Does God offer reproducible results?

One of the foundations of the scientific method is the notion of reproducible results. If you describe your experiment clearly enough, others should be able to do the experiment and get the same results. If not, there is something wrong with your work. Either you’re faking it, you’re careless (so the description of how you did the experiment is not complete), or there is some other variable you haven’t thought of.
But Scripture presents narratives where results are not reproduced. The people of Israel were slaves in Egypt, God sends Moses to confront Pharaoh, initiate all kinds of plagues on Egypt, then finally lead the people out of Egypt, where they are trapped on the seashore, Moses prays and the waters part, so the people march across, and the waters close in again on Pharaoh and his army when he attempts to pursue. Did anyone ever repeat that result? Not really. The people did march across the Jordan riverbed between two walls of water in Joshua’s time; but no plagues, no enemies being drowned.
The people of Israel were carried off as exiles and slaves to Assyria. Did a deliverer rise up to bring them back to the land? No. The people of Judah were carried off as exiles to Babylon. Did a deliverer rise up to bring them back to the land? No single leader steadfast against opposition like Moses, but there were leaders, witnesses to God’s presence. Daniel and Ezekiel gave words of prophecy and encouragement while they were in exile, Ezra led people back to the land, and Nehemiah led more back, and rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem. Did Ezra and Nehemiah see powerful miracles, signs that God was with them? While God did enable them to succeed against great odds, there were not powerful miracles like waters parting, plagues upon the enemies of God, or God appearing like a pillar of cloud or smoke.
So a scientist might be forgiven for wondering if Scripture were really true. It does not present reproducible events, it seems. But one difference between science and theology ought to be made clear. Science mostly concerns itself with matter and impersonal forces. Forces that though powerful can be manipulated when you understand how they work. Theology deals with God, who is a person. In personal relationships, reproducible results are not guaranteed. Doing the exact same thing does not get the exact same response every time from your friends or neighbors. So its not inconsistent to believe it wouldn’t with God either. People of faith testify to a certain degree of reproducibility — they learn to perceive that God is there whether they see him or not, and that when they pray things do happen. Not always what they pray for, but God does comfort, help and encourage in a variety of ways. But he seems to value being unpredictable in how he will comfort, help and encourage.
The Christian life is not really dealing with nonreproducible results, but in nonreproduced results. God is capable of doing again what he did once, but he chooses not to do so to a perhaps surprising degree. But when we remember God is not an impersonal force we can control, maybe this outcome is not so surprising. When we think of spirituality as a relationship with a good and powerful friend that we don’t control, even though he cares for us, maybe the nonreproduced results become more understandable. God often does not repeat the details of how he provides and cares, but his being with us, providing and caring for us, are reproduced experiences.


2 comments:

Carl Mills said...

God has a choice about whether to repeat miracles. Once, Jesus might feed 4000 men plus women and children, at another time there were 5000 men plus women and children. There are parallels where he blessed a hopelessly small food gift, and he ordered the disciples to keep giving from their meager supply. Just think if this mass feeding continued being replicated: there would be no hunger problem. All would be fed regardless of their wealth or political connection, or lack thereof.

SE White said...

Yes, an occasional repetition. Just enough to keep us from guessing he'd never repeat?