Miracles

Then Jesus began to denounce the towns in which most of his miracles had been performed, because they did not repent.  “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes.  But I tell you, it will be more bearable for Tyre and Sidon on the day of judgment than for you.  And you, Capernaum, will you be lifted to the heavens? No, you will go down to Hades.[e] For if the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Sodom, it would have remained to this day.  But I tell you that it will be more bearable for Sodom on the day of judgment than for you.”

–          Matthew 11:20-24

 

“When I was growing up, no one I knew talked about miracles much, if at all.  The church we went to every Sunday in New York City – in Corona, Queens – was not a place where priests discussed miracles.  Miracles were something that happened a long time ago, if they ever had really happened.  But if they had happened back then, why they didn’t still happen was not something anyone ever questioned or spoke about either.  It was just a sort of sad truth that everyone acknowledged in how they behaved, in how they didn’t talk about the possibilities of miracles.  Our not talking about it was part of the larger sadness, but that sadness was just part of the way things were, as far as we all knew.”

–          Eric Metaxas, Miracles

 

As promised when I posted “Conditions for Miracles” on 5 January, I am writing about miracles for a few days.  I was reading C. S. Lewis’ Miracles.  I followed that with Eric Metaxas’ Miracles.  Some book reviews state that Metaxas provides a fresher, more modern view than that of C. S. Lewis.  I could agree in some ways, but there are some key differences.

 

One of the basic differences alludes to the critique mentioned above.  The language is considerably different.  I doubt if C. S. Lewis would mind the ‘updated version’ of Metaxas.  He talked of changing language in one of his other books.  In his first letter in Lewis’ book Letters to Malcolm, Chiefly on Prayer, Lewis writes to Malcolm about the liturgy of the church and the language within that liturgy.  By the way, Malcolm is a fictional character.  In this first letter, Lewis writes about two good reasons, among the not-so-good, for changing the liturgy.  Those two reasons are: “that of modernizing the language in the interests of intelligibility, and that of doctrinal improvement.”

 

Of course, today, doctrinal improvement is in the eye of the beholder.  The so-called improvements made to many church denomination’s doctrine has led to the destruction of the denomination or the impotency of a lukewarm collection of churches.

 

But as language evolves over time, a rewrite of an old book makes that topic fresh for a new generation.  As there are some similarities between these two books of the same title, the modernizing of the language in the interests of intelligibility are quite welcome.  It would not be dumbing down that quote to say, ‘making the language of the text easier to understand.’  When you read C. S. Lewis, have a dictionary nearby and expect a word or two that will not be in that dictionary.  Lewis was a college professor of literature.  He often writes precisely, but in compound/complex sentences.  In some ways, he is like the Apostle Paul at Paul’s best.  Paul will have very long sentences, but if you took small nibbles at each part of the sentence, it becomes easier to understand.  Divide and conquer, so to speak, but the compound / complex sentences become very precise in their meaning.

 

I was on contract to rewrite an operating manual for a large production facility.  The designers were German and the users were American.  There were two barriers to communication.  First, there was the German-English versus the American-English problems.  The Germans fail to understand much of the American’s idioms, etc.  Secondly, the Germans are very precise, technical people.  They use a lot of words like Lewis’ “intelligibility.”  My requirement was that each paragraph had to read at the 11th grade level or easier.  I accomplished the feat in record time, but the customer sent back rewrites of his own.  One complex topic originally read at a grade level of 32 on the Flesch-Kincaid scale.  I chopped it up, creating a list with bullets at one point.  The result was 10.8.  The customer manager didn’t like the way it sounded when read, so he suggested a new paragraph, one single sentence with a Flesch-Kincaid number of 36.  The customer gets what he wants, even when he’s wrong.

 

This example is part of what Lewis talks about in his first letter to Malcom.  Language is easier or harder to understand based on education, the language of the time, and other factors.

 

With this in mind, I find many of Lewis’ heady works difficult to read to the point of causing headaches, but when you take the time to break it down, his teaching points are beautifully and precisely made.  You simply have to want to get something out of the text at times.

 

As for the comparison of the two books, they both start with the same concept.  They define what miracles are.  They define why miracles happen.  And they define how miracles can change your life.  This is on the cover of my copy of the Metaxas book, but there are clear parallels with Lewis.  Lewis takes longer to get there, while Metaxas uses just a third of the text to get to examples of miracles today.  Lewis spends very little time on miracles today.  His focus ends with the miracles of the Bible.

 

Both books break down miracles into different categories.  Lewis broke them down into Fertility, Healing, Destruction, Dominion over the Inorganic, Reversal, and Perfecting / Glorification.  He further divided miracles into the Old Creation and the New Creation.  Lewis postulates that upon the greatest miracle, that of the Resurrection, the rules have suddenly changed.  Metaxas spends even more time discussing the Resurrection as the greatest miracle.  When he gets to modern miracles, he breaks them down into miracles of conversion, healing, inner healing, angelic, touching eternity, and a miscellaneous chapter.

 

At this point, I don’t know where this is going or how many posts will come from it, but we need to look at this.

 

He replied, “Because you have so little faith. Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.”

–          Matthew 17:20

 

We sell ourselves short and make our God into a god with a small ‘g’ due to our lack of faith.  A distant cousin of mine is famous for creating a Bible that had all the references to miracles cut from the pages.  These posts may only accomplish one thing, to prove that I disagree.

 

 

5 Comments

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  1. Mark, I am looking forward to this. You know, in our work, we happen to be Cessasionists, and I am okay with that in most ways. I do have some issues, though, with how we have damaged the work of the Holy Spirit in our quest for “doctrinal purity.” Meaning, in some quarters there are those who seem to have taken the active and real working of the Holy Spirit from our work. I recall a few years back having a semi-contentious conversation with my dear Mother in Law, who I love dearly incidentally. Someone had used the word, “miracle” while teaching or something’ I don’t recall the exact details. She was adamant that, “miracles don’t happen anymore; that all went away.” I had to gently ask her if God had lost His power or what? What she was trying to express was the Cessasionist idea that God has not chosen to use his representatives today to perform these miraculous sign gifts. But, she had gotten wrapped up in thinking that God Himself no longer performs miraculously. It’s an issue, and has resulted in the near quenching of the Holy Spirit among some congregations.

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