Miracles and a Deeper Magic

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Though the Witch knew the Deep Magic, there is a magic deeper still which she did not know. Her knowledge goes back only to the dawn of Time.[1]

David Hume famously defined a miracle as “a transgression of a law of nature by a particular volition of the Deity.”[2] Apart from ensuring his conclusion on the improbability of miracles, Hume’s definition betrays several faulty ways of thinking of miracles. Considering these will lead us to a better understanding of what miracles actually are.

Hume defines a miracle as something that ‘breaks’ the so-called ‘laws’ of nature, but this is where he (and many today) stumble over their own metaphor. In short, they take the metaphor too literally. In his book, Miracles, C.S. Lewis observes that they are fooled into thinking that what we call ‘laws of nature’ are somehow inviolable, complete, and even causal. Yet, what we call ‘laws’ are only observations of what Nature usually does, all things being equal, without interference. But interference is precisely what one would expect possible if there was a super-nature. A miracle is a kind of interference in the usual state of affairs of Nature by something outside of her. Lewis writes,

The question, ‘Do miracles occur?’ and the question, ‘Is the course of Nature absolutely uniform?’ are the same question asked in two different ways. Hume, by sleight of hand, treats them as two different questions. He first answers ‘Yes,’ to the question whether Nature is absolutely uniform: and then uses this ‘Yes’ as a ground for answering, ‘No,’ to the question, ‘Do miracles occur?’ The single real question which he set out to answer is never discussed at all. He gets the answer to one form of the question by assuming the answer to another form of the same question.

In reality, Christian thinkers have wrestled with the nature of miracles for centuries. Augustine held “that a miracle is not contrary to nature, but only to our knowledge of nature” and that “miracles are made possible by hidden potentialities in nature that are placed there by God.”[3] Aquinas agrees, concluding that “a miracle must go beyond the order usually observed in nature,” but it “is not contrary to nature in any absolute sense, since it is in the nature of all created things to be responsive to God’s will.”[4] Lewis likens a miracle to an intervention into Nature’s affairs by something that has a deeper understanding of how she has been made. Miracles reveal a deeper logic and uniformity to reality as we know it. “In Science we have been reading only the notes to a poem,” he writes, but in the miracles “we find the poem itself.”[5]

C.S. Lewis emphasizes that in thinking of the laws of nature as being unbreakable, the skeptic reveals his presupposition that nature is all there is. Again, this is precisely the presupposition that miracles challenge. The assumption begs the question. Instead of breaking laws, miracles reveal that Nature as we see it is only part of a larger system of laws – the “crabbed text” of which Nature as we know it is “only the commentary.”[6] Lewis writes that miracles demonstrate “the great complex event called Nature, and the new particular event introduced into it by the miracle, are related by their common origin in God.” [7] Given the common Origin, it should not come as a surprise that Nature can then absorb the miracle seamlessly, regardless of her regular behavior at other times. Lewis writes,

The divine art of miracle is not an art of suspending the pattern to which events conform but of feeding new events into that pattern. It does not violate the law’s proviso, ‘If A, then B’: it says, ‘But this time instead of A, A2,’ and Nature, speaking through all her laws, replies ‘Then B2’ and naturalises the immigrant, as she well knows how. She is an accomplished hostess.[8]

Lewis illustrated it best in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. The White Witch, despite all of her lust for power and control, suddenly became the perfect student of law when it came to calling out and prosecuting the sins of Edmund. She thought she had won in demanding his death, the price for his betrayal. Like the skeptic who dismisses miracles based his finite observations of the regularities in our world, she revealed that in thinking of only “earthly things” – with hubris thinking her observations as complete – her thinking was obscured. She missed what Aslan called a “deeper magic” that miraculously fulfilled the law of her world and undid her control over Narnia. Her error proved to be her downfall. God resists the proud.

Miracles reveal that “there are rules behind the rules, and a unity which is deeper than uniformity.”[9] This unity, when revealed will show the “highest consistency” with the rhyme and reason of Nature as we see her.[10] This is perhaps the best way to think of miracles: rather than going against Nature, miracles complete her. Miracles reveal that she is part of a larger reality and a greater law that extends far beyond herself. The grandest miracle of all, the death and resurrection of Christ, tells us that the greater law is Love.

In the end, the White Witch is like the skeptic of miracles who cannot see past the things of this earth. If both would just have the humility to wonder if their view of nature was the whole show, they’d observe wondrous things in tiny fraction of the show they do see. Humility is the beginning of wonder.

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[1] C.S. Lewis, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (New York: HarperCollins, 1978), 148.

[2] David Hume, An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, ed. Eric Steinberg, 2nd ed. (Indianapolis, IN: Hackett Publishing Company, 1993), 76.

[3] Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Accessed December 03, 2018, https://www.iep.utm.edu/miracles/?fbclid=IwAR36f4p3swJWrOq1BJMFn81U8c_xw-775WJNj5iTQkD_7TjdSlYgfol8vvo

[4] Ibid.

[5] C.S. Lewis, Miracles: A Preliminary Study (New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers, 2001), 212.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid., 95.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid., 153.

[10] Ibid., 155.

[11] Ibid., 156.

2 thoughts on “Miracles and a Deeper Magic

  1. I really like your parallels between the intervention of the supernatural into the world of the natural with The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. Thought-provoking!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I’m not sure if you know, but C.S. Lewis wrote “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe” after “Miracles.” It is said that it was meant to be a fairy tale version of his arguments in “Miracles.” So, it’s no surprise that there should be many parallels.

    Like

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