When I was a kid, the ads in Boy’s Life magazine fascinated me, especially the ones selling the mysterious creatures called Sea-Monkeys.  Just add water and these creatures come to life! So the ads claimed. I couldn’t believe it.  How a living animal could be dried up like an old carrot stick, shipped through the mail, and then magically come to life in a bowl of water in my kitchen.  I figured it had to be a hoax, false advertising, or a waste of money, and I never ordered any of the plastic-wrapped sea creatures.I understand the life cycle of the brine shrimp “Sea-Monkey” better now, but I still don’t believe in “miracle by mail-order”.  There’s another type of miracle though that is not so easily explained-the miracle of faith.  How does someone come to believe in God, and what’s more, to communicate with God?  Is this just one more pseudo-miracle to be explained like the Sea Monkey? Is it a matter of wanting to believe (like Freud argued), and then trying to believe (like gurus teach) until we feel we believe, and then start to believe that we believe? If that’s the way faith works, then it really is no more miraculous than a Sea-Monkey, and we really can bring something dead to life by “just adding water”. That would be a pseudo-miracle, not a real one.

Brine shrimp, aka, “sea-monkey” when in state of cryptobiosis.  Size: a few millimeters.

If God is real however, then faith is a likewise real miracle, not a fake one.  And if faith is a real miracle, then it has to be God’s doing, because we can’t pull the trick off by ourselves. We can’t produce the “mail-order miracle” for ourselves by “just adding water” or any other type of recipe.  Karl Barth understood this well, in describing how faith happens-

A sheer miracle must happen to him, a second miracle in addition to the miracle of his own existence, if his life shall be a true Christian life, which is a life within the hearing of God’s Word.  This miracle is the office of the Holy Spirit.[1]

It’s a miracle, because God, in the office (or, “the action”) of the Holy Spirit, must do it.  We can’t do it by just adding water or any other special sauce we can concoct out of our own personalities or will-power.  And because God’s miraculous action takes priority, it would also seem to be an on-going process, not a once-and-for-all miracle that took place in our past:

… God’s revelation must be ever increasingly becoming the voice of the living God to us, seeing that God is continually saying to us what he said by the mouth of prophets and apostles once for all, so too the outer and inner constraints of our existence must be ever acquiring the character of divine indications, duties, and promises through the divine speech to us.[2]

Notice here the emphasis Barth places on the participles becoming and acquiring, to indicate the present and continual active, living role of God in the acquisition and apperception of divine speech.  Without this living presence of the living God, there is no miracle, and faith lies as dead.

It’s not the non-living water that brings the Sea Monkey to life; rather, it’s the life that was already in the Sea Monkey’s body to begin with, though it lies dormant.  Likewise, it’s not non-living water from our own hands and efforts that brings our faith alive; rather it’s the living water of Christ that makes us alive in a new way as we are born anew of the Spirit.

[1] Karl Barth’s 1929 lectures published as: The Holy Spirit and the Christian Life: the theological basis of ethics, translated by R. Birch Hoyle (Louisville, KY: Westminster/John Knox Press, 1993) p. 11.[2] Ibid., p. 9.


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