Sustenance, Natural Law, and Miracle
(Week 4 of SBTS 28960)
A. Biblically, God is directly and actively responsible for the regular course of the physical world – sustaining the creation (Col. 1:17; Heb. 1:3), apparently according to the ‘ordinances of heaven and earth’ (Jer. 33:25). God is (directly) responsible for
1. astronomical motions (e.g. the rising, setting, and motion of the sun, moon, and stars) (Gen. 1:14-18; 8:22; Psa. 104:19-20), including their ‘ordinances’ (Job 38:33; Jer. 31:35-6)
2. weather, including
a. water for springs (Psa. 104:10-13)
b. rain (Job 5:10; 36:27-8; 37:6; 38:26-8; Psa. 135:7; 147:8; Jer. 10:13; 51:16) ‘in due season’ (Lev. 26:3-4: Deu. 11:14; 28:12; Jer. 5:24) by decree (Job 28:26)
c. dew (Job 38:16-8, 28; Psa. 135:7; Jer. 10:13; 51:16)
d. lightning and thunder (Job 37:3; 38:25; Psa. 97:4; Jer. 10:13; 51:16) by decree (Job 28:26)
e. wind (Psa. 135:7; Jer. 10:13; 51:16)
f. clouds (Psa. 147:8)
g. snow (Job 37:6; 38:22)
h. hail (Job 38:22)
i. frost (Job 37:10; 38:29)
j. the seasons (Gen. 8:22)
3. plant growth, such as
a. grass (Psa. 104:14; 147:8)
b. herbs (Psa. 104:14)
c. trees (Psa. 104:16-17)
4. animal traits, such as
a. the feathers and wings of birds (Job 39:13)
b. the power of the horse (Job 39:19)
c. the birthing times of wild goats (Job 39:1-4)
5. animal behavior (Job 39)
6. feeding animals, such as
a. wild beasts (Psa. 147:9), including the lions (Job 38:39-40; Psa. 104:21)
b. birds (Mat. 6:26), including the ravens (Job 38:41; Psa. 147:9)
7. creatures of the sea (Psa. 104:25-8)
8. conception and growth in the womb (Job 31:15; Psa. 139:13-16; Isa. 44:2, 24; 49:5; Jer. 1:5), and birth itself (Psa. 22:9; 71:6).
B. Biblically, God is directly responsible for non-regular events in the physical world.
1. That God is a prayer-answering God would seem to make sense only if God (at least sometimes) acts differently than the regular course of the creation (at least as we humans perceive it)
2. God generates wonders, signs, and miracles (unexpected events in the regular course of the creation):
a. Wonders are explicitly indicated in Scripture to have been performed by Jesus (Acts 2:22), the apostles (Acts 2:43; 5:12; Heb. 2:4), the deacon Stephen (Acts 6:8), believers (Acts 14:3), Paul & Barnabus (Acts 15:12), Paul (Rom. 15:19; II Cor. 12:12), and Satan and his own (II Thess. 2:19; Rev. 13:13). For example, the plagues on Egypt were called wonders (Exo. 3:20; 4:21; 7:3; 11:9-10; 15:11; Deu. 4:34; 6:22; 7:19; 26:8; 34:11; I Sam. 6:6; Neh. 9:10, 17; Psa. 78:11-12, 32; 105:27; 106:7; 135:9; Jer. 32:20-21; Acts 7:36)
b. Signs are explicitly indicated in Scripture to have been performed by Moses for the people of Israel and Egypt to see (Exo. 7:3; 10:1-2; Num. 14:11; Deu. 4:32; 6:22; 7:19; 26:8; 29:3; 34:11; Josh. 24:17; Neh. 9:10; Psa. 78:43f; 105:27f; Jer. 32:20-21; Acts 7:36), as well as by Jesus (John 20:30; Acts 2:22; Heb. 2:4), the apostles (Acts 2:43; 4:30; 5:12), including Paul (Acts 14:3; Rom. 15:19; II Cor. 12:12), believers (Mark 16:17-20), including Philip (Acts 8:13), and Satan and his followers (Mat. 24:24; Mark 13:22; II Thess. 2:9). For example,
A) detailed prophecies, as in the case of (king) Saul’s post-anointing encounters, are called signs (I Sam. 10:1-9)
B) some future events on the earth – including blood, fire and smoke – will be signs (Acts 2:19)
c. Miracles are explicitly indicated in Scripture to have been performed by Moses before the Pharoah and in the wilderness (Num. 14:22; Deu. 11:3; 29:3; Jud. 6:13), Jesus (John 2:23; 3:2; 7:31; 11:47; 12:37; Acts 2:22), by Stephen (Acts 6:8), Philip (Acts 8:6, 13), the apostles (Heb. 2:4), including Paul & Barnabus (Acts 15:12) and Paul (Acts 19:11), and Satan and his own (Rev. 13:14; 16:14; 19:20)
3. The creation involved process quite unlike processes observed in the present
a. Present processes cannot be used to properly infer the nature of the creation (II Pet. 3:3-7)
b. Even though His sustaining work must have continued (or the creation wouldn’t have survived the first Sabbath), God ended His creation work at the end of the six days of creation (Gen. 2:1-3), suggesting God used different processes in the creation than He has used since.
c. Even though God sustains His creation by ‘the word of His power’ (Heb. 1:3), this seems distinct from speaking the universe into being (‘God said’ in Genesis One; Psa. 33:6-9; Rom. 4:17; II Cor. 4:6; Heb. 11:3).
4. The curse (Gen. 3:14-19) would seem to have involved a change in the usual course of the creation – a change from
a. a world without carnivores (Gen. 1:30) to a world with carnivores
b. a world with no death among animals to a world where all animals die
c. less pain to greater pain in human childbirth (Gen. 3:16)
d. a world without thorns & thistles to a world with thorns & thistles (Gen. 3:18)
e. a world without toilsome work to a world requiring toil (Gen. 3:19)
f. a universe without the ‘bondage of corruption’ to a universe ‘groaning and travailing together in pain’ (Rom. 8:18-22)
5. The Flood involved process quite unlike processes observed in the present
a. Present processes cannot be used to properly infer the nature of the Flood (II Pet. 3:3-7)
b. The Flood apparently disrupted normal daily and seasonal cyles (Gen. 8:22)
c. God promised not to repeat the Flood ever again (Gen. 8:21; 9:9-17)
6. Whereas gravity is what is observed in the usual course of the creation
a. The waters of the Red Sea were parted (Exo. 14:21-30), and this was called a wonder (Psa. 78:11, 13, 32; Acts 7:36)
b. The waters of the Jordan River were parted (Josh. 3:13-4:18), and this was called a wonder (Josh. 3:5)
c. An ax head was floated (II Ki. 6:5-7)
d. Jesus and Peter walked on water (Mat. 14:24-31; Mark 6:48-51)
7. Whereas the motions of astronomical objects are predictably regular as observed in the usual course of the creation,
a. God also established the heavenly bodies to be for signs (Gen. 1:14)
b. the future blackening of the sun and reddening of the moon will be a wonder (Acts 2:19-20)
c. Egypt (but not Goshen) was plagued with 3 days of darkness (Exo. 10:21-23)
d. The sun and the moon were stopped in the days of Joshua (Josh. 10:12-14)
e. The sundial went backward 10 degrees in the days of Hezekiah (II Ki. 20:9-11; Isa. 38:7-8)
f. some future events in the heavens will be signs (Luke 21:11, 25)
8. Whereas universal decay is what is observed in the usual course of the creation, the shoes and clothes of the people of Israel did not wear out for the 40 years of wandering in the wilderness (Deu. 2:7; Deu. 8:2-4; 29:5)
9. Judgment to come involves process quite unlike the processes observed in the present, as present processes cannot be used to properly infer the nature of the judgment to come (II Pet. 3:3-7)
10. Whereas there is a usual course for weather in the creation,
a. the raising and stilling of storms at sea is called a wonder of God (Psa. 107:24-31)
b. God plagues all of Egypt with hail, but nowhere in Goshen (Exo. 9:23-6)
c. Jesus stills the storm (Mark 4:38-41)
11. Whereas in the usual course of the creation, substances either stay the same or change in particular ways,
a. the transformation of a shepherd’s staff into a snake and back again was called a sign (Exo. 4:2-5, 9, 17, 28, 30) and a miracle (Exo. 7:9)
b. the transformation of water into blood was called a sign (Exo. 4:9, 17, 28, 30)
c. the transformation of water into wine was called a miracle (John 2:6-11)
12. Whereas in the usual course of the creation, a population explosion of flies results in flies being everywhere, when God plagued all of Egypt with flies Goshen was free of flies! (Exo. 8:21-4)
13. Whereas in the usual course of creation, physical resources can only supply a finite population
a. hundreds of thousands of Israelites lived in the wilderness for 40 years,
A) being led by cloud by day and fire by night –called a wonder (Psa. 78:11, 14, 32)
B) being watered from a rock – called a wonder (Psa. 78:11, 15-20, 32)
C) being fed by meat flying into camp – called a wonder (Psa. 78:11, 26-29, 32)
D) being fed by manna (Exo. 16:35; Deu. 2:7; Deu. 8:2-4; 29:5) – called a wonder (Psa. 78:11, 23-25, 32)
b. the widow of Zerephath lived on never-emptying containers of meat and oil (I Ki. 17:10-16).
c. with too little food for that many people, Jesus fed 4000 (Mat. 15:32-38; Mark 8:1-9) and 5000 (Mat. 14:15-21; Luke 9:12-17; John 6:5-13) – the latter described as a miracle (Mark 6:35-44 & 52; John 6:5-14, 26)
14. Whereas in the usual course of the creation, women cannot conceive after menopause, Sarah conceived Isaac after menopause (Gen. 17:15-19; 18:9-15; 21:1-3; Rom. 4:19; Heb. 11:11)
15. Whereas in the usual course of the creation there are observed limits to what an organism can do, Elijah outran king Ahab’s chariot (I Ki. 18:45-6)
16. Whereas in the usual course of the creation, death is universal and final,
a. God took Enoch (Gen. 5:24) and Elijah (II Ki. 2:8-12) without death.
b. Elijah raised the widow’s son from the dead (I Kings 17:17-24)
c. Jesus raised Jairus’ daughter from the dead (Mark 5:22-23, 35-42; Luke 8:41-42, 49-55)
d. Jesus raised the widow’s son from the dead (Luke 7:12-15)
e. Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead (John 11:1-44) – called a miracle (John 11:47; 12:17-18)
f. God resurrected Jesus – called a sign (John 2:18-22)
17. Whereas in the usual course of the creation, fatal poisons result in death, a Christian surviving a deadly poison is called a sign (Mark 16:18).
18. Whereas in the usual course of the creation, a severed ear cannot be restored (at least without a complex modern medical operation), Jesus restored the centurion’s ear after it was cut off by a sword (Luke 22:50-51)
19. Whereas in the usual course of the creation, certain pathologies are observed to be permanent
a. blindness was healed at the hand of Elisha (II Ki. 6:18-20) and Jesus (Matt. 9:27-30; 12:22; 15:30-31; 20:30-34; 21:14; Mark 8:22-5; 10:46-52; Luke 7:21; 18:35-43) – one of those healings by Jesus called a miracle (John 9:1-16)
b. lameness was healed at the hand of Jesus (Matt. 15:30-31; 21:14; John 5:5-9), Philip (Acts 8:6-7), and Peter and John (Acts 3:2-11; 4:14, 22) – with one of those healings by Peter and John called a miracle (Acts 3:1-8 & 16 & 22)
c. Jesus healed dumbness (Mat. 12:22; 15:30-31)
d. Jesus healed deafness (Mat. 12:22; Mark 7:32-5)
e. Jesus healed a withered hand (Mat. 12:10-13; Mark 3:1-5; Luke 6:6-10; 6:17-19)
f. Jesus healed impotence (John 5:5-15) & Paul (Acts 14:8-10)
20. Whereas in the usual course of the creation, palsy is observed not only to be permanent but often increasingly debilitating, palsy was healed at the hand of Jesus (Luke 5:18-24) and Philip (Acts 8:6-7)
21. Whereas in the usual course of the creation, disease is observed to follow a particular course,
a. leprosy was healed at the hand of Moses (where turning a hand leprous and healing it again was called a sign: Exo. 4:6-9, 17, 28, 30), Elishah (II Ki. 5:8-14), and Jesus (Matt. 8:2-3; Mark 1:40-42; Luke 5:12-13; 17:12-19)
b. disease was healed at the hand of Jesus (Mat. 4:23-4; 8:5-13; 8:14-15; 8:16; 9:35; 12:15; 14:14; 19:2; Mark 1:34; 3:10; 6:5; Luke 4:40; 5:15; 7:2-10; 7:21; 8:2; 8:43-48; 9:11; 13:11-13; 14:2-4; John 4:46-54) and the apostles (Mat. 10:1 & 8; Mark 3:14-15 & 6:13; Luke 9:1-2 & 6 & 10:9; Acts 5:16), including Paul (Acts 28:8-9)
c. Jesus’ healing of one disease was called a miracle (John 4:46-54) and Jesus’ healings of diseases in general are called miracles (John 6:2)
d. Christians will be able to heal disease as a sign (Mark 16:18)
C. The success of modern science at discovering ‘natural law’ suggests there is no room for an intervening God in the physical world:
1. Modern science has long assumed no divine intervention in the natural course of the physical world. The success of science, then, suggests that God has not (at least substantially) intervened in the natural course of the physical world (at least since the advent of modern science 500 years ago or so).
2. Historically, science has progressively replaced supernatural explanations with natural explanations. As this has happened, many believers have suggested that God is to be found in that which science cannot yet explain. This (‘god of the gaps’) approach is
a. philosophically weak (because it is ad hoc)
b. apologetically undesirable (as past believers are consistently found to be wrong)
c. theologically undesirable, for it characterizes God as (increasingly)
A) mystical and unknowable.
B) peripheral and distant.
C) irrelevant and impersonal.
3. Science has discovered a more and more complete suite of natural laws, suggesting to some there is no place at all left for God in the physical world.
4. The phrase ‘natural law’ conceptually displaces God from the physical world.
a. The metaphor of ‘law’ in the phrase ‘natural law’ suggests an abstract ordinance separate from God (i.e. part of God’s creation) which God legislates and which generates and maintains the structure of the universe. This in turn suggests a deistic understanding of God.
b. The descriptor ‘natural’ suggests that ‘natural law’ is natural (i.e. having to do with God’s creation), as opposed to God’s activities which are ‘unnatural.
D. Alternatively, all physical activity in the universe may be God’s direct activity:
1. Miracles/Signs/Wonders may be examples of God’s low-frequency activities – occurring too infrequently for humans to characterize their regularity. In contrast, ‘Natural Laws’ may be descriptions of God’s high frequency sustaining activities. God’s sustaining activities which recur frequently enough in human time can be recognized as regularities and can be mathematically characterized (‘natural laws’).
a. This interpretation may explain
A) how God can be as directly responsible for the regular course of the creation as the Bible suggests.
B) why the natural laws (like God) are
2) immaterial (not on physical form);
5) irresistible power;
6) always there;
9) seeming to have man in mind
C) why it is that, in the study of origins, as direct creation by God is replaced by natural law and process, those natural processes take even more of the attributes of God. Because God convinces everyone of His existence and eternal attributes (Rom. 1:18-20) through the creation, perhaps anything proposed to replace God as creator (e.g. natural laws which result in the evolution of the universe) must have the attributes of God.
D) the attractiveness (and partial truth) of pantheism (as if God is the universe) or Einstein’s view of God (as the natural laws of the universe).
E) the success of science (so much of the time), even though science assumes ‘no violation of natural law’.
b. Such a hypothesis is not a god-of-the-gaps argument, because as science proceeds,
A) our understanding of God increases (rather than decreases).
B) God seems to become more (rather than less) immanent.
C) God seems to become more (rather than less) relevant and personal.
c. In this interpretation, since all ‘natural laws’ and all ‘violations of natural laws’ are direct actions in the creation of the same God,
A) there is no contradiction in the biblical claim that God is responsible for both the regularities and the non-regularities of the creation.
B) ‘natural law’ is an improper term, because
1) God’s activity should be understood to be the most ‘natural’ thing in the universe , rather than non-natural or ‘supernatural’.
2) God is operating directly, not through legislated laws
C) the distinction between ‘natural’ and ‘supernatural’ is artificial
D) miracles/signs/wonders should not be described as ‘violations’ or ‘interruptions’ or ‘contradictions’ to ‘natural law’.
2. More generally, perhaps God effects all that is physical – being the ‘mechanism’ whereby the physical is affected by the non-physical (i.e. by souls and/or spirits). Something like this may explain such things as
a. how the (non-physical) Word of God
A) created (Gen. 1; Ps. 33:6; Heb. 11:3a)
B) makes up things which appear (Heb. 11:3b)
C) sustains the universe (Heb. 1:3)
D) is quick and powerful (Heb. 4:12) and lives (I Pet. 1:23; I John 2:14)
E) provides life (Luke 4:4)
b. how (non-physical) faith must effect (physical) works (James 2:17f), is the substance of (physical) things hoped for (Heb. 11:1), and can effect (physical) changes, such as
A) Sarah conceiving a child after menopause (Heb. 11:11)
B) parting the Red Sea (Heb. 11:29)
C) collapsing the walls of Jericho (Heb. 11:30)
D) resurrecting children (Heb. 11:35)
E) quenching fire (Heb. 11:34)
F) stopping the mouths of lions (Heb. 11:33)
G) healing disease (e.g. Matt. 9:22, 29; 15:28; Mark 5:34; 10:52; Luke 7:50; 8:48; 17:19; 18:42; Acts 3:16; James 5:15)
H) moving mountains (Matt. 17:20; 21:21; Mark 11:22-24; Luke 17:6; I Cor. 13:2)
I) working miracles and wonders (e.g. Acts 6:8; 14:9)
E. Unlike many have claimed, an intervening God is anything but a weak God:
1. God is great Who can create the world, even if He has to hold it together to persist.
2. God is greater Who can create a world to persist automatically without His intervention.
3. God is even greater Who can create a world to persist automatically, containing beings who can rule by free choice – all without His intervention.
4. God is greater still Who can create a world to persist automatically, containing beings who can rule by free choice and enjoy work, relationships, growth, learning, discovery, creativity, and worship – all without His intervention.
5. God is greatest of all Who can create a world to persist automatically, containing beings who can rule by free choice and Who enters the creation to lovingly share with those rulers the joy of work, relationships, growth, learning, discovery, creativity, and worship.