it in order to believe?’

      The above quote shows a confusion regarding the concept of rationality. It claims that rationality applies only to arguments that end with non-theistic conclusions. If we define God as loving, how does reason negate a supernatural being (who loves) acting (for loving purposes) upon fallen and imperfect nature? Your a priori position (and hidden premise) is that the loving God does not exist.

      You confirm this position with scare quotes, later mockery (‘almost comical (if it weren’t so sad)’) and finally outright ad hominem (‘To be a Christian means that one must leave his or her brain at the front door of the church.’).

      The closest approximation of an argument you offer is a plea to “higher understanding” that already agrees with you: ‘The rational, reasonable response is to say that even if there is a god he clearly has no interest in the affairs of mankind.’

      If you have a rational argument that shows that you are correct, please supply it. If not then please reconsider how rational your position is actually.

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