The Non-Miracle of Healing the Whole

23 04 2008

These days I’m doing quite a bit of thinking about secular theology. The past year’s study has driven me into the critical works of various Bible scholars, and it has been a bewildering, broadening, infuriating and fulfilling experience. Academic theology is not, as some would suggest, without merit. When I listen to D.A. Carson and others like him, I am blessed to find that they engage with and profit from some of the arguments which hostile considerations of the Bible bring to bear. Scholars of their standing have an incredible ability to drink the juice and spit the pips of those writers who do not hold to an evangelical understanding of Scripture. My prayer is that in the days to come, God would help me to emulate even a fraction of this wise approach.

Having said all of that, however, there are times when academic theology reaches the heady heights of ridiculousness. I’m presently working on an exegetical essay on John 5:1-18 – the healing of the man at the pool of Bethesda and its aftermath. Reflecting on the events of the chapter, one scholar writes:

‘There is no clear proof that John regarded the healing of the man at Bethesda as miraculous, nor need we do so. The patient obeyed a sudden, authoritative order to stand up and walk, and when he tried he found that he could do it’ [Bernard, p.231].

Now, even by critical scholarship’s standards, this is speculative and foolish beyond degree! If one follows this line of reasoning it is discovered that John, in writing a Gospel specifically designed to engender belief in Christ as the Son of God, decides to include an account of ‘the non-miracle of healing the whole’. Such a story of nothing happening would obviously serve its purpose in convincing non-believers! Under this reading, Jesus is a kind of life coach who enables the man to do what he could do all along!

Perhaps oddly, such faulty statements serve to encourage me in my faith. This is the best that man can do with God’s book. Left to his own devices, without the constraint of holding Scripture to be the Word of God, he resorts to conjecture, speculation and folly – not all the time, but on enough occasions to bless my heart!!

The evangelical’s high view of Scripture is no desperate clinging to a relic-like belief, hopelessly hoping that the Bible might be God’s Word. It is a reading of Scripture which takes the text on its own terms, which reads as the writers intended, and as the Author inspired, that we might know, fear, and trust in God. It leaves miracles as miracles, and refuses to see human reason as the benchmark for belief. That’s the position I take, and I have found nothing in the world of academic theology to shake me from it. God is good!