Uzzah had every right to feel miffed! For, seeing the Arc of the Covenant in imminent danger of crashing to the deck, he reached out to steady it. His reward was instant death as recorded in 2 Samuel and I Chronicles. So, as Mark Twain quipped – ‘every good deed deserves punishment’.
Now some commentors treat this incident as a biblical hard saying and twist theology in ever tighter knots to it explain away. Alternatively, literalists glory in its illustration of the power and sanctity of God. But these explanations avoid the obvious; that this narrative depicts God as seen by a people living thousands of years ago. As a result, their interpretations can be as outdated as an Earth-centred universe.
Why do I say that?
Well, a deity that wield his power so arbitrarily is one not to be encouraged let alone worshipped as my old university professor enjoyed saying. Certainly, it is not the God we meet in Christ. Nor would I suggest is it a modern Jewish interpretation of Yahweh. Not surprising then, many believers now accept that God acts not just in an ethical way but in a way constrained by the laws of biology and physics. To do otherwise would not allow his creation to be. More directly, we need predictability to survive. If you don’t believe me, try switching off gravity occasionally!
Of course, this self-restraint of God could make him into one who does not intervene. Did he set up the rules and leave to do something else? I don’t think so. Since, those of us who live in civilised societies expect others including their rulers to obey just and fair laws. Therefore, we all must do our acts of goodness legally as Paul believed.
That said, there is still a ticklish fly in the ointment. For did Jesus himself not kick over the laws of physics and biology when he performed his miracles?
Of course, the miracles of Christ could have introduced by the Gospels’ authors for a bit of divine ‘window dressing’. However, these supernatural acts tend to be too small scale to be just showboating. Indeed, Jesus rejects such performances when he was so tempted in the desert. Similarly, many were aimed at the wellbeing and dignity of just one human being. It was as if the imperative overrode the normal.
Yet still the paradox stays unresolved. If God broke the rules back then, why not now?
Francis Collins in his book The Language of God suggests that Jesus did not break the rules instead he found the corners of probability. Since few of his miracles were impossible. Most could happen even if they were extremely unlikely to happen. This idea is worthy of further thought. Since, we with faith have experienced ‘God-incidences’ in our lives where the unexpected has turned into the fortuitous.
But John Gribbins’ In search of Schrodinger’s Cat is also always worth a read. In it, he introduces quantum physics by telling us of the famous analogy where a cat in a box is neither dead nor alive until we have a look. My knowledge of this area of science needs brushing up. But one point he makes is clear and it is reality is very dependent on where you view it from. We view events from our time-bound place. We think we know the past. We think we know the present. But the future is beyond our horizon. However, perhaps the miracles of Christ allow us to glimpse of events from God’s viewpoint. That would mean that they open a window on the sight from the end-time. And so, miracles promise us perfection even salvation in the fulness of time.