Signs in the Sky

I just saw a UFO. A bright point of light apparently flying Westwards in the morning Brisbane sky, after I’d watched a turbo-prop flyover from the airport c.9 AM. Now I’m too much of a sky-watcher to think it was an “alien space-vehicle”. It was probably a plane reflecting the sunlight, as I’ve seen planes do countless times, but the way it faded away from visibility meant it was obviously a long way off. If not for the reflection it probably would’ve been a speck in the sky and I wouldn’t have noticed it. For a moment I thought “What if…” and then the sceptic in my said “probably not extraterrestrial.”

Prior to that ‘encounter’ I was contemplating a “New Scientist” piece on whether miracles were in violation of natural law…

Opinion: Do you believe in miracles?

…in which Hugh Maclachlan discusses Hume’s supposed water-tight argument that miracles prove anything or whether we must always assume that people who claim miracles are mistaken. If you believe in God, then miracles make sense, but are they violations of natural law? Since the word ‘miracle’ originally referred to ‘signs from God’ there’s nothing in the concept itself that implies natural law violation. Anything can be claimed as a ‘sign’ since God is usually claimed to be behind all natural phenomena anyway. People have claimed ‘weeping’ statues, and simulacra of Jesus and Mary in fence-posts and burnt toast to be ‘signs’, which isn’t much different from old style omens being sought in entrails and sun-sets.

Even the ‘grand miracles’ of Jesus’ Virgin Birth could well have been a natural event since parthenogenesis is known in a number of vertebrates, like sharks, lizards, turkeys and so forth. The events of Moses leading the Children of Israel through the sea and beyond have plausibly all been argued to involve fundamentally ‘natural’ processes. I’m sure just about every claimed ‘miracle’ in the Bible can be given some kind of naturalistic explanation. The most difficult to explain are events that involve the creation of matter (feeding the 4000 & 5000) or its transformation (water into wine), or its translocation (Elisha & Elijah in the Hebrew Bible and the apostle Philip in the Christian), but even those could involve ‘natural forces’ we’re yet to fully understand.

What makes a miracle a ‘sign’ is a person’s faith. But what sort of ‘faith’? Not the mere assent to a concept or idea, but the kind that drives a person to act. Everyone rewarded with a sign in the Bible – and, dare I say, in Life – has acted on what they felt led by God to do. Their expectations that God would act led to Him doing so and their perception that He had.

But why don’t we get what we want even if we act on faith? That has tormented people for as long as they have believed in miracles. Yet God waited more than 80 years to liberate the Israelites while Moses grew and matured, waited a decade to end Nazi tyranny, and let Israel be oppressed by the Assyrians and then the Babylonians for years before bringing judgement against both. Why so?

As I thought on this I was reminded by statements in the Letter of Yaakov (James) that God shines his Sun on the good and the bad. In otherwords He is impartial and loves both the sinner and the saintly, only acting when the evil have been given all their chances at repentence. Look at the little story of “Jonah” – God sent Jonah, against his instincts as an Israelite, to the capital of the Assyrians to lead them to repentence. Jonah wanted them destroyed, but God saw the Assyrians much as he saw the Israelites – flawed beings in need of repentence. The repentence of Nineveh averted the impending Judgement, perhaps the 625 BC attack by the Medo-Babylonian alliance – but we know eventually it fell in 612 BC to the ascendant Medes. Thus ended some ~120 years of Assyrian domination. Yet God didn’t forget the Assyrians – the Assyrian Church is still alive today.

I guess a God has to look to the long-term when working with human beings. Perhaps he can only act when the time is right.

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