On God’s interventions in the physical world

1. Background to the issue

It is commonly held today that God cannot intervene in nature. A history textbook will point out that a group of the English and Scottish began to think along these lines a century or so after the Reformation. Thinking of the created world as a set of objects, these London coffee-house engineers and philosophers determined that the world had no freedom of any kind. Objects are simply pushed around by forces of nature, readily apparent. And since God had created a world of objects, then his sole responsibility was to have given this world of objects its initial push. In recent times it has been determined that these objects don’t need any initial push, so God does not have any place in creation. Historians will also point out that many societies of the West have believed in those things which the ruler or ruling caste have believed. It was conventional for a political unit to convert to some set of beliefs en masse, following their ruler. The ruling caste of our time consists in capitalists and engineers, who implicitly believe that nature is made of objects without any freedom, but governed by deterministic pathways through time and space. So, again, God has no place in common life or the existence of the universe as a whole, if you were to ask a common person of our time about the matter.

I myself don’t consent to this outlook upon nature. I don’t consider that nature is an object or a set of objects pushed around by forces. And so the outlook of the classical Newtonian engineer is not mine. To be brief, I don’t think that a pure ‘thing’ or object has ever been experienced by any human being. Objects and forces are always mediated by our ‘subjective’ awareness. A hint of this within the engineering world (the scientific one, if you prefer) is to be found right inside the set of beliefs of the engineering profession itself, when it is said, and has been proven beyond doubt, that the presence of a human observer is essential to the behaviour of the objective world. Quantum mechanics, that is to say, makes nature intrinsically part of intangible and non-physical, consciousness. To repeat this point, the physical sciences once cast God out from nature and the created world because natural objects do not need a mind or a subjectivity in order to follow their deterministic pathway through space and time; and yet for the last century, it has been well-understood that a mind of some kind actually is required.

But this digression into the field of Newtonian and quantum mechanics should not indicate that I belive in God and his influence on nature because of scientific knowledge and its recent history. And despite writing mostly for myself, I do consider it necessary that others should follow me in my understanding of this issue. So, they might say: granted that a human mind does exist inside human beings, and that it interacts in a non-physical way with natural ‘objects’, why should I therefore believe that God can perform miracles, and intervene in the natural order to bring about impossible changes in the order of things for His or my benefit?

I think along the following lines, and advise my reader to consider, and perhaps follow me in my understanding, thereby coming to think as I do.

2. Introduction of the examples of miracles

I wish to present examples of God’s intervention in nature, and will do so with thought experiments which the reader should be able to put into the context of his own life. The examples I have in mind derive from certain films of the Russian film-maker, Andrei Tarkovski. I am very far from being an expert of Communist Russia, or even of Tarkovski. I approach his films naively. That these films, each of them, express ideas and espouse ideas in a way unknown in the productions of either Hollywood, or anywhere else outside communist Russia, is a puzzle to me, and may be owing to the freak accident of a genius director having to be born in one place rather than another, or, it maybe because, where the Church was supressed so radically, a director had to find extreme genius in order to present religion in the face of repression – I don’t know.

Let us discuss the following:

1. Miracles which, in answer to a prayer, change the entire course of history, and leave no trace that they have occurred except for in the memory of that person who made the petition or prayer to God

2. Miracles which shape the world to our own specific requirements, for our comfort or desire, and which happen so that we will turn to God, despite our turning away from Him

3. Miracles in which objects and the world at large receive an eternal and divine significance, in fact and not just privately, but only when we have belief in God; that is, it is possible to recognise God in all of Creation, but only when you have accepted that God is actually there

For the purposes of this short essay, I do not intend to go into great detail. I have simply extracted what I see as the meaning of a particular film, and expressed it as a sentence (above). It only remains to give a short summary of the plot of each film, which will serve as my ‘example’ of the particular sentence’s meaning. As before, the example can be applied by the reader to other situations in his own life.

3. The first miracle

I have said that it would be possible for God to change the entire course of history, to remould the world as it were, in response to a prayer. It would also be possible for God to reset or change the memory of everyone on Earth, at the same time in order to achieve this. The miracle should be brought about in response to a prayer, enacted by God, aimed at doing good for the people concerned, and, in order for it to remain secret, it should not be possible to verify that it had occurred at all (i.e., afterwards, nobody would know that it had taken place, besides that person who had prayed). Such a miracle is certainly possible. Such a thing is also apparently very likely, according to some prominent contemporary engineers, particularly computer scientists and the like in the US. Elon Musk, for example, believes that the present world in which we live is a computer simulation, created by humans at some point in time where computer software has become sufficiently powerful.

It does remain to ask a big question: why would such a prayer need to remain secret, or, why does God hide Himself? The answer will no doubt spell out the meaning of life as a whole, and is not at issue here. In the film, The Sacrifice, Tarkovski dramatizes the situation of a family. They live in Sweden, but are educated, wealthy and cosmopolitan. The father of the family tolerates his wife’s love affair; the children and he himself are dedicated to knowledge and beauty. And above all, the father wants his family to survive. At the same time, a Third World War is about to start, which will no doubt kill the Earth and most people living on it. After the nervous collapse of his wife, and foreseeing the death of his family in a man-made war, the father, in a sequence of hallucinatory dreams and acts, prays fervently to God. He promises for his part that he will never say another word to anyone about his prayer, and not have anything more to do with his own family, if only God would spare the world the coming disaster.

Waking from sleep the following day, he finds that the world is indeed changed; there is no trace of any war in the future or the past. His prayers were answered. But now, in fulfilment of his promise and bargain with God, he refuses to speak of it, burns down his own house, and is then confined by doctors to the madhouse. He burns down the family home in order to give a pretext to his silence and his commitment to no longer have anything to do with them, in fulfilment of his promise. The man knows that a miracle has taken place, but nobody else does. His family have survived, and in payment, he will be unable to be with them in future. He has, effectively sacrificed himself for them. But for God, surely such a change in world history was easy. For the man it was not. And, finally, nobody amongst the rest of us would or will ever know that the interaction between God and man, and God’s direct involvement in the natural world had ever taken place.

4. The second miracle

In the second example, let us examine the film Solaris. In this film (Tarkovski’s original version), a man is sent to a distant planet to investigate why the crew of a spacecraft are unable to leave the orbit of that planet. Arriving, he finds that the planet, as a means of self-defence and of a kind of love and expression of loneliness, gives to human beings those most deeply held desires which planet Earth could not give to them. The astronaut is therefore presented with his dead wife aboard the orbiting space craft. This uncanny return of a dead wife, who is just like the original in every respect, including her suicidal instinct, ensures that she kills herself again many times during the film, and opens up a longing in the astronaut to find a deeper peace. He is not the only person who sees her, and she is an actually real being. Real in so far as what ‘appears’ to be real to us actually must be real. The planet, Solaris, has, we are to suppose, entered into the heart of the astronaut, and given to him in the physical plane what was purely spiritual or mental. The distinction between what is spiritual and mental has collapsed, as far as we are concerned. That is, the planet is able to overcome the distinction between an object and an idea.

After trying to leave, the astronaut is next seen back at home. As the camera pans out away from him, we see the astronaut is actually located not back on Earth, but on a patch of the planet Solaris which has been specifically crafted for him, alongside his father. The dead wife is no longer around, and the planet has instead given him a more bearable companion. His response to this miracle is to fall down to his knees and embrace the old man, his father, although the astronaut knows that he is in fact embracing an element of the planet itself.

We see the planet Solaris looking into the heart, giving what we need, but ultimately only so as to bring the astronaut to God; God, as it were, brings events about to bring us to Him, and eventually captures us. The question as it relates to my initial premise is as follows: is it not possible that a great Mind has created this life and this planet, your life in your individuality, only so as to draw you to itself? And that failing in one way, He will try again, until your submission? And, because there is not even the need to create physical objects (there is no real distinction between physical and mental objects) God does not even need to bring new matter into existence to achieve this.

That is, God lays out your individual pathway through life, and hedges you around with those things you need, and those pains which you cannot bear, to break and shape you toward accepting Him. Admittedly, this is not so much a miracle which people could gawp over and proclaim to the ends of the Earth. Rather, it is something which describes your possible situation, where every step of an individual’s existence is being pushed and pulled this way and that in a war between your individual freedom and your ultimate end.

5. The third miracle

In the final example, let us look at the film shot in a Chernobyl-like scene of natural wilderness , strewn with the relics of past human habitation. At some post-apocalyptic moment, a man known as ‘Stalker’ (the film is called Stalker in English) takes two officials to a site which he alone knows about, where the Earth becomes a paradise. Stalker takes them on a long journey by foot to the heart of this wasteland where at the last moment, the film ends before the three men enter paradise.

Throughout, Stalker informs the men that there really is a paradise, a perfect world at the heart of the ruins. But, it is essential that they believe in it if they are to see it. His heartfelt philosophical justifications for this position convince us that he is telling the truth, as far as he is concerned. The two men are sceptical and hopeful by turns. And the question is: if they determine to have faith will they be blessed and have their hopes fulfilled? And, if they remain sceptical, will they then see the irradiated remains of some old boiler room when it could have been otherwise?

Because they will not see it unless they believe, then we must ask what it is that they must believe. The answer is, of course, they must believe in the words of Stalker, and the rumours about him. In conclusion, why should it be that life only becomes miraculously perfect when we believe in the words of a lone and strange witness to something? And will you be changed, will the world become a paradise from out of ruins, in a sort of grand miracle, if you follow this outcaste stranger? The film goes into this problem at great length; and I suppose my writing is of the same kind. Essentially, the world will be different, and you will become somebody else, and know new things if you truly believe in what Christ said, said though it was in the ruins of Jerusalem, in some far off time, and though he was so suspicious and unaccountable that the world had him condemned and killed, his followers to disappear into obscurity, the single thing left being the injunction to have faith ringing down the centuries, and kept alive by the vagaries of historical transmission.

6. Afterword: on making use of the opportunity offered by the message

We should consider the change between the old world and the new which takes place in a Christian to be a miracle. And my final question to the reader is this: if your life were to change absolutely as a result of your becoming a follower of Christ, so much so that your most severe problems disappeared, and you knew for an absolute certainty that this was as a result of your conversion; and if this were a possibility which were offered to you – could you set aside your current beliefs, and your demands for ‘hard evidence’ for ‘physical proof’ before making that leap? And where would any possibility of proof ever lie? Basically, you must here set aside your demand for proof because there is none; and after you have made the decision to go with Christ, you will similarly lack any convincing argument for sceptics: they will not see the difference for what it is.

I am sure that you will say that this or that Christian does not seem so very happy; that a relationship with God has not made them much different to the average person in terms of wisdom or sweetness. To which I would point out that I am not talking about them, we are talking about you, and what you are and what you will become. So, with the promise of this, but without proof, in fact with a comically ruinous absence of hard proof, will you without reservation make the commitment of faith in God, and receive the true life?

May, 2020

Design Jason Powell, 2020.