When God Provides No Miracle

Believers and unbelievers alike ought to recall from Scripture how often it is true that the Lord works through nature rather than against it. (CS Lewis makes this point in his book Miracles.) Without wishing to be flippant, it’s almost as if the Lord surfs nature rather than slicing it or else making no contact with it.

Lewis points out that even in the feedings of the five- and four-thousand—in some ways the greatest miracles in history—the miracle was not to countermand nature so much as to accelerate it. Jesus didn’t pluck fish from the air; he received ordinary fish, passed hand-to-hand, that had been caught with a line and hook and bait from a mucky lake, and simply increased its mass. Somebody made—skillfully or not, burning or undercooking or baking just right—the loaves he multiplied. Jesus did not wave his arms in a magical gesture that caused purple light to shoot across the crowd, into their gaping mouths, filling their stomachs with magical sustenance. He took what was already present in nature and expanded it more rapidly than it otherwise might have. People chewed the miraculous fish with ordinary, sometimes broken, sometimes aching teeth. Those caught fish, had they been allowed to keep on swimming, might have multiplied into thousands of fish, sufficient to feed the crowd, in a few more generations; but that would have taken years. The wheat for the bread and the women’s labor to grind, mix, knead, and bake it could have fed the crowd in a few more years of harvests and long baking days. Jesus did in seconds what the natural process might have done more slowly. He didn’t contradict nature, he amplified it.

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Christianity, Deontology, and Virtue Ethics

A word of explanation. I teach a course at SMU|Guildhall on Ethics and Video Games. It is by no means a Christian course and has no explicitly Christian content. But some of the students tell me that they’re Christian. Since Christian ethics is an interest of mine, I’m keen to interact with these individuals at a deeper level about their efforts to integrate biblical ideas with a holistic view of ethics. I’m keen to interact with any student of whatever persuasion to help them more fully integrate their own ideas, beliefs, and intuitions. But since I actually have some training in Christian theology, I can see further down that path than I can see down the philosophical path that other students are on.

A Christian student recently told me that they saw both deontological (duty-based ethics) and virtue ethical elements in Christianity. I wanted to respond to that intuition with a little closer analysis of Christianity’s relationship to ethical systems. Here’s what I said.

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