A Christian Worldview of God, Day 4

In order to show God, some contemporary novelists have inserted the supernatural into their stories. Ted Dekker comes to mind. In Heaven’s Wager, one of the character’s has visions of what is to happen in the lives of her daughter, grandson, and son-in-law. As a result, she begins a daily, solitary prayer march which, along with her odd choice of garb, makes her look nuts—to the protagonist, definitely, but to the reader as well, because we aren’t privy to the subject matter of her visions until the end.

In three of her books, Brandilyn Collins had a protagonist, Chelsea Adams, who saw visions. Chelsea didn’t appear nuts by her behavior, but within the story, those confronted with her visions reacted to her as if she wasn’t mentally stable.

In Peace Like a River by Leif Enger, the protagonist’s father sees visions perhaps but also performs miracles. Not in the capacity of a televangelist, or anything, but he walks off the bed of a truck without falling, brings his dead baby to life, and the like.

What does the miraculous in fiction reveal about God? I’m not sure it does. When the characters do something or experience something so other that sets them apart from the reading public, I can’t help but think most readers will chalk up the events as fictitious devices.

Much like I did in the movie “The Sixth Sense.” After seeing that movie, I actually gave very little thought to the supernatural aspect. Of course, it was built to surprise, and the author engineered the end twist so effectively, understanding how he pulled it off became my main focus. Still, I doubt very many viewers came away thinking the supernatural elements were indeed real.

Perhaps I’m off on this. The thing is, miracles are … well, not common. That’s why we call them miracles. If they were part of the routine of life, we wouldn’t see them as out of the ordinary.

“Oh, did you hear about Betty’s nephew?”

“The poor ten year old with MS?”

“Yep, except he doesn’t have MS any more. Healed. Betty’s pastor stopped by with three elders, prayed, and the boy is back to one hundred percent.”

“Just like my cousin Janice. She had cancer, you know, but the doctors say there isn’t a trace left and cancelled the treatments they had scheduled for her.”

“She’s so fortunate. My Uncle Bob went through all the chemotherapy, lost his hair, was so sick and miserable, then had to die before he was restored.”

“That would be hard. My husband Dan died from a heart attack last year. Thankfully he wasn’t sick for months and months.”

“Dan died? I didn’t realize that.”

“He was better the next day, so we didn’t have a chance to tell everyone.”

You get the drift. Miracles are not common.

I wonder if the miraculous in fiction, rather than showing God, actually might not obscure Him further.

Published in: on November 17, 2006 at 8:16 am  Comments (21)  

21 Comments

  1. The whole miracle thing, “this one’s healed” or “that one’s marriage is saved,” that’s fine. I know people who have experienced this and I’m so happy for them.

    But non-believers or people who are seeking/curious know that life is not always like that. And those who have not had the miracle happen to them know that life is not like that.

    So, how do believers, fiction or real-life, react to pain? If Christians are portrayed as always getting their way, how does that reflect real life? Children are not healed. Loved ones are in accidents and are maimed. Mental illness is struggled with for the remainder of people’s lives.

    In light of this, how do *we* portray the long dark road that life sometimes brings? This can be portrayed realistically or in Fantasy/Fiction.

    Dan Weaver has a wonderful horror novel addressing this; from what I remember, it involved a man who was tortured by demons and his past.

    Believers, seekers and non-believers ALL need to think about what happens when a person does not receive that miracle.

    Thank you so much for having the guts to post this!

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  2. I think it is important that we identify the biblical definition of miracle, as the word is tossed around liberally these days. Miracles were supernatural events performed by men, powered by God, for the express purpose of validating their ministry/preaching as the word of God. Thus, a seemingly failed marriage pulled from the brink of collapse is not a miracle in the biblical sense, nor is the birth of a baby or a recovery from cancer. These things would more likely fall under the providence of God.

    Second, and this applies to stories in contemporary settings like Becky cited, miracles ceased once we had the complete revealed word of God (1 Cor 13). Not to mention that the Bible clearly shows that the miraculous gifts of the Holy Spirit were only given to the apostles and those who the apostles laid hands on. As there are no more apostles and we have the Bible, there can be no more miraclous gifts. I would be more than hesitant to introduce miracles into a contemporary story for fear of perpetuating a false doctrine that runs rampant in today’s religious circles. That’s one of the reasons I prefer using fantastical settings in combination with my fantastical events, so there is no confusion about my contemporary worldview.

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  3. Sorry, Kameron. The theology you object to is not wrapped up as tightly as you perceive. It is your choice to assess it as such and believe as you do, but many people (and I’m not talking hyper-faith, name and claim its, etc.) see the Scriptures quite differently than you do and have experienced God’s present day miracles. They love and serve the Lord Jesus Christ.
    Miracles in fiction can show the abundance and unboxed character of our God who is uncontrolled by human demand, insistence, and lack of imagination. If they’re used to “fix” everything that is wrong, it’s like cheating. If they’re used to show that He exceeds our every expectation, they can be an effective tool.

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  4. heh heh heh. I am soooo glad I have no time for Internet discussions any more.

    They are so doggoned tempting, aren’t they? But fear not, Kameron, you are safe from me.

    🙂

    I greatly enjoyed the thought-provoking post, Becky.

    At the same time. . . I don’t go through closets into other worlds and I don’t outsmart criminal masterminds and save my parents from death. But I love reading (and writing) books where such things occur.

    So how does that fit in? I believe that in a perfect world wild adventures are waiting in the wardrobe and kids win over oppressors and God heals everybody every time. One day we will live in such a world (only so much better because there will be no oppressors and no illness and it will all be one great big adventure) so. . .can it be that the fiction we read now draws our heart to that heavenly place?

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  5. This is such a thought-provoking topic. And very timely as well. If you picture the time when Jesus walked the earth and the miracles that he performed. . .well picture all of those people that lived during that time that walked past Him, didn’t realize who he was or didn’t Believe who he was. There were plenty who were never healed even by Him. . .due to their lack of faith. So nothing much has changed. There are people walking around today, Christians even, that aren’t seeing Jesus, aren’t seeing the miracles, aren’t receiving the miracles.

    It saddens me that so many Christians think that God is no longer in the business of miracles. Did you know that there are plenty of people here in America who have received supernatural miracles? But even more interesting is that other countries, especially third world cultures where people are DESPERATE for God, they are seeing miralces left and right. Just like during the time of Jesus.

    Now, if you are of the theology that God no longer performs miracles, or that we, Christians, Jesus’s disciples who are commanded to heal the sick and cast out demons, if you are of theology that says that is no longer the way, then you’ve boxed yourself into a place where you have to give the credit to someone other than God when faced with a miracle. And that is a dangerous place to be.

    I love all of the fiction with miralces now. In fact, I keep wondering why as Christians we can’t put miracles in our stories, because they DO happen. One of my favorite books is Ted Dekker’s the Blessed Child. I think he goes a long wway in stating the reasons for our lack of faith and our inability to experience God’s healing and miracles.

    Our own dear friend, Brandilyn Collins, experienced a documented miracle. Have you forgotten that?

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  6. I agree that God still performs miracles. I’ve seen it. But what about when He chooses not to. Isn’t it just as important if not more important to write about that?

    What about when there is no lack of faith, people have followed all the rules and a miracle still does not take place?

    What about the people that Jesus never saw and never got healed? Does that mean that He cared less for them or that they didn’t have enough faith?

    Joni Erickson Tada is still paralyzed. She has never been healed but God has chosen to use her in ministry to people with special needs.

    I have a dear friend with a severely autistic son. He will be institutionalized for the rest of his life. She is one of the godliest people I know and has greater faith than I will ever experience myself. So is her son not healed because of her lack of faith and inability to experience God’s healing and miracles?

    While I agree that a lack of faith can cause us not to experience healing and miracles, some who have more than enough faith do not experience these things and the world is dying literally to find out how to live through that.

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  7. The occurrence of miracles can be related to faith as the Scriptures clearly show. However, having great faith, such as your precious friend, does not guarantee her a miracle, but generally speaking it guarantees her a closer relationship with her Lord. People with zero faith have been healed and experienced a miracle. Do we question God’s decisions? Yes, sometimes we do because of our personal great need(s), we ask why not me or him or her? Sometimes we get an explanation, and sometimes the only answer we get from the Lord is simply His promise to never leave us or forsake us. He didn’t introduce sin into this world, but still He sent a Savior as the remedy. Sometimes life is all about endurance. It is a race, a fight. Always requiring something of us. Sacrifice, pain. The joy of the Lord is supposed to be our strength. That joy of the Lord was gained only through his brutal death.
    Miracles cannot be explained so how can we hope to explain when, where, and how God elects to do them? Writers should write what God wants them to write, and, miracles or not should depend totally on His instruction.

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  8. I agree with you, Nicole. I also agree that a miracle should not be used to “fix” a problem.

    Is that Deus Ex Machina? ???? Right? ???? (This subject keeps coming up to me.)

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  9. Perhaps we do not see miracles because so many of us stop believing they happen. Jesus himself was not able to perform great things in a city where the faith for such was lacking.

    I think we’ve all read of some missionary or other who has experienced the miraculous among people who, perhaps not so educated as Westerners, nevertheless BELIEVE God can do exactly what he in the past has done.

    I am somewhere in the middle. I would be and pray to see more miracles in my oh-so-blase society. I’d love to see God raise up those who will do things in his name that will shake off the complacency.

    But I also do not expect the commonplaceness of the miraculous. I expect that when the last days of the latter days actually is here, miracles will again happen, even as prophecies and vision will increase.

    Since I write in the genre of the fantastical, my genre sees the miraculous as normative. I have no isssues with the use of miracles. Fiction tends toward the dramatic, and miracles are dramatic. If a miracle in fiction makes someone consider true miracles within their context, that is good. If it points them to a reality that allows for this, good. But it’s just another dramatic tool to me. I believe in miracles, past and future and present. So, I feel free to use the miraculous.

    Mir

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  10. God used miracles to fix problems. I have no problems with deus ex machina if the “deus” has been established in the fictional world. It’s all about execution and set-up.

    Mir

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  11. This really is a terrific discussion. I want to give my thoughts about most of these comments in my next post.

    Chris, one of yours came through twice—well, with a slight variation—so I hope; you don’t mind, but I deleted the second one.

    Mir, I agree with you about deus ex machina and am so glad you said this. I think it has become one of those Browne-and-King-bible rules: a guideline presented in their editing fiction book that has become a “thou shalt not.”

    If someone other, like Aslan, let’s say, is well established, set up to be believable to the story world, foreshadowed correctly so the surprise does not read as a contrivance, then such a character, such a rescue, adds and does not detract.

    The caution is, creating such a character is difficult. The pitfall that is so easy to tumble into is giving the readers the feeling that the author is manipulating events and bringing rescuers on stage at just the right time. It calls attention to the author, in other words.

    I learned this as a reader back in high school when we were studying Thomas Hardy, a proponent of Fate. At the end of … Return of the Native I think it was, when Fate intervenes once again to keep the young lovers apart (I don’t remember the story actually, just that it ended badly), I was exasperated and wrote about it (which is why I remember it at all).

    So rule of thumb for writers, similar to the Biblical admonition to fathers, Don’t exasperate your readers. 😉

    Becky

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  12. Well, my fave classic novels uses that sort of stuff. Jane Eyre. What, she goes off and just happens to be rescued by…cousins she didn’t know she had. And just happens to have a supernatural event that changes her actions. Just happens to have a relative die and leave her a fortune.

    That’s a lot of Deus ex Machina-ting. And it works for me, and for, apparently, many generations of readers and filmmakers. Jane Eyre is still being read and being adapted and performed.

    So, screw the rules. I like happy instrusions of the miraculous or coincidental as long as the writing is good and I’m rooting for the protagonist. It’s when the writing stinks or the protagoinist is a dolt that such unbelievable coincidence or acts of providence wear. But a master storyteller can make anytihng work.

    Mir

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  13. I appreciate Becky allowing me to take this discussion somewhat off-topic. I won’t be around next week, but if anyone wants to continue the discussion, please email me and I’ll respond once we return home after the holiday.

    I’d like to establish some common ground before we continue. My faith is based on the unconditional acknowledgement that the Bible–from Genesis to Revelation–is the inspired word of God,
    and thus *the* authority on all spiritual matters. I know there
    are those who profess to be Christian that do not hold to this view. This is not the venue for proving the inspiration and authority of the Bible, so if you do not agree with me on this point, the rest of what I am going to say will be moot. My church has several lessons and articles on these topics that can be read/downloaded from their website. I would point you there.

    The following links are also to articles from that website concerning spiritual gifts. For the sake of space, I have decided to link to them to save space and spare those who aren’t interested: Are miracles being performed today?, Shall we pray for the sick?, Has that which is perfect come?. There are a few other related articles that can be found by looking in the site’s archives under “miracles” and “spiritual gifts”.

    I think I’m butting up against the word limit per post, so I’m going to use a separate comment to address something Mir said.

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  14. “Jesus himself was not able to perform great things in a city where the faith for such was lacking.”

    Can you tell me in the Bible I can find this, Mir? I am not familiar with this particular passage/event in the Scriptures. I submit that this may be a misinterpretation, as it would indicate that Jesus was not, in fact, deity. That would mean that the Bible contradicts itself, for there are passages that clearly state Jesus retained his divinity while on earth. It would also mean that God is a liar and the author of confusion.

    The state of someone’s heart has never stopped the power or the plan of God. Pharaoh is a prime example. And I am aware of instances where Jesus refused to perform a miracle because of the perversion of the current generation, or in order to make a point. This is quite different than Jesus being unable to perform a miracle.

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  15. Kameron, I assumed Mir was referring to the incident in Nazareth recorded in Matt. 13. And He did not do many miracles there because of their unbelief. (v. 58) I think you’re right in your conclusion that this does not mean He was not able. But, I think how Man’s faith interacts with sovereign God is one of those subjects we cannot comprehend because we are not soverign God.

    Jesus chose to limit Himself by taking on the form of Man and subjecting Himself to death. Scripture is clear that He gave up His throne in Heaven. God is omnipresent, but the physical Jesus was limited to one place at a time. None of these voluntary limits contradict Jesus’s deity.

    So, if He chose to limit Himself according to the faith of the people with whom He dealt, I do not see this as a contradiction to His deity either.

    Becky

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  16. Mark Chapter 6, NIV:
    5He could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them. 6And he was amazed at their lack of faith.

    Same verse, NAS:
    5And He could do no miracle there except that He (K)laid His hands on a few sick people and healed them.

    ESV: 5And he could do no mighty work there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and healed them. 6And he marveled because of their unbelief.

    However one wants to interpret it–and like Kameron, I believe the Bible is God’s true word, although I’m not convinced that “the perfect” is referring to the complete text of the Bible, though certainly I grew up with that interpretation–the fact is that unbelief on the part of the people restrained what could be done, whether because God refused to act for those who would not open their hearts, or because there was some other effect which is a mystery. He “could not do” because of “unbelief.” Something in unbelief is limiting in this context, however one looks at it. That’s the way it reads.

    The language of “the perfect” is just too vague to speak with authority that it refers to the Bible (which, given the insertions and debates about what this or that means, one might say is not exactly perfect in the form we have it, tough certainly it was in the form in which it was delivered to the authros by the Spirit of God).

    I would say that perhaps believing God will do miracles among us is one way to open the gate of blessing to have more great works done among us, and unbelief is one way to shut off the spigot.

    Mir

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  17. Becky wrote:
    So, if He chose to limit Himself according to the faith of the people with whom He dealt, I do not see this as a contradiction to His deity either.

    Absolutely. Jesus is the Son of God, the Christ, the only and pre-eminent, the exact representation of the Father. I believe in the doctrine of the trinity, and I believe totally in the omnipotent deity of the Lord Christ. So, whenever he was limited, it was because he chose to be or his role of servant and role model to mankind required that he be. The limitations are of his role, not his being. As we read in Philippians:

    6who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant,[b] being born in the likeness of men. 8And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

    As a woman, my role is limited by my gender, not by my personhood. I am the equal of my husband, equal in personhood, in intelligence, in faith. But I am subject to him in my role as wife. I am limited by OBEDIENCE to my ROLE as ordained by GOD.

    So, um, all that to say, yeah, I agree. 😀

    Mir

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  18. Great stuff people! While I cannot explain why some people do not receive their healings, their miracles, I must still go back to the Word of God, as we do on EVERY other subject. It is in miracles and healings that we seem to stray away only slightly to look for answers outside of God’s word. On this discusson, I can’t count how many times Joni Erickson Tada is brought up. Yes, God uses even the tragic situation to bring about good–bring us closer to Him. But, I submit to you that not ONE time in Jesus’s ministry did he say, “No, I will NOT heal you because it will be BETTER for you to stay crippled.”

    We alwyas toss the blame back to God and never to ourselves when Jesus himself said Oh Ye of little faith. We canot know a person’s heart. Do they have faith or do they have something in their heart that keeps them from receiving God’s prescious gift. We canot know, only God can know.

    I know that I am “harsh” on this subject, and I don’t have the answers. But I’m very black and white, and I have to stick to if we only BELIEVE then it will happen.

    Beth.

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  19. I do think, Beth, that some of us are called to suffer in particular ways. Paul got whipped more than once. Don’t tell me he didn’t have enough faith or revelation! He explains that his thorn in the flesh (whatever scholars choose to debate that item may be) has a purpose. Perhaps someone who is such a fine servant as Joni has her situation for a purpose that we are not privy, too. Perhaps despite anointings and prayers for years and years, my illnesses and frailty have a purpose. (I do know I pray more when I’m suffering, so…)

    I don’t believe every sick person is intended for healing (or surely a man of faith like Paul would have been.) I don’t believe every suffering is meant to be ameliorated, or you would never have had great martyrs of true, faithful Christians. God is Sovereign, and at times, His will is that we indeed suffer greatly (as James says, consider it all joy..ACK. Not that I’m good at that.)

    But, like you, Beth, I cannot believe that a God who reveals himself through the miraculous from the beginning of time suddenly goes all quiet and stops doing what is natural to Him–supersede the laws of a nature that is subject to His will and power–just because we have “His Book.” No. That makes no sense at all.

    Mir

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  20. Mir,

    I for sure don’t have the answers. I know that we should take joy in our trials and sufferings as it says in James, but I still find it hard to believe that suffering the Lord talked about was suffering due to illness when he while walking on the earth so eagerly healed the diseased. He performed the Heart of the father and bid us, his disciples, to do the same.

    My own mother suffers with blindness from diabetic retinopathy. Why? Because she waited years and years, believing for her healing. So, I’m not far removed from understanding this controversy.

    But I do want to say that I enjoy discussing these various controversial subjects, though I’m not skilled in debate. And I still love you all as my brothers and sisters in Christ. There is no ire in my words, so please don’t take them that way.

    Blessings!
    Beth.

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  21. Kameron, I know you’ll be gone until after Thanksgiving. Hope you don’t mind that I’m answering you here.

    In practice, I think you and I are much the same on this issue. However, I do not agree with the interpretation of I Cor. 13. The article you referred to presupposes the definition of prophecy: … the spiritual gifts of knowing and prophesying God’s will-the proclamation of the gospel by divine inspiration! All his arguments hinge on that one point.

    He didn’t consider that the “perfect” referred to in the passage might be Christ’s kingdom with Him on the throne, or the completion of His work in the world, or the completion of the church. There are so many possibilities.

    But the sense of the passage is future. Prophecy is, but will … Tongues are, but will … We know, but when …

    Then the illustration. I was, but then became …

    And he again takes up the pattern: Now we see, but then … Now I know, but then …

    This latter is the clincher for me: now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known. How I am known by our omniscient God is completely, with nothing hidden. Do I, in turn, know in the same way now? I do not. I must conclude, then that whatever God means by the perfect, it is not yet.

    I also believe that a passage should be understood by its plain sense. The plain sense of this passage is, love lasts. Other stuff passes away, but love lasts.

    There is no reason whatsoever to believe in this context that Paul was trying to give some timetable about when the stuff that does not last would pass away. That just doesn’t fit with what he’s saying, not when taken for the plain meaning of the passage.

    So I’m a renegade. I don’t speak in tongues or speak words of prophecy or of wisdom, I don’t experience miraculous healing. I definitely don’t think we should seek those things out. If they are gifts, then the Giver gives freely and doesn’t need me to beg for them. But that true believers experience the miraculous … I do not see anything in Scripture to make me think God won’t still work in this way if He chooses to.

    There are occasionally miraculous stories—witnessed, docummented—that I believe, but I am … for lack of a better word, skeptical first. Not because I doubt God’s power. Perhaps it is more because I know the sinfulness of Mankind and the deceiving power of Satan.

    He will do anything to try to get our eyes off God. One way is to make us look at or for the gift rather than to the Giver.

    So you see, I don’t fit in either camp, but I guess I’m getting used to being camp-less. 🙂

    Becky

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