Question: What do criminals on the TV show COPS, hippies from the 60’s, some of the guys from my high school, and the wilderness wandering children of Israel all have in common?
Answer: Apparently they all…
took mind-altering, hallucinogenic drugs. (When I asked my wife that question, her rather thoughtful and funny response was, “My guess would be that…none of them wore shirts???” Frankly, her answer is not only clever but is certainly more accurate than the one I’m referring to. Nevertheless…)
According to a recent news story (which can be read here or here), Israeli psychology professor, Benny Shanon, of Jerusalem’s Hebrew University, has proposed that when they were at Mt. Sinai, the Hebrews did in fact hear booming thunder and saw flashes of lightning just as the Bible records in the book of Exodus. But instead of being miraculous signs of God’s presence, the thunder and lightning were actually the result of a mass, drug-induced hallucination. Specifically, there are two plants, according to Shanon, which are found throughout the Sinai desert that, when ingested, are known to produce “an altered state of awareness” and these were responsible for Israel’s supposed “supernatural” encounter with God.
Dr. Shanon (who himself admittedly partakes frequently of these same mind-altering plants, which may give us a clue as to where he came up with this silly idea) hypothesizes that
“In advanced forms of ayahuasca inebriation, the seeing of light is accompanied by profound religious and spiritual feelings, [and] on such occasions, one often feels that in seeing the light, one is encountering the ground of all Being … many identify this power as God.”
Now what Dr. Shanon is theorizing is nothing new.
Every now and then stories like this rise to the surface as an attack on the authenticity and reliability of the Bible’s account of history. Each time the details are different, but at its core it is the same old attempt that has been around for centuries to “demythologize” and “demiraculize” the Bible. It’s an endeavor to explain the supernatural events of the Bible with purely natural and rational explanations. (Remember the ridiculous Tomb of Jesus nonsense and the Da Vinci Code conspiracy theories??)
Now, where does this come from?
Well, some feel that if the supernatural elements are removed from the Scriptures then the Bible can become more believable. It’s offensive, they say, to a modern, 21st century man to speak of such preposterous and impossible events as a virgin having a baby or of a person walking on water. What’s really important, according to them, are not the miracles, but the moral and ethical teachings of Scriptures. The miracles are mythical and colorful ways to tell the story that capture people’s attention and makes them more memorable.
Harry Emerson Fosdick once asserted,
“To suppose that a man in order to be a loyal and devout disciple of our Lord in the twentieth century A.D. must think that God in the ninth century B.C. miraculously sent bears to eat unruly children or made an axe-head swim seems to me dangerously ridiculous.”
Now this movement, to demythologize the Bible, has not only been around for quite some time, but it is very sneaky. As CS Lewis once said,
“You must develop a nose like a bloodhound for those steps in the argument which depend not on historical and linguistic knowledge but on the concealed assumption that miracles are impossible, improbable, or improper.”
And this is precisely where Dr. Shanon, and others, begins. They start with a preconceived notion and assumption that miracles cannot and do not happen. Therefore, that which seems to be miraculous, must have an alternate, perfectly scientific explanation. And so they must then develop complex, outlandish theories (e.g. a mass drug hallucination) that frankly require more faith to accept than just believing the miracles as recorded in Scripture.
Make no mistake about it, the testimony of Scripture is clear: the God of the Bible is a miracle-working, supernatural God.
Psalm 77:14 reads,
“You are the God who works wonders; You have made known Your strength among the peoples.”
Psalm 72:18 likewise tells us,
“Blessed be the LORD God, the God of Israel, Who alone works wonders.”
Daniel 6:27 remind us about God,
“He delivers and rescues and performs signs and wonders In heaven and on earth,”
If you remove miracles from the Bible, then the Scriptures are full of lies, the gospel is impotent to save, and Christianity can no more transform your life than Aesop’s fables or an episode of Cheech & Chong.
The foundation of our faith rests in the belief that there is a transcendent, supernatural God who, at times, has broken into human history, temporarily suspended the laws of science that He has set in place, so as to prove His power and make Himself known as a God worthy of our faith and devotion. The ultimate expression of God’s miraculous power is seen in the virgin birth, sinless life, and substitutionary death, and bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ. His death on the cross for your sins and mine and the resurrection were a miracle that defies science; and His subsequent saving and redeeming of sinners is a modern-day miracle nonetheless.
Without some degree of mystery in our theology then our worship will no longer be filled with awe – and miracles provide the basis for that mystery and are the motivation for faith. God is an unexplainable, incomprehensible God, who has done some unexplainable, incomprehensible things…that’s what makes Him God.