The Flaw In Atheist Thinking


Miracles_coverI’ve been reading C. S. Lewis’s Miracles. As an aside (if you can have an aside after only one sentence!) I suggest this month might be a great time for all Lewis fans to dust off one of his books and re-read it as a tribute to him, since Nov. 22 marks the 50-year commemoration of his death.

At any rate, Lewis himself having been an atheist, brought a perspective I had never considered, so I find the book incredibly enlightening. One of the things he’s made clear for me is how irrational it is to try and prove the Supernatural by using the Natural. It can’t be done because the two are separate entities.

It’s like two scholars debating the scope of knowledge. One might say mathematics is the only field of study. The other might argue that no, literature is also a field of study, wholly different and separate from mathematics.

Sorry, the first one says. I can find no evidence for literature.

That’s because you’re only looking at the properties of mathematics, counters the other.

Where else would you expect me to look? his friend answers. I’m searching and searching in the vast field of knowledge, and there is no sign of literature.

Don’t you see, says the second professor, your search is limited. If you look beyond math, you’ll find literature.

How can I look beyond the only thing that’s there?

And so the argument would continue. The first professor cannot grasp the idea that the field of study with which he is familiar is not the sum of all knowledge, and the second professor can’t grasp how he can demonstrate with math how literature exists.

He might think of ways that math and poetry are alike, how math is the basis of music and music is an art akin to literature. He can even point out how literature has structure much the same way math does. But none of those evidences will be proof to the professor not willing to consider that math is not the sum total of all knowledge.

In the same way, the atheist who believes the natural world is the sum total of all that exists will not find any “circumstantial evidence,” to use a law term, to be compelling proof that something, let alone Someone, exists beyond the scope of what his five senses can detect.

It actually makes perfect sense. The flaw in the logic, however, is the assumption that Humankind can detect all that exists with our five senses: atheists take that as a given which needs no proof.

However, it is a false assumption that nature itself exposes. The fact that we did not for thousands of years detect other universes did not write them out of existence. The fact that we did not detect atoms and subatomic particles for thousands of years, did not negate their reality. Our five senses failed.

Relying upon the use of our five senses, we were wrong to think the earth was flat, that the sun rotates around the earth, that there were no other stars than the ones we can see, and any number of other errant ideas. Our five senses, then, are fallible.

Some might counter that, in fact, it is the advancement of knowledge which has allowed Humankind to correct these wrong beliefs by the use of our senses. Our technological improvements have made it possible for us to see further and look at smaller.

But that doesn’t address the issue. The human capacity to detect reality is flawed. We can go for generations believing a lie because our five senses have restrictions. What restrictions might they have now to which we’re oblivious?

An honest person will admit that we cannot know what restrictions are limiting our understanding. Which of course opens the door to the Supernatural. Because we don’t see, touch, taste, feel, or hear God in the same way we do our sister or boss or neighbor, does not mean God does not exist.

The ironic thing is that Humankind for centuries accepted the existence of the Supernatural, in large part because of their five senses, but also, I’d suggest, because of a spiritual sense.

Biblical history records that humans had encounters with God–that He insinuated Himself in the affairs of Humankind–so their five senses verified the existence of the supernatural. Some heard God’s voice, others saw His Shekinah glory, still others felt His Consuming Fire. Others, however, received visions and were filled with His Spirit.

What’s happened, then, it would seem, is what happens with all our physical capacities when they aren’t used: they atrophy. The ability people once had to interact with God, dependent upon their spiritual vision, faded, and had God left us to ourselves, I suspect we would have completely forgotten all about Him. Thankfully, He had no intention of abandoning us.

His greatest intervention was His decision to take on the appearance of a man, live so as to show us the Father, and die in order to make a way for us to once again interact with God.

Jesus Christ penetrated the natural on behalf of the Supernatural to restore our faulty, faded vision–the kind that allows us to see beyond the restrictions of our finite senses.

Standing Up For Magic


magic-bookRecently I had a discussion with a Christian who considers much of speculative fiction to be opposed to the Bible. I’ve only had a few encounters with people who hold this view, though other writers have spoken of being surrounded by such folk.

The exchange reminds me that it’s wise to confront this attitude head-on, with Scripture.

Some years ago Stephen Burnett recounted a question that came up at an ACFW Conference. Seems one of the conferees was asking how a Christian fantasy writer is to handle magic since magic is intrinsically un-Christian.

Interesting.

Here’s the first definition for magic in the Oxford American Dictionaries: “the power of apparently influencing the course of events by using mysterious or supernatural forces.”

My question, then is, Do we Christians not consider God “supernatural”? But … but…but … God’s work is miraculous, not magic, someone may well say. And the Oxford American Dictionaries would agree that God’s work is miraculous: “occurring through divine or supernatural intervention, or manifesting such power.”

But isn’t miraculous simply a more narrowed term, specifically referencing the divine? Magic, on the other hand, does not exclude the divine.

However, I don’t want to get too caught up in semantics. Let’s agree that the Bible does warn against magic and witchcraft and other sorts of divination sought from powers other than God Himself.

In contrast, God’s powerful works are called miraculous and prophetic.

The point that is noteworthy for fantasy writers and readers, however, is this: the Bible makes it clear that both God and Satan have power. Not in equal measure. Satan is no more omnipotent than he is omnipresent, though I suspect he’d like Man to think he is both.

Make no mistake. God’s power trumps Satan’s, and it’s not even a fair comparison. Satan may not get this because it seems he keeps trying to go up against God, as if he can outmaneuver Wisdom or out-muscle Omnipotence.

Be that as it may, we can’t deny that he has power and it is supernatural—beyond Man’s abilities. Pharaoh had his magicians and so did Nebuchadnezzar, and seemingly they were used to these conjurers producing what normal folk could not. Their power was not from God, however.

Moses, with the rod of God, went head to head with Pharaoh’s magicians, if you recall, and God’s power dominated. Nebuchadnezzar’s sorcerers could not tell their king his dream, let alone the interpretation of it, but God’s man, Daniel, could.

But back to fantasy. If supernatural power—good and evil—is real, then why should Christian fantasy writers pretend that the evil forces in their stories don’t have real supernatural power? Why should we pretend that those siding with good have no supernatural power?

Fantasy, after all, gives a story-long metaphor for the real world. Why would we want to give Christians—young adults or adults—the idea that there isn’t actually supernatural power of any kind by doing away with magic in our stories?

It seems to me it’s important to address the source of power and the reality of power and the proper attitude toward power—all of which fantasy can address. Unless, of course, a Christian story must be scrubbed clean of supernatural power.

This article, except the opening paragraphs, is a re-publication from an earlier post here at A Christian Worldview of Fiction

Published in: on August 20, 2013 at 8:42 pm  Comments (2)  
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Signs And Wonders


God is powerful and does amazing things, never more clearly demonstrated than when He sent Jesus, God incarnate, to live on Earth with those He created. God’s greatest feat, yet this is the one that a great many people deny. Here is the line of demarcation that divides humanity.

The thing is, Jesus came with proof.

Recently as I read the book of John, I noted how many times that gospel referred to the signs Jesus did. And yet, you know what the Pharisees asked for as proof He was the Messiah? Yep, signs.

As I look at it, Satan seems to be most concerned with calling into question Jesus’s identity. I’ve studied and analyzed the record we have of those three temptations of Jesus in the wilderness, comparing them to the classifications of sin mentioned in 1 John (“the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life,” – 2:16), and to the specific doubts Satan stirred in Eve (“When the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was desirable to make one wise” – Gen. 3:6, emphasis mine).

But more recently I began to see these temptations as a direct challenge by Satan demanding that Jesus prove His deity–(“If you are the Son of God…,” “If you are the Son of God …,” and then turning it on its head, “If you worship me…”) This “prove it” demand was the same one the Pharisees hounded Him for, all the way to the end. Even as He hung on the cross, they were saying, If you’re the Christ, get yourself down from there.

The real issue with Jesus throughout history is whether He is who He said He is.

Toward the end of his gospel, John gave a clear statement of his purpose for writing–an explanation for his preoccupation with signs:

Therefore many other signs Jesus also performed in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name. (John 20:30-31)

John also recorded Jesus’s own statement about the witnesses He had. In the Jewish context no fact was established without two or three witnesses. Jesus came in with three several times.

The point is this. The signs and wonders in Jesus’s day had a specific purpose. They established His identity.

They also served a definite purpose in the early Church–they established the work of the Holy Spirit in the lives of believers. First in the disciples, then in the other Jewish converts, and later in the Gentile believers.

So what about signs and wonders today?

I have no doubt God can do signs and wonders today. He can multiply bread, move mountains, heal the blind, raise the dead. He is still God, after all.

But what’s the point?

Part of me thinks, Well, need, for one thing. There are people who need food and who can’t see and who have died. But just like the fact that Jesus didn’t come to establish an earthly kingdom, He didn’t come to set up a utopia either. All the people Jesus healed eventually died of some other cause. They didn’t stay cured. Not physically, anyway.

The signs and wonders, though, point to the real reason Jesus came. He conquered death. He defeated sin. He triumphed over Satan. His signs and wonders were the precursor to the ultimate victory He enjoyed, breaking the bonds of sin and establishing the Way to reconciliation with the Father.

Signs and wonders are not the gift. A magician named Simon discovered that. He of all people, who presumably had trafficked in the dark arts, was amazed at the power of the Holy Spirit, released when the apostles laid hands on people. Simon wanted that power.

But it wasn’t for sale. The power was nothing more than the evidence of that which Simon could have–the indwelling Holy Spirit who would seal him for salvation.

Signs and wonders? They aren’t the big thing. They are merely the evidence of He who is Bigger, Grander, Mightier than we can imagine, the Maker of heaven and earth.

He’s given us all the signs we could ever want to believe that He is who He says He is.

Published in: on June 22, 2012 at 6:45 pm  Comments (3)  
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CSFF Blog Tour – The Resurrection by Mike Duran, Day 1


The Resurrection (Strang), the debut novel by friend and blogger extraordinaire Mike Duran, is this month’s CSFF Blog Tour feature. As you might guess by the title, this one falls in the supernatural category.

Which brings up some interesting questions, much as Frank Peretti‘s This Present Darkness did years ago. The premise of that book might be, Spiritual warfare is real and far more influential in the daily affairs of men than most people realize.

The Resurrection doesn’t camp on the warfare side of the supernatural but more on its actual existence and the varying reactions of believers and skeptics to an indisputable miracle.

Bringing me back to those interesting questions. Do miracles happen today? Are demons real? Do they work through people? inhabit people? And what about the “ecstatic gifts of the Spirit” — speaking in tongues, prophesying, and such?

I come from a branch of evangelical Christianity that says those kinds of gifts “ceased” after the first church. The thinking is that once the Bible was completed, there was no need for God to speak via visions and prophetic utterances. I’m not clear why this included tongues and the interpretation, which seems more an expression of praise, though there is also instruction about it’s use indicating that edification of the church is part of its function.

The thing is, the Bible which these evangelicals hold to be authoritative, gives these instructions for proper inclusion of “ecstatic gifts” in the worship service. I asked a friend once what Scripture supports the secession idea. She named I Corinthians 13:8-10 that speaks of tongues ceasing and prophecy being incomplete. The capper is “but when the perfect comes, the partial will be done away” (v. 10). The thinking is that “the perfect” refers to the Bible.

I find that to be a stretch. How could you call the Bible “perfect” if it contains chapters of instruction about the use of gifts that have ceased? Further, Paul goes on to say that now we see through a glass darkly, “but then face to face, now I know in part, but then I shall know fully just as I also have been fully known” (v. 12b).

I don’t think the Bible, though inspired, inerrant, authoritative, and complete, lets me know God or the things of God as I am known by God. There’s still the “glass darkly” part of now.

And finally, I’ve been taught not to interpret Scripture based on an unclear passage. It is unclear, to me at least, that the “perfect” mentioned in verse ten actually means the Bible. On the other hand, it is abundantly clear in I Corinthians that Paul is giving instructions for the use of “ecstatic” spiritual gifts in the church.

Interestingly, it seems that “ecstatic gifts” has become somewhat of a dividing line among evangelicals, in part because we tend toward all or nothing positions. I’ll freely admit, I believe God has not brought an end to these gifts of the Holy Spirit. I believe He can heal. I believe He can give discernment, prophecy, tongues, or visions.

At the same time, I believe a lot of false teaching and fakery can stem from those who claim to have spiritual gifts when in fact they do not. I also believe Satan can imitate these gifts (think of Pharaoh’s magicians turning staffs into snakes and water into blood or the witch of Endor actually calling up Samuel’s spirit from the dead).

Where does that leave me? Believing and skeptical. What about you? What would your reaction be if you went to a funeral and the person in the coffin sat up?

See what CSFF tour participants have to say about this topic and the book itself. A check mark in front of a name links you to a specific article that has been posted.

Published in: on March 21, 2011 at 11:18 am  Comments (23)  
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Standing Up For Magic


Monday being my regular blog day at Speculative Faith, I posted an article yesterday about magic (a reworking of three articles I’d first posted here at A Christian Worldview of Fiction nearly four years ago). One of the commenters (and fellow Spec Faith poster) Stephen Burnett recounted a question that came up at the recent ACFW Conference. Seems one of the conferees was asking how a Christian fantasy writer is to handle magic since magic is intrinsically un-Christian.

Interesting. But here’s the first definition for magic in the Oxford American Dictionaries: “the power of apparently influencing the course of events by using mysterious or supernatural forces.”

My question, then is, Do we Christians not consider God “supernatural”? But … but…but … God’s work is miraculous, not magic, someone may well say. And the Oxford American Dictionaries would agree that God’s work is miraculous: “occurring through divine or supernatural intervention, or manifesting such power.”

But isn’t miraculous simply a more narrowed term, specifically referencing the divine? Magic, on the other hand, does not exclude the divine.

However, I don’t want to get too caught up in semantics. Let’s agree that the Bible does warn against magic and witchcraft and other sorts of divination sought from powers other than God Himself.

In contrast, God’s powerful works are called miraculous and prophetic.

The point that is noteworthy for fantasy writers and readers, however, is this: the Bible makes it clear that both God and Satan have power. Not in equal measure. Satan is no more omnipotent than he is omnipresent, though I suspect he’d like Man to think he is both.

Make no mistake. God’s power trumps Satan’s, and it’s not even a fair comparison. Satan may not get this because it seems he keeps trying to go up against God, as if he can outmaneuver Wisdom or out-muscle Omnipotence.

Be that as it may, we can’t deny that he has power and it is supernatural—beyond Man’s abilities. Pharaoh had his magicians and so did Nebuchadnezzar, and seemingly they were used to these conjurers producing what normal folk could not. Their power was not from God, however.

Moses, with the rod of God, went head to head with Pharaoh’s magicians, if you recall, and God’s power dominated. Nebuchadnezzar’s sorcerers could not tell their king his dream, let alone the interpretation of it, but God’s man, Daniel, could.

But back to fantasy. If supernatural power—good and evil—is real, then why should Christian fantasy writers pretend that the evil forces in their stories don’t have real supernatural power? Why should we pretend that those siding with good have no supernatural power?

Fantasy, after all, gives a story-long metaphor for the real world. Why would we want to give Christians—young adults or adults—the idea that there isn’t actually supernatural power of any kind by doing away with magic in our stories?

It seems to me it’s important to address the source of power and the reality of power and the proper attitude toward power—all of which fantasy can address. Unless, of course, a Christian story must be scrubbed clean of supernatural power.

Published in: on September 21, 2010 at 5:14 pm  Comments (7)  
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God Causes


I’m posting on Saturday! That’s to make up for not posting yesterday. I’ve been tinkering with my work schedule in order to be more efficient with my time, but obviously what I did yesterday didn’t work! So that leaves me with a Saturday post.

No problem really. I wasn’t sure what to say yesterday, but today as I read in the book of Habakkuk, something clicked.

I’d already noted when I read through Jonah all the things that God directly caused in order to get Jonah where He wanted Him. First He sent His prophet a message. An order, really—Go to Nineveh and give them My message.

Jonah boarded a ship and high-tailed it in the opposite direction. So God “hurled a great wind on the sea” bringing up a great storm.

To stop the storm from crashing the ship and taking the lives of all on board, Jonah told the sailors to throw him overboard. Eventually they did. Then God appointed a great fish to swallow Jonah.

After three days Jonah thanked God for saving Him and remembered his commitment. Then God commanded the fish to vomit Jonah onto dry land.

Jonah went to Nineveh and preached, warning of God’s judgment on them because of their wickedness. Who wouldn’t believe the message of someone bleached albino-white by fish stomach acid and smelling of fish throw-up? OK, that’s all conjecture on my part, but the truth is, the people of Nineveh repented because they believed in God. They mourned and fasted and called on God earnestly that he might relent of the judgment Jonah had declared.

God heard them and did just that.

Which made Jonah mad—maybe because he hated the Assyrians, maybe because he knew that a prophet’s words were supposed to come true, so some might now question his role. At any rate, he decided to wait out the time (forty days) to see if by any chance God would still judge Nineveh.

God appointed a plant to grow to shade him, but the next day He appointed a worm to destroy the plant. Jonah grieved the death of the plant, and God used the object lesson to teach him something about compassion.

What struck me in the story was all the things in nature God caused—or appointed, as the NASB says. The wind/storm, the fish to swallow Jonah, the fish to throw him up, the plant, the worm.

How can we read a story like Jonah’s and not understand that God rules nature? He didn’t wind it up and let it go. Instead He holds it together. The “laws of nature” are no laws but observations of how God works. The “natural” things are the way they are because that is how God ordained them to be and how He maintains them to be.

At any moment He can check those “natural laws,” reverse them just as He reversed the sun and made shadows retreat instead of advance as a sign to Hezekiah, just as He “relented” and staid His hand against the Assyrians.

But I mentioned Habakkuk. God told the prophet He was doing something he would have a hard time believing: God was raising up the Babylonians “to march throughout the earth/To seize dwelling places which are not theirs” (Habakkuk 1:6b). Interestingly He says a verse later “their justice and authority originate with themselves” (Habakkuk 1:7b).

Here’s the point. What Man can observe is incomplete at best. We don’t know what God does behind the scenes unless He tells us, as He did in Jonah. How many other “great winds” were anomalous events God caused for a particular moment, a particular reason. Storms arise in the natural course of things—the God sustained natural course of things. But He also sends storms or prophets or cruel nations.

To observe weather patterns or political trends or human nature and believe we can figure out how to manipulate our environment is shortsighted at best and idolatrous at worst. We are not God. We ought to stop trying to take on His role.

Published in: on May 22, 2010 at 10:09 am  Comments (3)  
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He Shall Be Called God with Us


I’ve decided that Christmas is as two-toned as the colors we most associate with the holiday. One is primary, the other secondary, both attractive but completely divergent. So with Christmas, we have a primary purpose for the holiday—the celebration of Christ come down—and a secondary—the gift-giving family time with all the traditions. Both are attractive, but unless a person intentionally connects the two, quite divergent.

I was reminded of this when one of the local Christian radio stations claimed to be playing Christmas music with a difference, then proceeded to air “Frosty, the Snowman.” Yes different, I thought. Different that you thought there was anything different about that secular song over some other secular song.

Once again, C. S. Lewis in Miracles (MacMillian) made some profound observations that apply to the primary purpose of Christmas:

The central miracle asserted by Christians is the Incarnation. They say that God became Man. Every other miracle prepares for this, or exhibits this, or results from this. Just as every natural event is the manifestation at a particular place and moment of Nature’s total character, so every particular Christian miracle manifests at a particular place and moment the character and significance of the Incarnation. (chapter 14, p. 112)

In the Christian story God descends to re-ascend. He comes down; down from the heights of absolute being into time and space, down into humanity … down to the very roots and sea-bed of Nature. … One may think of a diver, first reducing himself to nakedness, then glancing in mid-air, then gone with a splash, vanished, rushing down through green and warm water into black and cold water, down through increasing pressure into the deathlike region of ooze and slime and old decay; then up again, suddenly he breaks surface again, holding in his hand the dripping, precious thing that he went down to recover. He and it are both coloured now that they have come up into the light: down below, where it lay colourless in the dark, he lost his colour too. (chapter 14, p. 116)

I’ll be off tomorrow, as I suspect you will be also. May you have a joyous Christmas Day, including some recognition and celebration of Immanuel, God with us, God come down to bring us up with Him.

. . . And Bring Forth a Son


More from Miracles by C. S. Lewis:

Christianity does not involve the belief that all things were made for man. It does involve the belief that God loves man and for his sake became man and died. … The sceptic asks how we can believe that God so “came down” to this one tiny planet. The question would be embarrassing if we knew (1) that there are rational creatures on any of the other bodies that float in space; (2) that they have, like us, fallen and need redemption; (3) that their redemption must be in the same mode as ours; (4) that redemption in this mode has been withheld from them. But we know none of them. … If it is maintained that anything so small as the Earth must, in any event, be too unimportant to merit the love of the Creator, we reply that no Christian ever supposed we did merit it. Christ did not die for men because they were intrinsically worth dying for, but because He is intrinsically love, and therefore loves infinitely. (emphasis mine, excerpted from chapter 7, p. 53)

It is therefore inaccurate to definite a miracle as something that breaks the laws of Nature. It doesn’t. … If God annihilates or creates or deflects a unit of matter He has created a new situation at that point. Immediately all Nature domiciles this new situation, makes it at home in her realm, adapts all other events to it. It finds itself conforming to all the laws. If God creates a miraculous spermatozoon in the body of a virgin, it does not proceed to break any laws. The laws at once take it over. Nature is ready. Pregnancy follows, according to all the normal laws, and nine months later a child is born. … The moment it [the miraculous] enters her [Nature’s] realm it obeys all her laws. Miraculous wine will intoxicate, miraculous conception will lead to pregnancy, inspired books will suffer all the ordinary process of textual corruption [unless the Holy Spirit also provides miraculous preservation], miraculous bread will be digested. … A miracle is emphatically not an event without cause or without results. Its cause is the activity of God: its results follow according to Natural law. (excerpts from chapter 8, pp. 60-61)

As Scripture indicates, God’s infinite love prompted Him to miraculous activity: sending His Son to earth as a baby. And so, Christmas. 😀

A Virgin Shall Conceive


Nativity Scene, Photographer: Ian BrittonI suppose it’s natural around Christmas time to think more about God, especially God with us, God Incarnate, God taking the form of a baby. And certainly my recent discussions regarding the existence of God have propelled my thoughts in that direction as well.

Now I am reading C. S. Lewis’s book Miracles which is much more of an apologetic for God and His work in the world than I had realized. Interestingly, I can see more clearly why Philip Pullman, author of His Dark Materials, calls himself the anti-Lewis. The thing is, because Lewis had himself been an atheist, he could anticipate the arguments an atheist would make against the Supernatural.

Unsurprisingly, the miracle Lewis refers to with some frequency is the virgin birth. Here are some of his thoughts in answer to the argument that people of old believed in miracles because they didn’t have the scientific knowledge we have now.

You will hear people say, “The early Christians believed that Christ was the son of a virgin, but we know that this is a scientific impossibility.” Such people seem to have an idea that belief in miracles arose at a period when men were so ignorant of the course of nature that they did not perceive a miracle to be contrary to it. A moment’s thought shows this to be nonsense: and the story of the Virgin Birth is a particularly striking example. When St. Joseph discovered that his fiancé was going to have a baby, he not unnaturally decided to repudiate her. Why? Because he knew just as well as any modern gynecologist that in the ordinary course of nature women do not have babies unless they have lain with men. … When St. Joseph finally accepted the view that his fiancé’s pregnancy was due not to unchastity but to a miracle, he accepted the miracle as something contrary to the known order of nature. All records of miracles teach the same thing. In such stories the miracles excite fear and wonder (that is what the very word miracle implies) among spectators, and are taken as evidence of supernatural power. If they were not known to be contrary to the laws of nature how could they suggest the presence of the supernatural? How could they be surprising unless they were seen to be exceptions to the rules? And how can anything be seen to be an exception till the rules are known? … If St. Joseph had lacked faith to trust God or humility to perceive the holiness of his spouse, he could have disbelieved in the miraculous origin of her Son as easily as any modern man; and any modern man who believes in God can accept the miracle as easily as St. Joseph did.

There’s more. Good stuff, important to recall when we are approaching the celebration of that which is impossible except for the God with whom all things are possible.

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