Jules and Vincent eat breakfast and talk philosophy in the famous restaurant scene from Pulp Fiction. There’s some nice dialogue about pigs and dogs before it gets into the deep stuff. Warning: Harsh language. It’s Tarantino, okay?
Early last month David Lose wrote an article for the Huffington Post about the Bible. The piece recalls the 1994 film Pulp Fiction. In particular, Lose brings up a central incident and the dialogue it inspires. He writes,
Recall for a moment the scene from Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction when the two main characters, Jules and Vincent, argue over how to explain what happened when a drug dealer unloaded his handgun at them at close range but missed them entirely. Vincent (played by John Travolta) believes it’s a freak occurrence. Jules (played by Samuel L. Jackson) considers it a miracle. In response to Vincent’s assertion that what happened didn’t qualify as physically “impossible” and therefore could not be considered miraculous, Jules says, “You’re judging this the wrong way. It’s not about what. It could be God stopped the bullets, he changed Coke into Pepsi, he found my f—–g car keys. You don’t judge shit like this based on merit. Whether or not what we experienced was an according-to-Hoyle miracle is insignificant. What is significant is that I felt God’s touch. God got involved.”
On the basis of this experience Jules decides to quit his life of crime and “walk the earth.” He wants to “be Jules, no more, no less.” So Jules witnesses a miracle and decides to change his life. But was it really a miracle?
Lose’s point is about scripture, but the question for us is about the miraculous and the way it can change lives. I have had many discussions with atheists and/or skeptics that bear on the question of miracles. And every time I have emphasized that in general I don’t have much invested in them. To be honest, most of the miracles in the Bible, on the surface, seem like cheap parlor tricks to me. They mean more to me if you get under them and start to think about what they actually mean. But as external events, I’m actually a little embarrassed by them. They’re too distracting.
Elsewhere I have drawn a distinction between two kind of miracles: the water-into-wine variety and the incarnation-resurrection variety. It may be that there’s a third class in which those who should die, do not. Kind of like Jules and the Shadrach-Meshach-Abednego triumvirate. Although you could perhaps do a higher-resolution taxonomy of biblical miracles, it seems clear that these three are of different orders. The incarnation and resurrection, which I do absolutely believe in, are qualitatively different than the water into wine variety and the Protection-by-God events. In my mind these two rate more as ever-present realities than as events that may or may not have happened back in first-century Palestine.
Jules’s miracle is of the lesser type. Or is it? I mean, what makes a miracle? I think that if we start looking for an “according-to-Hoyle” miracle then we’re all going to be disappointed. These things tend to disappear the moment you set up the lights and focus the cameras.
Feelings are not enough, not by a mile. I don’t agree with Jules that his feeling that “God got involved” is sufficient to certify a miracle. This is so even if like Jules the subject of the event says God got involved. Feelings come and go, really. Emotions are good indicators of what’s going in deep waters, but of themselves are rather vague things and perfectly worthless. What would really convince me of the miracle status of Jules’s and Vincent’s near-death is if, after Jules left the restaurant, he really was content being “Jules, no more, no less.” If he really did leave the life of crime and walk the earth. Because that kind of change of life is not only evidence of a miracle, it is a miracle.
I once heard someone define an encounter with the divine in the following way:
If you hear a great sermon about feeding the hungry and clothing the naked and you get good feelings about it and in all sincerity compliment the preacher on the way out of the service and walk home elated and joyous and then live life basically the way you always have, you have not had a divine encounter.
If you hear a great sermon about feeding the hungry and clothing the naked and you get good feelings about it and in all sincerity compliment the preacher on the way out of the service and walk home elated and joyous and then give away your possessions and spend the rest of your life feeding the poor and clothing the naked, you have had a divine encounter.
Jules did change, at least for the moment; he did not kill a couple of small-time crooks who held him up shortly after his conversation with Vincent. But life goes on. Feelings fade fast. I want to know what Jules did the next day and he next year and the next decade. Because that, and not the bullets’ trajectories, is where the real evidence for the miracle lies.
A big Thank You goes out to Alert Reader Ron Taylor, who pointed us to the Lose article. As for everyone else, keep on sending us interesting pieces when you find them; the Internets are huge, and we here at psnt.net are oh so tiny.