Being dominated by hierarchies that tend to value their worldly standing, the Church plays down the supernatural elements of the faith. Miracles are embarrassing to leaders who value the estimation of a rationalist, modern society, what’s more supernatural things are hard to control. If you are a bishop who likes order and structure and everyone doing the right thing, the last thing you want is phenomena that don’t adhere to canon law.
In order not to encourage things that are irregular and troublesome, the Church will sometimes even leave out awkward Bible verses.
When it comes to the closing words of Saint Matthew Chapter 27, I wonder how many church leaders will find them disturbing?
From the sixth hour until the ninth hour darkness came over all the land. About the ninth hour Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?”—which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
When some of those standing there heard this, they said, “He’s calling Elijah.”
Immediately one of them ran and got a sponge. He filled it with wine vinegar, put it on a stick, and offered it to Jesus to drink. The rest said, “Now leave him alone. Let’s see if Elijah comes to save him.”
And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit.
At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook and the rocks split. The tombs broke open and the bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. They came out of the tombs, and after Jesus’ resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many people.
Curtains tearing, earthquakes, people coming back from the dead, not the sort of thing that will make you sound reasonable and acceptable on the television, more the sort of stuff that would make you sound like a nutcase and a crank. But before dismissing Matthew’s words as the product of an imaginative interpretation of events, one question: if God can’t do these things, then is he God at all? If God is not a supernatural God, then is he even worth our worship?
I think the term supernatural is damaging in that it removes a central element of our relationship with God. This is not to discount the experience of the vast majority of Christians who do not encounter God everyday in their lives.
However our lives should be led in obedience to the guidance of God whether that be from impartation, the Bible or the counsel of our fellow Christians. Coming from a charasmatic background I find it impossible to imagine a world where God isn’t taking an active part in my life.
It’s fundamentally an issue of control. Some people fear what a radical church on fire for God impacting their local community might do.
The following is taken from Julius Africanus'(a pagan convert to Christianity, of Roman descent) The History of the World ca 220AD. Thallus, whom he quotes, wrote his history of the eastern Mediterranean in about 52AD, and attempts to prescribe a naturalistic explanation to the darkness:
“On the whole world there pressed a most fearful darkness; and the rocks were rent by an earthquake, and many places in Judea and other districts were thrown down. This darkness Thallus, in the third book of his History, calls, as appears to me without reason, an eclipse of the sun. For the Hebrews celebrate the passover on the 14th day according to the moon, and the passion of our Savior falls on the day before the passover; but an eclipse of the sun takes place only when the moon comes under the sun. And it cannot happen at any other time but in the interval between the first day of the new moon and the last of the old, that is, at their junction: how then should an eclipse be supposed to happen when the moon is almost diametrically opposite the sun? Let opinion pass however; let it carry the majority with it; and let this portent of the world be deemed an eclipse of the sun, like others a portent only to the eye. Phlegon records that, in the time of Tiberius Caesar, at full moon, there was a full eclipse of the sun from the sixth hour to the ninth–manifestly that one of which we speak. But what has an eclipse in common with an earthquake, the rending rocks, and the resurrection of the dead, and so great a perturbation throughout the universe? Surely no such event as this is recorded for a long period.”
His quote of Phlegon of Tralles is most interesting. Phlegon was a Greek historian who wrote in Olympiades he Chronika 13 (ca 137AD) that in the fourth year of the 202nd Olympiad [33AD] there was ‘the greatest eclipse of the sun’ and that ‘it became night in the sixth hour of the day [noon] so that stars even appeared in the heavens. There was a great earthquake in Bithynia, and many things were overturned in Nicaea.’
Phlegon records that after the ‘eclipse of the sun’ that a great earthquake occured. Since the Bible shows that Jesus was crucified on the same year, and that an earthquake occured after his death (cf Matthew 27:51), is it really that hard to believe the gospel accounts of Christ’s death?