I just started reading Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell. Magic was once practiced widely. Then some magicians began documenting what they did. Others then started commenting on what they learned from those documented accounts. Then others started writing histories from the documented accounts and the commentaries on the documented accounts. Still others ended up writing commentaries on the histories and commentaries that came before them. Fewer and fewer people actually practiced magic because all their energy was spent learning about what had happened, the right way to do things and more importantly, the right way to document and discuss magic. It became a purely academic pursuit.
Imagine if the same thing happened in our world with medical studies. If fewer and fewer people actually practiced medicine or researched medical advances, if doctors only studied medicine.
Or engineers only studied their craft but never experimented or created.
Or if theologians only studied works by other theologians and histories of people living out their faith. And if those theologians only learned about faith but never lived it. Oh, wait, that one is real. I’m doubt Susanna Clark the author of that novel intended this direct comparison but it seemed quite obvious to me.
In her story, a magician starts questioning why they don’t actually do magic and gets ridiculed. These things don’t happen anymore. The proper approach to magic is academic study of not the vulgar practice of actually doing magic. Then someone shows up who actually does magic and ruins everything for those who are convinced that their academic experience is the only experience.
When John Wimber, founder of the Vineyard churches started asking questions, he faced similar resistance. He wanted to know why we don’t do the stuff Jesus did. Why don’t Christians (followers of Christ), practice the things he did – healing people, casting out demons, raising the dead? Armies of theologians rose to explain that these things don’t happen any more. A good Christians studies accounts of these things in the past; they don’t make a mockery of their faith by trying to live it out.
The Vineyard movement was born out of people doing the stuff while others were telling them not to. They certainly weren’t the only ones doing it, but it was what they did and who they were.
I personally experienced this when I helped get some of Wimber’s books translated into Turkish. Word got to a church in England that books about God healing people were being distributed for free in Turkey. They immediately reacted by getting a book translated into Turkish that proved that miracles no longer happen. They needed to block this heresy. In the meantime, the pastor of the church distributing the books arrived each morning to find people lined up around the block waiting to get healed, to have demons expelled, to see God do something powerful and personal in their lives.
These people in turkey accepted things like miracles, healing and demons. They fit their world view. Their experience and expectations allowed for the supernatural to play out in their everyday lives.
In Shakespeare in Love, Geoffrey Rush plays Phillip Henslowe who keeps insisting that the play will take place despite everything stacked against it. When questioned how he knows it will happen, he states, “I don’t know; it’s a mystery.” No one felt too comforted by this. They all wanted more certain answers, assurances that things will have specific, defined outcomes.
I think that situations like Wimber’s questions, the reaction to teaching Turkish people to expect miracles, the desire to see practical magic tend to push against that feeling of control. If we do not have clearly defined measurable results or expectations, we can’t know if things worked.
The preference of theoretical rather than practical pursuits of theology and magic desires controlled output. People feel safer with that. If someone starts actually doing magic, that causes problems.
If people in Turkey start experiencing miracles, much of merely academic theology becomes questionable.
Where is the practice? The real? The amazing?
I’m like that kid in The Incredibles waiting for something amazing to happen. I want the practical rather than the theoretical. If that is you too, start looking for it. Start asking the questions of why we don’t see it. Open your eyes to see if you can find the eternal in the everyday, if you can find the miraculous in the mundane.
Jesus promised that those who seek will find. Take a shot a t seeking and see what you find.