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Systematic Theology - Volume I
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§ 2. The Possibility of Miracles.

This is of course denied by all those who do not make any distinction between God and nature. This is done by Spinoza and all his modern disciples. “Existimant,” says Spinoza, “Deum tamdiu nihil agere, quamdiu natura solito ordine agit; et contra, potentiam naturæ et causas naturales tamdiu esse oticsas, quam diu Deus agit; duas itaque potentias numero ab invicem distinctas imaginantur, scilicet, potentiam Dei et potentiam rerum naturalium, a Deo tamen certo modo determinatam.”592592De Miraculis, Tractatus Theologico-politicus, cap. iv.; Opera, edit. Jena, 1802, vol. i. p. 233. As he denies that there is any distinction between the power of God and the power of nature, he of course denies that there is any ground for the distinction between natural and supernatural events. “Leges naturæ universales,” he says, “mera esse decreta Dei, quæ ex necessitate et perfectione naturæ divinæ sequuntur. Si quid igitur in natura contingeret, quod ejus universalibus legibus repugnaret, id decreto et intellectui et naturæ divinæ necessario etiam repugnaret; aut si quis statueret, Deum aliquid contra leges naturæ agere, is simul etiam cogeretur statuere, Deum contra suam naturam agere, quo nihil absurdius.593593Ibid. p. 235. . . . . Ex his — sequitur, nomen miraculi non nisi respective ad hominum opiniones posse intelligi, et nihil aliud significare quam opus, cujus causam naturalem exemplo alterius rei solitæ explicare non possumus.594594Ibid. p. 236. . . . . Per Dei directionem intelligo fixum illum et immutabilem naturæ ordinem, sive rerum naturalium concatenationem. — Sive igitur dicamus, omnia secundum leges naturæ fieri, sive ex Dei decreto et directione ordinari, idem dicimus.595595Tractatus Theologico-politicus, cap. iii. ut supra, p. 192. The Pantheistic theory, therefore, which teaches “that the government of the world is not the determination of events by an extramundane intelligence, but by reason as immanent in the cosmical forces themselves and in their relations,”596596Strauss, Dogmatik, vol. ii. p. 384. precludes the possibility of a miracle.

It is only a modification of the same general view when it is said that although the world’s material and mental have a real existence, there is no causality out of God. Second causes are only the occasions or the modes in which the divine efficiency is exerted. This doctrine effectually excludes all distinction between the natural and the supernatural, between what is due to the immediate power of God and what is due to the efficiency of second causes. The operations of God, when uniform, we call laws, says Bretschneider; when rare or isolated, we call them miracles. The only difference is in our mode of viewing them. A third objection of the same general character is that miracles suppose separate, individual acts of the divine will, which is inconsistent with the nature of an absolute Being. “A God who performs individual acts, it is very clear, may be a person, but cannot be absolute. In turning Himself from one act to another, or now putting forth a certain kind of efficiency (the extraordinary), and then resting again, He does and is at one moment what He does not and is not at another, and thus falls into the category of the changeable, the temporary, and the finite. If we continue to regard Him as absolute, his working is to be conceived as an eternal act, simple and uniform in its nature as it proceeds from God, and only in the phenomenal world revealing its fulness in a series of various and changing divine operations.”597597Strauss, Dogmatik, vol. i. p. 59.

This is an objection which has already been repeatedly considered. All that need be said in answer to it at present, is that it proves too much. If valid against miracles, it is valid against the doctrine of a creation ex nihilo, against providence, against revelation, against prophecies, against hearing of prayer, and against all the operations of grace. In all these cases as much as in miracles, there is an assumption of direct agency on the part of God. And if such immediate agency implies separate acts of the divine will in one of these cases, it must in all the rest. So that if the objection be valid against miracles it is valid against the doctrine of a personal God, and the whole system of natural and revealed religion. Whatever evidence, therefore, we have for the being of God and for the reality of religion, we have also to prove that this objection is sophistical, founded on our ignorance of the mode in which the infinite Being reveals and manifests Himself in the finite. Nothing is more certain than that God does act everywhere and always, and nothing is more inscrutable than the mode of his action.

A fourth objection to miracles is founded on the deistical theory that the relation of God to the world is analogous to that of a mechanist to a machine. A mechanist has no occasion to interfere in the working of an engine which he has made, except to correct its irregularities; so if God interferes in the natural order of events as produced by the secondary causes which He has ordained, it can only be because of the imperfection of his work. As this cannot be rationally admitted, neither can the doctrine of miracles, which supposes such special interference, be admitted. This objection is answered by showing that the relation of God to the world is not that of a mechanist to a machine, but of an everywhere-present, all-controlling, intelligent will. The doctrine of miracles, therefore, is founded on the doctrine of theism, that is, of an extramundane personal God, who, being distinct from the world, upholds and governs it according to his own will. It assumes, moreover, that second causes have a real efficiency to which ordinary events are proximately due; that the divine efficiency does not supersede those causes, but upholds and guides them in their operations. But at the same time this almighty and omnipresent Being is free to act with or without or against those causes, as he sees fit; so that it is just as consistent with his nature and with his relation to the world that the effects of his power should be immediate, i.e., without the intervention of natural causes, as through their instrumentality. That this is the true Scriptural doctrine concerning God and his relation to the world cannot be disputed. It is admitted even by those who deny the truth of the doctrine. “Die ganze christliche Anschauung von dem Verhältniss Gottes zur Welt, von Schöpfung, Vorsehung und Wunder bezeugt diess (namely, that the Absolute is a person). Der Persönlichkeit ist freier Wille wesentlich; die Freiheit verwirklicht sich in einzelnen beliebigen Willensacten: durch einen solchen hat Gott die Welt geschaffen, durch eine Reihe von solchen regiert er sie, durch solche Acte greift er auch ausser der Ordnung seiner continuirlichen weltlenkenden Thätigkeit in die Weltordnung ein.598598Strauss, Dogmatik, vol. i. p. 58.


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