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Science, Miracles and Christian Theology (I)
September 20, 2008, 4:06 pm
Filed under: Christian Doctrine, Epistemology, Science | Tags: , , , , ,

What is it for the world to be natural?  What is it for anything to be natural?


The natural is that which happens according to an internal principle of motion.  In this way it is natural for acorns to grow into oak trees.  But it is not natural for an oak tree to turn into an oak table.  Some outside principle of change must enter the scene: a carpenter.  The world is full of natural processes.  It is natural for water to evaporate, form clouds and then rain back to the earth.  It is natural for animals to mate and produce progeny.  It is natural for humans to get hungry and seek food.  These things happen according to the natural unfolding of things.


When you ask if it will rain, you are asking a natural question—a question concerning a natural process.  We don’t need to refer to secret spiritual agents who decide when it will rain.  We don’t need to dance for the rain gods.


But what of Christian prayer for rain?  If we believe rain is a natural process, how can we pray for rain?


Jesus says rain is a common grace of God. (Matt. 5:43-48)  It is a grace in the sense that it is a gift from God.  It is common in the sense that God brings rain to both the righteous and the unrighteous.  So, according to Jesus, droughts and floods are not special revelatory signs of God’s displeasure.


Because Israel was in a special national covenant with the Lord, with special blessings and curses attached to obedience and disobedience, Israel could interpret droughts and floods as signs of God’s curse.  {But notice also that, leading up to the Israel’s exile, false prophets pointed to Israel’s material wealth as a sure sign that God was pleased with them.  This wasn’t true.}  


But, generally speaking, we ought not read God’s pleasure or displeasure from the weather, or by extension, other kinds of natural processes.  Whatever good we receive, we can revive as common grace, and thank God for it.  And whatever bad we receive, we can receive as common curse.  What we ought not do is take these things as special revelations of God’s curse or blessing.  If you disagree with this, take it up with Jesus.


In this sense, according to the Christian picture of the world, God isn’t constantly tinkering with the weather so that Christians get good weather and the enemies of God get bad weather.  Yes, Jesus teaches that it isn’t God’s standard practice to interfere with natural processes like rain in answer to prayers.  This doesn’t mean that God is indifferent to our prayers or unable to answer.  No.  It only means that, generally speaking, natural processes like rain are a matter of common grace.


But, even if it is not God’s standard practice, doesn’t he answer a prayer for rain from time to time?  Sure. 


But would this involve a violation of natural law?  Natural processes are ordered according to laws—general principles.  Can God intervene these laws?  Does God ever break these laws?  If God acted specially in this way, would this count as an intervention or the breaking of natural law?


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