I have been thinking for a while about the limits of human potential as outlined by the capacities recorded in the scriptures. It is my conclusion that these powers are not only real, but achievable for every person if we will lay aside sin and earnestly practice sanctity.
Before elucidating details, a word on scientific objections. All the abilities described below (as with all human powers, including those considered mundane) could be achieved if a non-physical (and therefore not subject to scientific examination) human spirit were able to influence quantum probability. If this kind of behavior is not possible then such objections necessitate that we treat humans no differently from robots. Conversely, if quantum probability influence is indeed possible, no definite limits can be scientifically delineated, except the fundamental conservations such as energy and momentum which even quantum physics does not challenge and which I too find no need to question.
Returning to the question of the heights of human capacity, I find among the annals of the supreme specimens of humanity, none surpassing Jesus of Nazareth in fame. Although His miraculous powers are often brushed off as being simply super-human, a close reading reveals that He expected, and indeed foretold, even more excellent demonstrations from his merely human followers. And indeed some of these capacities are chronicled in Acts, which I will touch on imperfectly below.
Let us begin with the purely mental and non-demonstrable, which I term here “psychic”. This class of ability is well enough established in my experience to be a given, but in keeping with the following pattern, let us look to Jesus. It is said that he knew men’s hearts, could read thoughts, and had an uncanny aptitude at instruction. This premise of non-physical communication and direct mental channels is supported by accounts, in the book Acts, of remote dream communication and multilingual comprehension in the form of “speaking in tongues.” What is the limit to this power? If physical limitations are no constraint, it is unclear. It is perhaps instructive that the lesser apostles wrote more than the greater, indicating the place of the written word as subservient to the spoken, and of that to the psychic. Driving out demons also seems to class here, though it is often paired with healing which I would classify with the “shapeshifting” powers later expanded. As the psychic undergirds all the other powers, and has no direct physical manifestation, I have chosen the nested pentagons as its symbol.
Moving on to the demonstrably physical, let us start with the classical “super-hero” abilities, which I here term “thermo-kinetic” and which encompass the large and small scale physical exchange of momentum. Among them would be super-strength, flight, and control of heat and cold. No record exists, to my knowledge, of Jesus’ demonstration of this class of ability, except perhaps weather control and walking on water, but we need look no further than the three exiles in the furnace, and the multitude of reports of saintly levitation to see evidence for human capacity in this realm. Superman’s abilities are an outline for the direction of, but by no means the limit to, these powers. I have chosen the fist of ice and flame as its symbol.
Beyond the macro, we arrive at the electromagnetic, which I prefer to think of as the “transfiguration” class of abilities. Jesus performs demonstrations on at least two occasions. Once when he is “hidden from their sight” apparently becoming selectively invisible. And the titular event when his face and clothes shone with light, in the same way that the sun shines. Aside from generating and absorbing electromagnetic radiation (which I am not prepared to rule out) such effects could be achieved by redirecting existing light toward the eyes of observers in the case of the transfiguration, or suppressing bodily interaction in the case of invisibility. Laser generation, direct solar absorption, perfect visual illusion, and hurling lightning are a few examples of more extreme manifestations of this class but, as with all other classes, no finite limits are evident. For the symbol, the radiant eye will suffice.
The next class under consideration is most commonly known as “healing” but which I would term more generally “shapeshifting” and encompasses all chemical operations. Depending on how the effect was achieved, turning the water into wine at the wedding at Cana may fit in this or the “transmutation” class below. Leaving that aside, nearly all acts of bodily healing, of which innumerable instances are attributed to Jesus, could be achieved in the most straightforward manner by chemical re-combination. The Blessed Virgin’s sustained physical virginity through childbirth is another fairly direct evidence of shapeshifting, as is, possibly, the resurrection. Such ability could also effect nearly all physical form alteration, the simplest of which can be seen in the demoniac effortlessly breaking chains, though this may also be a result of the thermo-kinetic. The role of fine control contrasted against brute strength seems key to this exploration, and will be touched on below. There is no reason to believe that the human body could not be spontaneously shifted to any other animal form with these powers, or indeed that a human spirit could not incorporate or directly animate conventionally inanimate materials. In order to emphasize some possible range to this power, I have selected the winged tentacle as the symbol for shapeshifting.
Much has been made of the relatively recent forays into atomic transmutation, the term I appropriate for the next class of powers. Aside from the water-to-wine example above I can not readily recall direct examples of Jesus wielding this class of abilities, except insofar that it might have been necessary to power his other energy expenditures. Given the near-limitless access to energy which such an ability would allow, we might wish to consider this to be entirely outside the sphere of direct human capacity. Regardless, I see no reason to make a special exception to this case, especially since the operation lies so firmly within the realm of quantum mechanics which, theoretically, enable the exercise of all these unusual abilities. The transmutation of Lot’s wife into salt appears to be a prime example, though it is not clear if this is a direct result of human action. The miracle of the widow’s oil may fall into this class of powers, as may the miracle of the fish and loaves (though both may be results of shapeshifting). For lack of a more appropriate icon, the atomic ingot must do.
Finally, we come to the spatio-temporal, discontinuities in time and space. Jesus is, himself, said to have passed through a crowd of people intent on his demise, a solid door into the room where his disciples were hiding, and the stone which sealed his tomb. His disciples are also said to have teleported on at least one occasion, described as being “taken up by the spirit” and deposited in far-off localles. While no direct accounts of time travel are offered, unless the simultaneous appearance of Jesus after his resurrection is admitted, the tightly coupled nature of space-time seems to indicate this is a possibility as well. The implications are, in a word, apocalyptic. As a symbol, none seemed so appropriate as the compass clock.
Surely, by this point, you will have raised several empirical objections. If people are capable of such feats, why do we not see them demonstrated more often? Or indeed, at all in modern day? I suspect there are at least two barriers to such manifestations.
The first is faithlessness. Even Jesus, at several occasions in his teaching, remarks that his power is unable to manifest in the presence of a lack of faith. This seems to be linked with the deep guard that God enforces in the protection of human autonomy of belief. God does not allow spiritual powers to disprove the beliefs of individuals. God will have us wooed, or not at all; He does not force. This essay is, in part, my attempt to withdraw this first objection in pointing out that there is nothing in science or religion that prevents humankind from exercising abilities which are normally associated with, and indeed go far beyond those of, comic-book superheroes.
However there is a second barrier, that of malevolence. The comic-book is instructive here as well, for in it we see that the most popular exploration of these capabilities presumes that their best use is bent toward the ends of vengeance and punishment of the wicked. But in Jesus we discover that this attitude is precisely the opposite of that which would invite God to invest an individual with access to these awesome tools. Jesus is said to be so gentle and hopeful that “A bruised reed he will not break. A smoldering wick he will not snuff.” Which is, on even a short reflection, the only attitude with which one could heal by the power of shapeshifting, instead of kill. Or disappear with the power of transfiguration, instead of blind. It seems, then, that these abilities are lent to only those of unimpeachable moral character whom God has foreseen will not abuse them. This is the sign which miracles indicate, not that some individuals have unparalleled access to God’s favor, but that God’s charity has unparalleled access to some individual heart.
We hear too of the circumstances in which moral uprightness is most often found. “Not many of you were wise, not many mighty, not many noble” writes the least and last of the Apostles to the Gentiles of the Last Days. The poor, in fact, are quite likely to make up the bulk of those to whom God deems fit to entrust the world-shattering might outlined above. May we endeavor to be rich in virtue, that we may, in God’s good time, become the heroes the world needs.
In the meantime, when we encounter those mundane troubles which would so quickly crumble to the abilities above, and we pray for them, and they are not granted, let us call to mind our sins. It is not that God has refused a miracle, but that these very natural powers have been kept from us, like a knife from a toddler, so we endanger not ourselves or others. May we assent humbly to these unnecessary constraints, and play under the common handicap which God lays upon the evil for their good, not presuming to place ourselves apart from the sinners.
But if such time should come that all other means have failed, recall that God would be making no great exception to the established pattern of nature to put such tools at your disposal. Quench not the spirit. Attempt the powers in His service. Even I can not truly say that I have always failed in their exercise.