I recently visited a church that liked throwing around the word “supernatural” like it was going out of style. Belief in God, according to this church, requires belief in the supernatural.
Is this true?
I’m not so sure that it is and here’s why:
Talk of the supernatural is, at its very heart, binary and dualistic. What I mean is that this sort of language pits the natural order of things against the “supernatural” order of things. God is said to operate primarily in the latter category. When someone is healed, it is said, God supernaturally bends the laws of nature in order to accomplish his will. In the same way, if a natural explanation can be provided for something then, within this particular framework, it becomes harder to see and understand God’s involvement in it. In short, either God did it (supernaturally) or nature did it.
A short story from my brother’s experience at this church illustrates this point well. As my brother was sharing with a friend of his who was very involved in this particular church about his struggle with asthma, this friend’s response was as follows: “Next time you have an asthma attack, don’t be so quick to reach for your inhaler but instead, look to the healing power of God to grant you your breath back.”
The point is made clear. If one’s breath is restored by means of an inhaler (modern medicine’s response to asthma) then God had nothing to do with it.
Not only do I think this approach is dangerous (It sounds very similar to the family who, in 2008, withheld medical treatment from their daughter because they believed God was going to heal her supernaturally through the power of prayer. Spoiler alert: the girl died.), but I also think those who espouse this view are going to be sorely disappointed as modern science continues to provide “natural” explanations for events that are presently understood by many to be supernatural acts of God.
What I want to propose is a view that does not pit God and nature up against each other. Instead of attempting to understand events as either natural or supernatural I suggest that we attempt to understand God as intimately involved in the natural order of things. Simply because we have a natural explanation for why the sun rises each morning does not exclude us from seeing God’s involvement in such a process. In the same way, the inhaler that grants breath to my brother in the midst of his asthma attack is, from my perspective, a gift from God that grants life where there could have potentially been death. I understand God to be intimately involved in our attempt to offer medicinal care to those who are experiencing sickness and death. In a very real sense, I can thank God for sparing my brother from an asthma attack because of his inhaler.
To conclude: does God act supernaturally? I don’t think so. I think, if given enough time, we could probably come up with a “natural” or scientific explanation for everything.
Does this mean that miracles can’t happen? Not at all. Just because we can provide a natural explanation for healing does not mean that it was not miraculous. For example, many speak of the “miracle of birth” despite the fact that we can explain the process of conception and birth scientifically.
This is, of course, something that I am continuing to work through. What are your own thoughts?