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Attributing too much to supernatural causes


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#1 Christina M.

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Posted 23 September 2011 - 04:18 PM

I am interested in hearing opinions on this topic:
Is it possible to attribute too many things to supernatural causes? When an occurrence has a probable natural cause, is it wrong to attribute that same occurrence to supernatural causes?

Examples:
1) It doesn't rain on a day when a family is having a picnic, and the mother exclaims: "God listened to our prayers and held back the rain!"

2) Somebody catches a cold the day before he has to give a speech, and now his voice won't sound as pretty. He says that the devil gave him the cold in order to make it more difficult for him to give the speech.

3) A Christian athlete wins at a tournament, and now he has a chance to go to the Olympics. His parents say: "Let's see if it's God's will for him to win the Olympics."

4) A man smokes two packs of cigarettes every day, and he gets lung cancer at age 55. He says: "God gave me this cancer for my benefit."

5) A woman is driving to the grocery store, and gets into a small car accident on the way. She and her car are safe and undamaged. Afterwards, she has a decision to either continue going to the grocery store, or to turn back and go home. She says: "I should turn back and go home. I must have gotten into the accident because God didn't want me to go to the grocery store today."

Thanks for your input.

#2 Georgianna

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Posted 23 September 2011 - 05:32 PM

When an occurrence has a probable natural cause, is it wrong to attribute that same occurrence to supernatural causes?


In Elder Paisios of the Holy Mountain, Elder Paisios provides some guidance:

God looks after everyone, both the righteous and the sinful: “for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good” (Mt 5:45). There is a difference, however. The providence of God is always and constantly present and visible in the lives of the righteous people, whereas in the lives of sinful people, it is circumstantial and sometimes even non-existent. God occasionally abandons the sinful ones, in order to make their soul humble through the hardships of life and the temporary and seeming absence of His providence, and thus awaken their faith and love for Him.
p 72.


With regards to the examples, it would appear to depend entirely on the disposition of the heart of the speaker. Since I lack spiritual discernment, I cannot know the disposition of another soul – however in preparation for Holy Confession, I must examine my own thoughts and words. In the first example, am I thankful to God for His Providential care? … or am I boastful at having reached such a high spiritual stature that God hearkens to my every request? In the second example, am I thankful to the Lord for allowing the cold so that I would not get vainglorious over my self-perceived eloquence? … or do I feel I am such a threat to the devil that the evil one openly wars against me? In the third example, am I thankful to God for having blessed the child with the ability to excel in the given sport? … or do I feel my genes have a place of prominence? In the fourth example, am I thankful to God for allowing me this time to repent so that I do not die in my sins? In the last example, am I using the opportunity to reflect on whether I was being a poor steward and spending money needlessly? These are just some poor examples.

Edited by Georgianna, 23 September 2011 - 06:22 PM.


#3 Anna Stickles

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Posted 23 September 2011 - 05:58 PM

I think that differentiating between supernatural and natural is a problem. There are different causes for things but God is behind every other cause in a personal way. However, I think we have to be careful with interpretation. Most definitately we shouldn't try to interpret why something happened to other people, but even with ourselves, but even for ourselves we will tend to interpret our experiences through the lens of our passions.

#4 Michael Stickles

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Posted 23 September 2011 - 05:59 PM

I would focus less on the act of attributing something to supernatural causes, and more in the nature of the attribution.

Looking at your examples - why did the man in #2 assume the devil was the one trying to make it hard for him to give the speech, and not God? Perhaps his topic was not good. Why did the woman in #5 assume God was trying to stop her from going to the store, and not the devil? Perhaps she would have met an old friend there that God wanted her to speak words of faith to, and the devil wanted it blocked.

I don't see much problem in attributing much of what happens to us, in one way or another, to supernatural causes or influences. I do see a problem in assuming we can puzzle out the nature, purpose, intention and/or direction of those causes/influences.

The safest way to consider such things is to start with the attitude of the man in example #4 - to assume that even "bad" occurrences are providentially arranged by God to work for our good, if we will cooperate and allow this - and to then use them as an opportunity to examine ourself and our attitudes, as in the examples Georgianna gave.

In Christ,
Michael

#5 Father David Moser

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Posted 23 September 2011 - 06:40 PM

I think that every event in our lives has a supernatural element (note the difference in what I said here as compared to what you ask - its an important difference).

Examples:
1) It doesn't rain on a day when a family is having a picnic, and the mother exclaims: "God listened to our prayers and held back the rain!"


Better response - Thank God for this beautiful weather

2) Somebody catches a cold the day before he has to give a speech, and now his voice won't sound as pretty. He says that the devil gave him the cold in order to make it more difficult for him to give the speech.


Better response - Lord have mercy. Help me to fulfill my obligation today.

3) A Christian athlete wins at a tournament, and now he has a chance to go to the Olympics. His parents say: "Let's see if it's God's will for him to win the Olympics."


Better response - Thank God for this great talent and for the opportunity to use it. Help me O Lord to glorify You in all that I do.

4) A man smokes two packs of cigarettes every day, and he gets lung cancer at age 55. He says: "God gave me this cancer for my benefit."


Too little information so let me give two different responses:
1. Forgive me O Lord for the errors of my past and may I care for that which You have given me in the future.
2. The man had lived 55 years struggling against a passion which had him firmly in its grasp. Finally he is given a new tool to strengthen his will and to use in struggling against that passion. Thanks be to God for His mercy. (in which case the man's statement stands as accurate).

5) A woman is driving to the grocery store, and gets into a small car accident on the way. She and her car are safe and undamaged. Afterwards, she has a decision to either continue going to the grocery store, or to turn back and go home. She says: "I should turn back and go home. I must have gotten into the accident because God didn't want me to go to the grocery store today."


Better response: Lord have mercy. Protect me from harm.

Note the difference in the "better" responses. They aren't about cause, but about what we do with what we have been given. They focus on thanksgiving and looking to God for assistance in responding. They don't justify past behavior or make it sound like God is our servant to give us what we want if pray the right way or have the right intention, etc.

Fr David

#6 Christina M.

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Posted 24 September 2011 - 03:44 AM

Thanks a lot, everyone, for your valuable responses. I have benefitted greatly from them. God-willing I will read them again a second time tomorrow, in case I missed something.

#7 Moses Anthony

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Posted 24 September 2011 - 05:33 AM

As Fr. David has pointed out there are responses, and better responses. If we believe that God created both the heavens and the earth, then there exists too the probability that the happenings of everyday life are prompted by God. That probability; however, does not prove actual causation! If you go looking for a "devil behind every bush", sooner or later you'll find one.

A lot of what some term 'supernatural' are nothing but the results of the laws of nature that God set in motion. In the Divine Liturgy Fr. says it is offered for, and reads a list, in which is said, "...thanks for the rain we've received, and for the needed rain for our area." When a person is healed of a traumatic illness, and further visits to their doctor confirms no presence of the illness, that is "supernatural".

#8 John Mitchell

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Posted 26 September 2011 - 11:39 AM

Knowing the fundamental definition of the difference between supernatural and preternatural could come in handy here.

#9 Bill Schwan

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Posted 28 February 2012 - 01:59 AM

There is no such thing as a natural cause. If we are to trust Paul's perspective in Col. 1:17, "And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together", the entire universe is a supernatural construct, i.e. it would not be found in nature apart from the sustaining power of Christ.

#10 Stephen Hayes

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Posted 28 February 2012 - 07:41 AM

Knowing the fundamental definition of the difference between supernatural and preternatural could come in handy here.


I'm not sure that I do know the difference.

As far as I am aware Orthodox theologians do not speak much of the "supernatural". What would it be in Greek? Hyperphysical? There is, of course, a Greek equivalent of "preternatural", namely "metaphysical", but I'm not sure of the extent to which the usage in the orginal languages was equivalent, nor whether the English terms derived from them overlap greatly in meaning.

As far as I am aware, "supernatural" and "preternatural" were terms used in medieval Western theology, and didn't feature much in Orthodox theology. It seems to me that whereas Western theology tends to distinguish between natural and supernatural, Orthodoxy makes more of the distinction between creator and creature. And even bodiless creatures like angels and demons remain creatures, and therefore on our side of the dividing line that divides us, ontologically, from God. And if creatureliness is part of their nature, then they are natural, rather than supernatural.

Can anyone cite any Greek fathers using equivalent terms to "supernatural" and "preternatural"?




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