Friday, 24 August 2012

Private revelations, personal miracles


Christianity is about happiness because life is about happiness, as Pascal perceived - but the Christian must know his condition to be wretched - wretched and yet also with hope.

Nonetheless, wretched as we are, many Christians have had the blessings of revelations and miracles to confirm and sustain their faith: revelations (divine communications) to answer problems or provide guidance; miracles of many kinds.

These might be called subjective revelations and miracles - they are real, but they are not meant to be communicated.


Everyday revelations and miracles are personal, and seem intended to be personal - but the Christian faith, on the other hand, was set-up and built-up on public, objective miracles and revelations.

The miracles of Christ were necessary to show that he was a supernatural being. The miracles did not show what kind of supernatural being He was, not even that He was good (since evil miracles occur - or at least pseudo-miracles which can fool humans).

The revelations of Christ's teaching, the teaching of the Apostles and Holy Fathers - these were necessary to establish the Christian Church, and to correct its distortions and corruptions. Again, like the early miracles, these were 'for public consumption'.


But at this stage in the plan of salvation - the End Times, or something close to them - there have not been public revelations and miracles for some generations. Indeed, we are now (at least in The West) feeble in our faith and corrupted by worldliness, so both the average and peak levels of sanctity (or theosis) are much much lower than they used to be. Thus we could not understand major revelations and would misinterpret them, and we would disbelieve and argue against even major public miracles.


But the good news is that even we modern, feeble practising Christians are granted personal, private revelations and miracles. These are of immense value in sustaining our faith and guiding our lives, but are not meant to be communicated, nor should they be used as proofs of Christianity - and certainly not put forward as reliable benefits of becoming a Christian. They are not earned!

Private revelations and personal miracles would not convince skeptics, that is not their purpose - indeed the chance to 'disprove' them by offering alternative explanations would probably reinforce skepticism.

We need to distinguish between that which is given us by grace for our own benefit (and the benefit of those we love) which is as much a part of private discourse as the endearments of family life; from the large scale, public, overwhelming, faith-establishing events of the earlier church.

But while refusing to talk about our private revelations and personal miracles with any specificity (just as we would refuse to describe the specifics of our married lives), we can and should acknowledge their reality and importance, and be very thankful for them.



Dale James Nelson said...

What you write is a good basis for discussion. People will differ about when the time was when revelations for more than private edification ceased, or even if they have ceased. For the Mormons, revelation continues, if I am not mistaken; it was, I think, in the 20th century that some element of the racial teaching of the group was revised by the authorities. Obviously for Mormons the revelation to J. Smith in the 1800s was not a private one but was a further communication of doctrine for the faithful. There could be some debate about what counts as new revelation, too. When papal infallibility and the bodily assumption of the Blessed Virgin are made dogmas binding on the faithful, as in the case of relatively recent Roman Catholicism, it may be alleged that these are not new revelations but statements of what was, in some sense, really the belief of the church "all along."

As a Christian in the Lutheran Confessional tradition, I think the stance that makes most sense is that the Faithful are obliged to believe the teaching of the prophetic and apostolic Scriptures (66 books), properly interpreted (i.e. recognizing, among other things, that some statements are more poetical than others); and that private revelation does continue. Bengt Hoffmann's Theology of the Heart has interesting discussions of the place of mystical experience in Luther and others -- e.g. visions of angels, souls after death, etc. These things are not regarded as binding on the consciences of Christians, and indeed many Lutherans have never heard of them.

bgc said...

@Dale - wrt Mormons - my understanding is that all Mormons expect to be guided by personal revelations - for example in whether to have another child. But only the President of the Church, heir to Joseph Smith, and his group of Apostles, are 'entitled' to have revelations concerning revisions to general doctrine - but, as you say, these are expected to occur when needed, now and in the future.

FHL said...

Some random ramblings:

I completely believe in private revelation and its impact. Sometimes private revelation is something mundane to others, but because of the timing, it is seen as a miracle by the recipients that God reached out to.

But then there are other fantastic miracles.

This reminds me of two inspiring true stories.

A member of the faculty (athletics department) at my university is a Christian convert. He used to be Muslim.

He told us that he got very upset at the number of conflicting religions, and became frustrated trying to figure out which one was the true faith. Finally, he gave up, and decided that the truth could never be found out.

Then one night, feeling very spiritually confused, he pleaded with God to simply reveal Himself. He did not reveal to us the details of his dream, but he said that Jesus Christ came to him in his sleep. And when he woke up he knew. He knew! When telling us the story, he stressed this part very much: he did not "think," he did not "feel," he did not "figure," he did not "guess," nor did he "assume"... he KNEW! For a certainty! He placed his faith in Christ from that morning and has been a Christian ever since, even though his family is still Muslim.

The other story was told to me by my priest. He told me of a Coptic girl who used to be extremely secular, into the night-life, sex, drugs, rock-n'-roll, and all that jazz. Many of her family tried to persuade her to go to church, but it was to no avail. She blew them off, saying that God wasn't even real.

Then once, when she was in some sort of trouble brought on by her reckless lifestyle, she called out to God, asking if He was real and if she could come back to Him. She woke up in the middle of night smelling church incense. Curious about this, she prayed the second night the same prayer. She woke up in the middle of the night again, and this time she could actually see the haze of the incense. The third night, she got frustrated, and demanded that God simply reveal Himself. Once again, she woke up in the middle of the night, but this time the incense was thick enough to form columns of smoke, and when she looked at the closest column she clearly saw a face and a human figure. She screamed and the incense immediately dispersed. She is also now a practicing Christian.

These stories may seem silly to some, but I don't find them silly. I completely believe that such things can happen. I call them "fantastic miracles" because they are not miracles in the sense that "it could of happened naturally, but it was unlikely" (which I think is a completely valid type of miracle and Divine revelation, and can carry a great deal of importance for those who experience them) but because they seem flat-out impossible.

An example of a not-so-private fantastic miracle would be the sightings of the Virgin Mary (for example: My own family saw the Holy Theotokos when she visited the church (my father grew up on Zeitoun street, he could see her from his balcony) and I completely believe it is true. I've always wondered why this event never comes up in any discussion in the West, at all, especially since she was photographed and videotaped, both Christians AND Muslims claim to have received extraordinary miracles and healings, and she was witnessed by millions, including secular journalists as well as Catholic investigators dispatched from Rome, Anglicans from England, and Protestants from the U.S.

Perhaps it is for the best though; people in the West probably would have tried to disprove it, further confirming their skepticism, and they would not have gotten any benefit. Don't cast pearls before swine, eh?

My own family also experienced a private fantastic miracle years ago, so I know they happen, but I will not share that story.