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Miracles: the dead living ones and the living dead ones.

By Peter Sellick - posted Thursday, 29 June 2023

One of the most common objections to Christianity is that it encourages belief in miracles that, in turn, point to the existence of a supernatural realm that exists in parallel with the real world. The obvious clash between this view and that of natural science is the reason many reject Christianity as mere childish wishful thinking. Some have concluded that any reading of scripture must dispense with the miraculous and concentrate on the moral messages of the text. It may be accepted that Jesus was a good man living in scientifically unsophisticated times but certainly not the saviour of the world.

The corrective of this reduction and impoverishment of biblical texts and subsequently of faith is to see that the miracle stories act on two levels that are not always obvious. While it may be that some biblical writers did believe in miracles that represented a break in the laws of physical causality, as was usual in their time, many miracles are obviously metaphorical in that they point away from themselves to a deeper human reality.

Miracle as metaphor may be understood as pointing to the transition between two kinds of human being; the living dead ones and the dead living ones. The dead living ones are those who have died in the waters of baptism and now live in resurrection life. The living dead ones are those who sleep-walk through a life that exists under the powers of the world, ie under the urgings of the flesh, dominated by the powers of nations, families and professions. Their state is a zombie existence, they may be alive biologically, but they are dead in the spirit.


Bruce Barber has written:

Biological death is not a distinguishing feature before God, theologically understood, death is a phenomenon in human life before it achieves its resolution in what we call biological death. Indeed, the whole of the Judeo-Christian tradition is understood to be the outworking of the power of death in the midst of life, albeit with its universal accompanying partial ameliorations.

The ancient chant says it all; "Media vita in morte sumus" - in the midst of life we are in death. We are constantly engaged in the struggle of Being, between the hopefulness and peace of the dead living ones and the despairing turmoil of the living dead ones. We are told in the gospels that the Kingdom of God has come near. It has not definitively and forever arrived, but when Christ is present it is close.

What is close is the transition between the living dead ones and the dead living ones. The promise is not that we will live forever, but that we will live the life of the eternal one. The words spoken when the elements are given in the eucharist are apt: "the body/blood of Christ keep you in eternal life." The kingdom of God is not a place, it is a state of human being.

The mistake of the Medieval synthesis was to understand eternal life as life after death. But the gospel proclaims the possibility of life from death, hence the description "the dead living ones". We gain life from the death of Jesus. Not as a kind of quid pro quo that involves us in His death, but as an event that reveals us for what we are; the enemy of truth.

In the gospels, the term for the transition from the living dead to the dead living is "miracle". This denotation indicates that an event is unexpected in the realm of the time of the world (secular) but rather has its origins from above (sacred). Such events are personal and indicate a new freedom from the power of disease. While secularism sees a medical miracle, the original writers understood the event to be spiritual, ie of the psyche, the sort of event that is now perused in psychotherapy.


The central miracle of Christian faith is, of course, the resurrection of Jesus who was dead and is now alive. We share in the death and resurrection of Christ: "But if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him." (Rom. 6:8) This transition has no earthly process, it is a process "from heaven" or as "miracle". Thus, the supernatural is not an invisible order of the material, rather it belongs to the metaphysical, even as in Scripture it is often presented as medical, the lame walk, the blind see and the deaf hear. Surely these are metaphors for the coming alive after "death", of the transition between the living dead ones and the dead living ones.

An example in literature may be found in E M Forster's Howards End. When Henry Wilcocks realises that his son will be sent to prison for the manslaughter of Lenard Bast, he breaks down and says: "I don't know what to do-what to do. I'm broken – I'm ended." His wife noticed that after this "life began to move". Henry Wilcocks had been raised from the dead but is still described as being "Not ill. Eternally tired. He has worked very hard all his life and noticed nothing. Those are the people who collapse when they do notice a thing." A captain of industry, used to getting his own way in everything, proud of his righteousness, a bully to others, is broken and the life of the living dead ones is transposed to the life of the dead living ones. A miracle.

The transition need not be so dramatic. For those raised in the faith it is something they grow into, and they cannot point to an instant in time when everything changed. But in our time of self-assertion, we have wandered so far from the Way, that the turning often comes as a shock, as a breaking of the former self, a radical turning, as it did for Paul the Apostle on the Damascus Road.

Finally, it is wrong to condemn the Faith because it leads to irrationality and a denial of the laws of nature. Of course, belief in miracles is still strongly asserted by many in the Faith, especially in the way the megachurches manipulate their flock. But a mature Faith does not believe in an interventionist God, a supernatural being who can decide to poke his fingers into the gears of the universe. This God has more in common with Aristotle's unmoved mover. It does not equate to the Christian understanding of God who reveals himself as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Bound together in love, these three always act as one.

The one act of God is the sending of the Son by the Father in the Spirit. This is both His act of creation and salvation. His creation of the world coincides with the transition from the world of the living dead ones to that of the dead living ones. When we assert the activity of an interventionist God in the miraculous, we do damage to the doctrine of the Trinity and the transcendence of God. God becomes a physical player in the world and an obvious reason for atheism in a natural world increasingly explained by cause and effect.


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About the Author

Peter Sellick an Anglican deacon working in Perth with a background in the biological sciences.

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