Against the laws of nature?
Ask a Pastor
It's evident that violations of the laws of nature do not occur in our universe. Christianity depends on the existence of events that violate those laws. How can an intelligent human being be a Christian? -- Bob Lawrence, Chicago.
Anne: I assume you're referring to the resurrection of Jesus, the central event of the Christian faith. It does violate the laws of nature as we define them: dead people stay dead. You could also include the virgin birth as another event, central to our faith and part of our creed, that just doesn't make sense. And yet, many intelligent people persist in believing this nonsense. Why?
I could argue that there is a kind of intelligence that goes beyond the purely rational. I could contend that it takes great intelligence and analytical depth to negotiate a theology full of paradox, grey area and creative tension. That's all true, but it misses the larger point.
You don't have to be intelligent to be a Christian. The Christian family includes the greatest thinkers of all time and people with severe intellectual disabilities and neither has the edge on the other when it comes to faith. Faith is a gift from God. It's not something we get by our own intelligence, good works or effort.
I baptized a baby yesterday. He's a very smart baby, but he doesn't understand baptism, communion, the resurrection, the virgin birth, or any other central event or practice of Christianity. And yet, in his baptism, God gave him the gifts of faith, grace and forgiveness. As this baby gets older, his understanding of these things will grow and change, and at some point he'll probably wonder why he should believe in something that seems so contrary to human reason. With the Spirit's help, he may find he's drawn to Christianity because it doesn't make sense, because it is about something bigger and more powerful and more wonderful than human reason and intelligence. Whether he's intelligent or not, God has given him the gift of faith, a gift beyond human understanding.
Neddy: It is true that the Bible has many stories that appear as if God is violating the laws of nature. Since I just can't doubt God's existence (God has just shown me enough signs of his loving presence in my life), what I have asked myself is: Why would a creator God violate the laws of his already awesome creation to convince us of his presence and love for us?
I really don't have a definite answer for that question yet. The only ones I have heard that kind of make sense to me are: God is not done with his creation yet; we cannot say we know all the laws of his creation, so nothing should surprise us. Perhaps God wants us to believe that with love, anything can happen. God is love, and God is the creator also, so God can do whatever God wants with his creation to complete it.
In my own spiritual life, I have had dreams and premonitions leading my life journey which I have no way of understanding "scientifically." I think there is a way of knowing God that can only be experienced when we allow mystery and wonder to fill our lives. Reason is just one way of knowing, but there are others, too. Reason is also faulty in its own way. If scientists later come up with another reason for things, then our theory falls. The other answer may be that God has never tried to impress us at all; God is just being God and doing what God needs to do to lead his creation to a state of real peace.
I do not doubt the possibility that Jesus could calm a storm, be born of a virgin Mary, be resurrected after death, and heal the sick with a touch or even long distance. These types of stories were common during his time. He was not the only one with special powers. The question in the minds of the people was: What is the source of his miracles? Today, we may also wonder what is the source when miracles happen. Science has one way of explaining it, and it may be right, but we know the source of all blessing is God after all. You may find a different answer to your question just by "feeling" God, rather than trying to "understand" God first.
David: Bob, Thank you for your wonderful question. Let me begin by saying that I do not believe that anyone can be convinced by logic to come to faith. And I am not out to convince you of the reasonableness of the Christian faith -- because I believe it to be inherently unreasonable to believe in a crucified God.
And yet, there are otherwise intelligent, reasonable people who count themselves as Christian. Why? I can't offer an answer for anyone else beside myself, so here is my answer: I have experienced something greater, something beyond the laws of nature. I know that I can't fully explain it to someone on the outside looking in, but the experience is there nonetheless. And that experience is tied to the God who is identified as the father of Jesus.
I don't believe that this faith of mine requires me to believe that the laws of the nature are invalid or not to be trusted. I don't believe that this faith requires me to reject reason and science. What I do believe is that there is something bigger than it all.
Do you have a question you'd like answered by an ELCA pastor? Email us your question, and you might see it answered by one of our pastors. You can also find out more about our pastors on our "Bios" page. LivingLutheran.com offers a platform for ELCA members to share their diverse experiences of what it means to live Lutheran.
You might also want to read:
Seeing is not always believing
Why the virgin birth matters