Water into wine. Let’s face it, if that literally happened to us, it would be scary.
Recently I read a Quora question about how believable (or not) religions are. This reminded me of two very different ways of looking at religious miracles such as those mentioned in the New Testament. There are believers who approach these stories single-mindedly in one way or the other, and some who have some of each.
As an example, let us look at the story of the Wedding at Cana, where Jesus (somewhat reluctantly) changed water into wine. To one believer, this may simply be an expression of power: Jesus had the God-power so he could do impossible things if he wanted to. Don’t mess with the guy with superpowers! But to another believer, it is a sign, a symbol: Jesus can transform something ordinary, boring and all too common (like a Monday at the job) to something precious, enjoyable and rare (like an opportunity to make others happier, learn something new and improve ourselves).
Generally the first view is common among exoteric or “outward” Christians, the second among esoteric or “inward” Christians. Other religions likewise have both of these types, because they are both needed for a religion to survive and grow large. The exoteric view is the easiest, or at least that has been the case throughout history up until now. I wonder if we are not now in an age where that balance is shifting, and it will be harder to be exoteric than it has been in the past. In times when a religion is under pressure, it is difficult to be an exoteric believer because you have to hold on to the dogma in blind faith, whereas the esoteric believer actually experiences the miracle, only in a different form. But when the religion is strong, you know that everyone around you believes the same stories, so you don’t need to defend them even to yourself. In this way, the balance between the two views varies over the course of history.
To take a more controversial miracle, the Virgin Birth – Mary, Jesus mother, was said to be a virgin who had not been with a man (in a sexual way). This continued at least until Jesus Christ was born. With this miracle, there are actually at least three facets. There is the miraculous display of divine power again, but there is also the whole “Son of God” thing, as it is important to most Christians that Jesus was literally the son of God and not literally son of man. I’ll not touch that with any shorter pole than this. But I’ll touch the esoteric meaning in our own life: That the new, divine life within us depends on there not being any other possible father. When the new life begins to show, it is important that we are not in a position where we can say: “Well, perhaps this is the power of God’s Word. Or perhaps it comes from the many self-help books I read during that time. Or perhaps it was because I got into money and moved to a better neighborhood.” If there are many such claims to fatherhood, there is no need for God to intervene and let his Word become flesh in us. This is why most Christian esoterists have first undergone a moral bankruptcy and exclaimed with the apostle: “For I know that in me, that is in my flesh, there is nothing good.”
If you look at the miracles in the Gospels, if you are an esoteric Christian you will find that they all are signs, symbols of something important to our life today. But there is no reason to think that they were meant to be only symbols. If they were, Jesus could have simply told them as a parable: “The kingdom of Heaven is like unto a wedding where they ran out of wine…” But there is no such parable. Those who wrote down the gospels, supposedly around the time the first generation of Christians began to die out, firmly believed that the miracle actually happened.
And that is probably a good thing. Because it is not really so that the inward application of the miracle is something we can easily do by ourselves. Even today, it is a miracle every time.
Do you have a religion and want to talk about its miracles? Feel free to add your comments!