07 August 2012

Three Thoughts on Wine, Miracles and Providence

I was reading this morning from St. Augustine and it led me to think about how mechanical we believe the world to be. The deists believed that God made the universe like a clock with certain rules, and that the universe is self-sustaining. By and large this is the view of the universe that Christians have accepted today. Therefore, a miracle becomes an instance of God "breaking" the rules to accomplish something great. This also lies behind the scientific rejection of miracles as impossible. (The rules can't be broken.) But what if the world doesn't run on rules? What if the universe isn't a giant machine? All things hold together because of the attractions between atoms. All things hold together because of the attractions between subatomic particles. All things hold together because of the Higgs field. All things hold together because of the grace of God.

Miracles are not any sort of "breaking" of the rules. Rather they are simply moments when God does something a little differently. Gravity always works because God wants it to work. Except when he doesn't and people ascend to heaven. Denser objects sink in a liquid because God always wants them to. Except when he wants an axehead to float or a man to walk on water. The world is at every moment and at every instant held together by God's magic, but we are too dull to see it.

Anyway, on to the quotes from people who are smarter than me: Here's what St. Augustine says in his commentary on John:

"The miracle wrought by our Lord Jesus Christ at Cana in Galilee in which he turned water into wine, is not marvellous to those who know that God did it. For he who made wine that day at the marriage feast in the six stone water-jars which he had ordered to be filled to the brim with water, performs the same miracle each year in vines. Just as what the servants had put into the water-jars was changed into wine by the agency of the Lord, so what the clouds pour forth is changed into wine by the agency of the same Lord. We do not marvel at this, simply because it happens each year; familiarity has dulled our capacity for wonder...

"A dead man rose again; people marvelled. By contrast numerous babies are born each day, and no one marvels. If only we would reflect upon life more carefully, we would come to see that it is a greater miracle for a child to be given existence who before did not exist, than for a man to come back to life who already existed. People hold cheap what they see every day of their lives, but suddenly, confronted by extraordinary events, they are dumbfounded, though these events are truly no more wonderful than the others. Governing the universe, for example, is a greater miracle than feeding five thousand people with loaves of bread, but no one marvels at it..."

This reminded me of this wonderful passage from The Supper of the Lamb by Robert Farrar Capon.
"God makes wine. For all its difficulties, there is no way around the doctrine of creation. But notice the tense: he makes; not made. he did not create once upon a time, only to find himself saddled now with the unavoidable and embarrassing result of that first rash decision. That is only to welsh on the idea of an unnecessary world, to make creation a self-perpetuating pool game which is contingent only at the start--which needs only the first push on the cue ball to keep it going forever. It will not do: The world is more unnecessary than that. It is unnecessary now; it cries in this moment for a cause to hold it in being. It was St. Thomas, I think, who pointed out long ago that if God wanted to get rid of the universe, He would not have to do anything; He would have to stop doing something...

"Do you see what that means? In a general way we concede that God made the world out of joy: He didn't need it; He just thought it was a good thing. But if you confine His activity in creation to the beginning only, you lose most of the joy in the subsequent shuffle of history...How much better a world it becomes when you see Him creating at all times and at every time; when you see that the preserving of the old in being is just as much creation as the bringing of the new out of nothing. each thing, at every moment, becomes the delight of His hand, the apple of His eye. The bloom of yeast lies upon the grapeskins year after year because He likes it; C6H12O6=2C2H5OH+2CO2 is a dependable process because, every September, he says, That was nice; do it again."

And this in turn reminded me of G. K. Chesterton's reflections in Orthodoxy:
"All the towering materialism which dominates the modern mind rests ultimately upon one assumption; a false assumption. It is supposed that if a thing goes on repeating itself it is probably dead; a piece of clockwork. People feel that if the universe was personal it would vary; if the sun were alive it would dance. This is a fallacy even in relation to known fact. For the variation in human affairs is generally brought into them, not by life, but by death; by the dying down or breaking off of their strength or desire. A man varies his movements because of some slight element of failure or fatigue. He gets into an omnibus because he is tired of walking; or he walks because he is tired of sitting still. But if his life and joy were so gigantic that he never tired of going to Islington, he might go to Islington as regularly as the Thames goes to Sheerness. The very speed and ecstasy of his life would have the stillness of death. The sun rises every morning. I do not rise every morning; but the variation is due not to my activity, but to my inaction. Now, to put the matter in a popular phrase, it might be true that the sun rises regularly because he never gets tired of rising. His routine might be due, not to a lifelessness, but to a rush of life. The thing I mean can be seen, for instance, in children, when they find some game or joke that they specially enjoy. A child kicks his legs rhythmically through excess, not absence, of life. Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, "Do it again"; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, "Do it again" to the sun; and every evening, "Do it again" to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we."

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