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Joshua - Just one thing: Chapter 3

Faith & Inspiration

In reading chapter 3, I did a double take at verses 15 and 16, as the inspired narrator was describing the million-man crossing of the Jordan River into the Promised Land:

". . . as soon as those bearing the ark had come as far as the Jordan, and the feet of the priests bearing the ark were dipped in the brink of the water (now the Jordan overflows all its banks throughout the time of harvest), the waters coming down from above stood and rose up in a heap very far away, at Adam. . . ."

I have almost no memory of hearing about the miraculous crossings of the Israelites (first of the Red Sea and, 40 years later, the Jordan River) without simultaneously hearing the miraculous element cut out of it by well-meaning teachers. From childhood they gave with one hand and took away with the other. Scientists had discovered, they told us, the natural causes that had allowed a band of nomads to cross these watery barriers.

A typical explanation: Naum Volzinger, a senior researcher at St. Petersburg's Institute of Oceanography, and Alexei Androsov, a fellow researcher in Hamburg, Germany, have analyzed the conditions that would have made possible the parting of the Red Sea. They have calculated that a 67-mile-per-hour wind sustained for several hours could have exposed an underlying reef that would have served as a footpath for the peripatetic Semites.

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The version of choice in my school happened to be that the Red Sea dwindles to a trickle at some times of the year, thus making for plausible passage. The condescending implication, as I understand it, is that a miracle of good timing is still a miracle. (And I, for one, can appreciate that since I have trouble enough timing my potatoes to be ready with my roast.)

Similarly, we are told not to be disheartened that the miracle of the loaves and fishes (Matthew 14:13-21) was not really a literal multiplication of victuals but rather that the people's hearts were moved to share their lunch bags with their neighbors. That's pretty cool, too (but not to an 8-year-old).

I would think, however, that the logic of 14th century William of Ockham still applies: "Pluralitas non est ponenda sine necessitate" (Entities should not be qualified unnecessarily). The best explanation for an occurrence is the simplest and most straightforward, all things being equal. If you are going to tell me I can keep my miracle, may as well let me keep the miracle the way the Bible narrator told it.

But I have never before noticed the parenthetical editorial comment in Joshua 3:15: "now the Jordan overflows all its banks throughout the time of harvest." It is as if the Lord saw Volzinger and Androsov and my Enlightenment child elementary school teacher coming and decided to obviate any way of diminishing His glory: "Yo! The Jordan is always overflowing at this time! Your Enlightenment explanation is not likely."

That leaves us with a take-it-or-leave-it choice about God and His Word. As C.S. Lewis put it in God in the Dock:

"Do not attempt to water Christianity down. There must be no pretense that you can have it with the Supernatural left out. So far as I can see, Christianity is precisely the one religion from which the miraculous cannot be separated. . . ."

Read the next part in this series.

To hear commentaries by Andrée Seu, click here.

Andrée Seu
Andrée Seu

Andrée is the author of three books: Won't Let You Go Unless You Bless Me, Normal Kingdom Business, and We Shall Have Spring Again. Follow Andrée on Twitter @Andreespeterson.

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