Getting over the Idea of the Physical Supernatural

In ancient times, when the bulk of our scriptures were written, humans did not make the distinction between “natural” and “supernatural” causes.  Although the words “super” and “natura” are Latin, the Romans didn’t have a word “supernaturalis.”  This word was coined in Modern times.  The Oxford English Dictionary records that the word “supernatural” first appears in English in 1526.

This is because the ancients had substantially less understanding of natural mechanisms for everything from physics to meteorology to biology. And so the sun, the moon, the river running through your city, fate, fortune, death — these were all seen as divine forces, indeed, these were all revered as gods.

For ancient and Medieval Christians, even when an immediate cause was known, natural philosophers affirmed that the ultimate cause of everything, the “First Cause” is God.

But in modern times, as science better understood natural mechanisms, people invented the category of “supernatural” to house unexplained phenomena.  Instead of looking for God’s miracles in the universe that was better understood, they relegated God to the phenomena that were unexplained, equating miracles with physical magic.  This approach was known as looking for “God in the gaps.”  That is, although science could explain much of the universe, there were still “gaps.” After many centuries those gaps are much smaller than they once were and so I think we can say conclusively that it was an intellectual dead end to relegate God to the gaps. 

People continue to crave physical magic. Superhero movies dominate global blockbusters.  In census surveys here in Canada, Australia, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, hundreds of thousands of people have listed their religion as “Jedi.”  And who doesn’t want to be able to do Jedi mind-tricks or to have telekinetic powers?

Despite many centuries of looking for God in the gaps, of earnest people mistakenly believing in supernatural physical magic, I believe and I testify to you that knowing the real God is about the difficult work of knowing about the actual universe and the workings of this world.  It’s the work of understanding humanity and society and why some of our actions cause harm, while others can allow us to achieve greater equity, less bigotry, more justice, less violence, and we seek to fulfill Christ’s mission and realize our shared goal of bringing about the Peaceable Kingdom of God on earth.

One comment on “Getting over the Idea of the Physical Supernatural

  1. Arlyn Stewart says:

    Enjoyed your thoughts.

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