How can a Christian explain the occurrence of walking on
water? [Answers, 12
I was impressed by Canon Terry Palmer's subtlety concerning what
actually happened in the Gospel accounts of the nature miracles.
Atheists will be more forthright: no such things happened.
Furthermore, since healing miracles also took place within the
matter and causal processes of nature, healing miracles will
probably go the same way.
What allegedly happened is bizarre and incredible without a
proper context. The context of the physical sciences, and indeed of
our familiar everyday life, cannot sustain the significance of any
miracle. Canon Palmer draws attention, perhaps for this reason, to
"the real significance of the story", which ascribes to Christ "the
power and mastery of God as the Lord of winds and waves".
The problem is that significance itself lies in a context that
is beginning to fragment, since "what happened historically is
probably beyond our grasp," where a "reverent agnosticism relegates
factual details to a historical suspense account". I take this as a
way of saying that what supposedly happened is doubtful and is
thereby relegated from the context. Hence any significance of
miracle stories is also detached from what happened.
But, in the wider context, Christ's miracles are signs of the
coming Kingdom, set within the religion of Israel, where God
performed many mighty works. How much more that is "beyond our
grasp" will be relegated from the context by a reverent
Canon Palmer quotes the Old Testament to support the
significance of Jesus as "the Lord of winds and waves". But this is
not credible if "Jesus was seen walking or wading in the shallows"!
Then we have the "I AM" at the burning bush. But the burning bush
is another questionable nature miracle. Canon Palmer mentions the
"I AM", but it floats free as the burning bush is relegated, and
context continues to disintegrate.
The significance of these nature miracles in both the Gospels
and the Old Testament is about the reality of God, not merely about
stories that people believe. Canon Palmer speaks of the "power and
mastery of God", "the Living One"; these presumably convey
something of the reality of God. But the divine reality is shown in
what supposedly happened. If that is in question, the reality of
God itself comes into question. After all, the "nature" part of
nature miracles surely contributes to the sense of the reality of
God as "Lord of winds and waves". If the facts, as in what
happened, do not go beyond the working of the normal causes of
nature, then a context of what happened, the reality of God, and
Canon Palmer's "real significance" lie in ruins. We are left only
One may object that the parables of Jesus are just such stories,
where what happened is not important. Indeed so, but the parables
speak to us of the reality of God in the context of Jesus's life
and ministry, where the miracles are signs of the coming Kingdom.
The credibility of the King himself lies in this context, including
So the whole context weaves what happened together with the
reality of God shown in his mighty works, all of which is woven
into the history of Israel and the ministry of Jesus. To unpick
that context will unravel the whole context.
(Dr) Henk Carpentier Alting
Heaton Moor, Stockport
How can I learn about the various "heresies" that have
arisen in the Christian Church during its 2000-year-old life? Is
there a . . . Dictionary of Heresies?
M. A. T.
Out of the Question, Church Times, 3rd floor, Invicta
House, 108-114 Golden Lane, London EC1Y 0TG.