How empty would devotion or religion be if one’s spiritual well-being depended on whether one believed in miracles or no
|November 24, 2011||Posted by webmaster under All text of Schweitzer Quest Jesus, chapter five||
The main interest centres in the explanations of the miracles, though the author, it must be admitted, endeavoured to guard against this. “It is my chief desire,” he writes in his preface, “that my views regarding the miracle stories should not be taken as by any means the principal thing. How empty would devotion or religion be if one’s spiritual well-being depended on whether one believed in miracles or no!” “The truly miraculous thing about Jesus is Himself, the purity and serene holiness of His character, which is, notwithstanding, genuinely human, and adapted to the imitation and emulation of mankind.”
The question of miracle is therefore a subsidiary question. Two points of primary importance are certain from the outset: (1) that unexplained alterations of the course of nature can neither overthrow nor attest a spiritual truth, (2) that everything which happens in nature emanates from the omnipotence of God.
The Evangelists intended to relate miracles; of that there can be no doubt. Nor can any one deny that in their time miracles entered into the plan of God, in the sense that the minds of men were to be astounded and subdued by inexplicable facts. This effect, however, is past. In periods to which the miraculous makes less appeal, in view of the advance in intellectual culture of the nations which have been led to accept Christianity, the understanding must be satisfied if the success of the cause is to be maintained.
Since that which is produced by the laws of nature is really produced by God, the Biblical miracles consist merely in the fact that eye-witnesses report events of which they did not know the secondary causes. Their knowledge of the laws of nature was insufficient to enable them to understand what actually happened. For one who has discovered the secondary causes, the fact remains, as such, but not the miracle.
The question of miracle, therefore, does not really exist, or exists only for those “who are under the influence of the sceptical delusion that it is possible really to think any kind of natural powers as existing apart from God, or to think the Being of God apart from the primal potentialities which unfold themselves in the never-ceasing process of Becoming.” The difficulty arises from the “original sin” of dissolving the inner unity of God and nature, of denying the equivalence implied by Spinoza in his “Deus sive Natura.”
For the normal intelligence the only problem is to discover the secondary causes of the “miracles” of Jesus. It is true there is one miracle which Paulus retains—the miracle of the birth, or at least the possibility of it; in the sense that it is through holy inspiration that Mary receives the hope and the power of conceiving her exalted Son, in whom the spirit of the Messiah takes up its dwelling. Here he indirectly denies the natural generation, and regards the conception as an act of the self-consciousness of the mother.
With the miracles of healing, however, the case is very simple. Sometimes Jesus worked through His spiritual power upon the nervous system of the sufferer; sometimes He used medicines known to Him alone. The latter applies, for instance, to the cures of the blind. The disciples, too, as appears from Mark vi. 7 and 13, were not sent out without medicaments, for the oil with which they were to anoint the sick was, of course, of a medicinal character; and the casting out of evil spirits was effected partly by means of sedatives.
Diet and after-treatment played a great part, though the Evangelists say little about this because directions on these points would not be given publicly. Thus, the saying, “This kind goeth not out save by prayer and fasting,” is interpreted as an instruction to the father as to the way in which he could make the sudden cure of the epileptic into a permanent one, viz. by keeping him to a strict diet and strengthening his character by devotional exercises.
The nature miracles suggest their own explanation. The walking on the water was an illusion of the disciples. Jesus walked along the shore, and in the mist was taken for a ghost by the alarmed and excited occupants of the boat. When Jesus called to them, Peter threw himself into the water, and was drawn to shore by Jesus just as he was sinking. Immediately after taking Jesus into the boat they doubled a headland and drew clear of the storm centre; they therefore supposed that He had calmed the sea by His command. It was the same in the case where He was asleep during the storm. When they waked Him He spoke to them about the wind and the weather. At that moment they gained the shelter of a hill which protected them from the wind that swept down the valley; and they marvelled among themselves that even the winds and the sea obeyed their Messiah.
Albert Schweitzer's The Quest of the Historical Jesus
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