Monday, August 2, 2010

Not Knowing Until We Do

I didn't exactly wake up thinking about miracles this morning, but pretty close. It took breakfast and two cups of coffee to get the gears turning, which goes to show that "miraculous" doesn't have to mean other-worldly. Actually, this topic came about as the result of an email I received over the weekend, asking how my medical peers -- students, professors, and physicians -- felt about so-called miracle cures and spontaneous remissions.

I wouldn't begin to speak for anyone else, but for me, the words of Hamlet are inescapably wise: "There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy." The immediate context for this quote from Act I Scene V is one in which the ghost of Hamlet's murdered father appears and Hamlet's closest friends, Horatio and Marcellus, are witnesses. Horatio regards what he's seen as "strange," and I think it's safe to say he's having a difficult time accepting it as reality.

Poor Horatio. Shakespeare gave you two roles, neither of which is enviable. First, you're Hamlet's closest friend and confidante, and as such, it will fall to you, not only to hold his hand as he departs this life, but also to tell his tale in the midst of your own grief. I can identify with you, having been in a very similar position with my father as he lay dying. Second, you represent rational humanism, meaning you're the one whose presuppositions are going to not only be challenged, but altered as the story unfolds. Change is coming, Horatio, you'd better be prepared.

I'm not going to argue that miracles occur or that anytime we see something we can't explain we ought to drag God into the discussion and let him take the credit or the blame, as the case may be. For me to do that would not only be cheating but, as I see it, dishonoring to my understanding of the nature of God which requires me to put forth my very best efforts to make sense of what happens around me. In other words, my theology doesn't approve of taking the easy way out. On top of that, as I've said previously, I don't believe for one minute that the function of faith is to answer questions science could, but can't yet.

What I am arguing in favor of is a willingness to remain open to possibilities. It is easy to become as rigidly attached to rationality as to religion, and then use either for an excuse to dismiss whatever doesn't fit within the boundaries of our presuppositions. While doing so eliminates cognitive dissonance, it also rules out the potential for experiencing life in perhaps, an entirely new way. The truth is, sometimes we simply don't know what is happening right before our very eyes. Intellectual and, if I may be permitted to say it, spiritual maturity involves becoming okay with the ambiguity of not knowing until we do, if we ever do.

(Creative Commons image entitled "Ambiguity" by NAjwA via Flickr)

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