As noted in previous posts, Barclay has a tendency to “naturalize” some of the events in the life of Jesus. One of the main ways he does this is by suggesting that demon possession, for example, was merely a psychological illness; a serious illness to be sure, with staggering consequences, yet truly a product of the mind.
Now, I don’t dismiss that psychological illness could play a role in something like demon possession, and that the power of cultural beliefs (here, a cultural belief in the reality of demon possession) can exacerbate and extend suffering in some cases. Let us indeed consider the nuances.
Still, from a very (fortunately) limited experience and from second-hand information, it is hard for me to dismiss the other possibility – that demons take some form in reality. That is, people are sometimes stricken completely outside of their wishes (however masochistic these can be), and the condition manifests a kind of power and fury that borders on supernatural.
The trouble with this “naturalizing” of miracles, as I see it, is two-fold: One, it often seems a stretch to draw out of the context that these things were other than supernatural acts. Two – even if you could make a reasonable case in every instance, sometime you have to come up against that most staggering event of all, the resurrection of Jesus. And I would ask – will you also naturalize this?
After all, we have said from the beginning that our faith is complete folly if the Resurrection is not true. Explain away the exorcisms, explain away the miracles of healing, explain away (if you dare) the raising of Lazarus from the dead – you simply cease to be Christian when you deny the resurrection.
This is not a judgement; it’s a definition.
Barclay seems to walk the line of naturalizing miracles in his commentary on the passage at the top of this post. Rather than explain it away, though, he expounds on the lasting meaning of the event, and in the process he relates a nice anecdote.
He says that Jesus calms the figurative storms in our lives, and notes that one of these is the storm of sorrow. Then comes this story:
There is an old story of a gardener who in his garden had a favourite [sic] flower which he loved much. One day he came to the garden to find that flower gone. He was vexed and angry and full of complaints. In the midst of his resentment he met the master of the garden and hurled his complaints at him. “Hush!” said the master, “I plucked it for myself.”
This, he says, is like the way death works, and we are sometimes angry at God for “plucking” our loved ones away from us. But if we recall that He is the Master of the garden, we can allow Him to calm the storm of our sorrow and be certain of an eventual reunion.