“Divine action” is one of those heady topics that comes up frequently in discussions of science and faith, one worthy of academic study. But last week I had an opportunity to see God’s hand at work in a rare, personal way that I want to share with you. The story I’m about to tell reminds me that while God does work in grand, miraculous ways (the parting of the Red Sea and the Resurrection being some obvious examples), he’s also involved in the every-day details of life.
My grandmother—Omie, we call her—came of age in the Texas Panhandle during the Great Depression. She grew up in a tiny town, in a little white box of a house just steps from the Old Route 66. My grandfather died 30 years ago, and Omie has lived alone ever since, keeping her body and mind active with daily walks and competitive bridge tournaments. She’s a faithful Christian woman, and tough as nails. (A couple of years ago she fell and broke her wrist, but did she call for help? No. She drove herself to the hospital.) I love and admire her fiercely.
Last Monday, Omie turned 83. Instead of having a celebratory dinner out with my aunt and uncle as planned, she wound up in the hospital. The weekend before Omie’s birthday, my sister Jennifer had thought about ordering her some birthday flowers, but got busy with the stuff of life and hadn’t gotten around to it. Late Sunday night, however, the thought kept returning to Jennifer’s mind, so persistently that she stopped, went to the computer, and ordered some flowers online.
The next day, the florist delivered the bouquet. Omie answered the door, but something was amiss; she was clearly unwell. The florist left, but felt concerned enough to tell a neighbor (who happened to be leaving her house just then) that perhaps she should check on her neighbor. (Who does that anymore? Most people would be too afraid of meddling to say anything.)
The neighbor wasn’t just anyone. She was my aunt’s cousin. She and my grandmother don’t know each other well, apparently, but she knew who to call. My aunt and uncle immediately came over and took Omie to the doctor. And the doctor immediately recommended she go to the hospital for testing.
So, Omie had to spend the night of her birthday in the hospital, hooked up to an IV and a host of machines, but the doctors were finally able to take into account her various conditions, medications, and test results to make a treatment plan. She was released from the hospital within two days. We’re all rejoicing.
To me, this story has God written all over it. No part of it was an obvious miracle, but each “merely natural” event was coordinated with the next. A skeptic would say this is nothing more than a series of disconnected coincidences, and I can’t prove that it’s not. Through the eyes of faith, though, it’s consistent with the way we often experience God in our lives.
Is this story not similar to the way many people come to faith? Of course there are those who are blinded by the light and hear the voice of God, but for most of us, conversion is a long and gradual process. A pastor friend of mine reflected in a recent email, “The actual conversion of someone to Christ is typically the end of a long chain of God ordained events, impressions, conversations, and life experiences.” Maybe none of them are obviously miraculous, but as the evidence mounts up, Christianity becomes harder to dismiss.
Along these lines, Emerging Scholars Network author Rick Mattson wrote just the other day,
So the case for faith is both accessible and resistible. An ordinary person who’s not a scholar has the opportunity to find God. There is plenty of evidence available. But the evidence can also be reinterpreted and dismissed by a persistent skeptic. Alternative explanations can be given for everything.
There are no clear proofs of Christianity to be had, it is true. But perhaps dismissability is not a liability, Mattson argues; God invites but does not coerce us to believe. For many, the cumulative evidence is compelling:
When you add all the clues together from nature and science and history and philosophy—and every discipline—and confirm it with the experience of knowing and loving Christ, you’ve got excellent reasons to believe. The pieces all fit neatly (if not perfectly) into an enormous jigsaw puzzle, a complete worldview that offers massive explanatory power for all human experience.
So what exactly does all this have to do with origins, the primary subject of interest at BioLogos? The point is this: most of the time, in our experience, God works through mundane, ordinary, natural-looking events. You can’t pinpoint his activity in a single moment, but the whole speaks to us of his presence. If God brings about even something so obviously spiritual as conversion over time and through ordinary means, then why should we expect (as many Christians do) that God creates biodiversity through endless numbers of distinct, miraculous interventions, rather than through ordinary-looking natural processes of his own design?
Please hear me: I don’t want to diminish in any way the reality of miracles. I completely affirm the miracles recorded in Scripture, and I also affirm that God could have created in any way he wanted. But the evidences for evolution give us a remarkable picture of God’s creative action that is, I would argue, more consistent with a gradual, “ordinary”—but no less beautiful—process. You can’t see God’s work in any given scientific observation, but it’s writ large in the whole of creation: “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse” (Rom. 1:20).