I'm doing a mini series on spiritual beings and spiritual warfare at the church now and I thought I would share a few things I am working on. I'm relying a good deal on the work of Michael S. Heiser on the subject of the Divine Council and it has been fascinating and takes a different spin on some things than I have heard in the past. So I thought I might serialize a few thoughts that are coming out of my studies and I will offer these for discussion to see how you might sharpen me on these.
I will start that series in the next few days but I thought I would kick things off today with an intro post covering some broad general thoughts I have. I thought about offering this up as a series of theses, a la Martin Luther, but I decided "why pattern myself after a lightweight like Luther?" Instead I am going to pattern myself after a truly great modern writer, yes, that's right - it's Peter King of Sports Illustrated. Every Monday he does a column called Monday Morning Quarterback and a part of his column is always "Ten Things I Think I Think." So, this will not only follow the great literary tradition of Peter King and Sports Illustrated, but it also helps to signify that some of these thoughts are still in formation. So if later I decide that I was nuts back then I can always go back and say "well, I was just thinking about it, I didn't really mean anything by it." So here goes.
Ten Things I Think I Think About The Spirit World and Spiritual Warfare
1. I think I think that creation was a two stage process. We know all about the creation in Genesis, but passages like Job 38:4-7 talk about morning stars singing and angels shouting for joy at the time of the creation, which suggests that they were created first. Also, Hebrews 8:5 reminds us that the earthly tabernacle that Moses built was patterned after the heavenly sanctuary, which I think it is fair to say was made before the creation of the earth. I realize this may sound obvious and not all that noteworthy, but I think I think that we may not realize that the same amount of care and sense of purpose went into creating the spiritual realm as did creating the physical realm.
2. I think I think that the spiritual or heavenly realm is far more diverse and interesting than we realize. About the most we here about heaven is that it is the place where God dwells, it is the place we go when we die and there are angels and demons there. All of that is true. But there is far more variety and activity in heaven than we probably give credit for. Although this is hard to fathom, there is a sense in which you can speak of a "geography of heaven." I say hard to fathom because how does one speak of "geography" when talking about spiritual realities. I don't know, but I do know that when the Bible speaks of these realities it often uses the language of place and geography and location. For instance, consider, Hebrews 12:22 -
But you have come to Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, The Holy Bible : New International Version, electronic ed., Heb 12:22 (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996, c1984).
Here, Mount Zion is the "heavenly" not earthly, Jerusalem. It is a place where angels assemble. It is a city. In other words, there is a sense in which the heavenly, spiritual realm has a geography.
And, heaven is filled with the presence of God, but it also inhabited by different kinds of spiritual beings. The souls of departed believers are there. Seraphim are there, worshiping God day and night. Angels are there. There are ranks among the angels (Daniel 10:13). Satan and his followers used to be there (Revelation 12:7-9) and heaven was the scene of a great war (Revelation 12 again). All of these are interesting things of which people have debated the interpretation and significance for years, but my point in bringing this up for now is to show that the heavenly, or spiritual realm isn't the boring city in the clouds with people wearing white robes and playing harps the way we often make it out to be.
3. I think I think that the distinction
between the heavenly realm and the spiritual realm looks different to
us than it does to God. What I mean is that the spiritual realm is
invisible to us but not to God. In other words, being earthly, we may
distinguish between the earthly and heavenly and not be able to see the
heavenly, but for God both heaven and earth fall under the category of
"creation." Picture yourself in a room with walls ten feet high, but
no roof. You can't see what is on the other side of the wall.
However, God looks on from above and He sees what is happening on
either side of the wall. Further, He is sovereign over what happens on
both sides of the wall, on both sides things are working out according
to His plan.
4. I think I think that the wall I spoke of in point #3 deals more with our vision than with actual separation of the two realms. In other words, the sense in which there is a wall between the heavenly and the earthly is the sense in which we of the earth can't see what is happening in the spiritual realm. But that doesn't mean that the spiritual and earthly don't interact - in fact they do. Remember, both the earthly and the spiritual are a part of "creation," and interact far more than we know. In fact, the biblical picture is that the spiritual animates the earthly. Man was just a lump of earthly clay until God supernaturally breathed the breath of life into Him. If Colossians 1:17 is true, and it is, that in Christ all things hold together, since our bodies are "things" they are held together by the supernatural, i.e. spiritual work of Christ. Thus I think that when we die it is not the case that our heart stops beating and then our soul departs from our body, it is more the case that God makes a decision to separate our souls from our bodies, and this causes our hearts to stop beating.
My point in all of this is that the spiritual, heavenly, immaterial, interacts with the physical and earthly far more intimately than we probably realize. Hence, angelic beings have no problem taking human form and using and manipulating matter.
5. Thus, those people who think there is a demon behind every bush are right - there is indeed a demon behind every bush.
6. But if there is a demon behind every bush, there is more behind the bush than just the demon. If Revelation 12:4 is to be believed, and it is to be believed, it appears that about 1/3 of the angels in heaven followed Satan. What we tend to forget in that is that 2/3 stayed with God. This means that in this great spiritual warfare we talk about the good guys outnumber the bad guys 2 - 1. Also, if Colossians 2:15 is to be believed, and it is to be believed, the bad guys got whooped and got all of their weapons taken away. So, the true picture is that if there is a demon behind every bush then it is a weaponless, beaten demon who is probably surrounded by two very powerful, victorious, well-armed angels.
7. Thus, I think I think that if you are a Christian, Satan and his demons have more reason to fear you than you have to fear them. James 4:7 tells us to resist the devil and he will flee from us. That word "flee" is interesting. Here is the Louw Nida definition of the Greek word for "flee."
15.61 φεύγωa; φυγή, ῆς f: to move quickly from a point or area in order to avoid presumed danger or difficulty—‘to run away, to flee, flight.’
Notice that this word "flee" refers to an area of presumed danger or difficulty. We often speak of the dangers of Satan and the occult, true and fair warnings to be sure. But this says that we pose a danger to Satan.
8. Because I think I think that spiritual beings can manipulate matter I therefore think I think that some of the more spooky stuff you hear about and read about regarding demon possession and the paranormal is true. I also think that people in general and the church in particular badly misunderstand the significance of the spooky stuff to the enemy and we are also supremely gullible in regards to it.
Let's talk about gullibility first. I think I think we grossly underestimate how easily deceived we are. Our fascination with the paranormal can cause us to easily be fooled by claims of the paranormal. People see everything from Bigfoot (growing up in Florida, our version of Bigfoot was known as the Skunk Ape), aliens and demons all the time that are clever hoaxes or figments of their imagination.
Just for fun, check out this little exercise on the blind spot in your eye. Every eye has a blind spot and our minds take account of that blind spot and estimate what they think should be in the blind spot and fill in the data. In other words, when it comes to perception of the world around us, our minds not only passively receive data, but our minds create perceptions. My point in saying this is that the difference between you and me and John Nash of "A Beautiful Mind" is a difference in degree. Our minds are constantly "creating" perceived reality and those "created" perceptions are constantly interacting with our "received" perceptions. Your mind and my mind may only create perceptions on the simple level of filling in blind spots in the eye and John Nash's mind created a very vivid alternate reality that was as real to him as . . . well . . . reality. But my point is that our minds are very creative and if we buy into a lot of the pop spirituality of the day and create certain expectations in our minds, we can see things that appear to be paranormal the way John Nash could see them.
There is quite a bit of what we call "spiritual power" that is simply the product of trickery, manipulation and expectation. Check out this post on the abilities of the former preacher turned atheist Marjoe Gortner and his continued ability to slay people in the spirit in the name of Jesus.
But having said all of that, the fact that we are gullible does not negate the fact that spiritual beings can manipulate the material. Thus, I believe that some of the stories we hear about the paranormal are true. But as I said, I think we grossly misintrepret their significance to our enemy. Satan is the one true anti-Christ. Christ is the mediator who stands between man and God to reconcile them, Satan is the ultimate false Christ who stands between man and God to separate them. Thus, the significance of the paranormal to Satan is that it gets people to become more fascinated with the paranormal than with Christ.
Thus, I suggest that we ought to acknowledge that the paranormal is real, but then say, "but it's not that significant." A retort will be that we must deal with the paranormal to get people to focus on Christ. For example, if we can address demons through a deliverance style ministry, and drive out the demons, then people will become focused on Christ. That is the popular model today, but it is not the historical model.
The historical model is not that we drive out demons so that people are fee to focus on Christ, it is that we focus on Christ and then demons will be driven out. This is the discipleship model of deliverance and it is advocated in books like Power Encounters by David Powlison (would someone please re-publish this book, like now!) and The Covering by Hank Hanagraaff. It's also the model of the Puritans and older missionaries like John L. Nevius.
Of course this historical model of dealing with the paranormal isn't very sexy, it's actually quit boring and non-sensational, so it won't get much play. As J. Lee Grady of Charisma Magazine said in the wake of the Todd Bentley - Lakeland debacle - "Many of us would rather watch a noisy demonstration of miracles, signs and wonders than have a quiet Bible study."
9. I think I think that though the spiritual realm is real and interacts with us far more intimately than we realize we are not to try to peer into the unseen realm. The bible is pretty clear that there are people on earth who seek to consult spiritual beings and we are to stay away from them and avoid their practices (see Leviticus 19:31, 20:6 & 27, Deuteronomy 18:11). But what about Christians who claim to gain insight in the name of Jesus into the spiritual realm? Colossians 2:18-19 talks about these people:
18 Do not let anyone who delights in false humility and the worship of angels disqualify you for the prize. Such a person goes into great detail about what he has seen, and his unspiritual mind puffs him up with idle notions. 19 He has lost connection with the Head, from whom the whole body, supported and held together by its ligaments and sinews, grows as God causes it to grow.
Granted, these people don't come under the severe punishment of the Old Testament spiritists, we aren't told to stone them. But Paul does say that people who go into great detail about their visions of "spiritual realities" are unspiritual and have lost connection with Christ. While it is debatable whether or not such people actually had such visions, Paul himself had an authentic, documented vision of these heavenly or spiritual realities, but he wouldn't talk about it because it would take the focus off of Christ (II Corinthians 12:1-6).
I'll try to find the exact quote later but one of the most helpful things I remember reading from Michael Heister went something like this - God tells us not to seek to peer into the spiritual realm, not because we can't, but because we can, and we can't handle it."
10. I think I think that just as the activities of spiritual beings influence events on earth, so the activities of earthly beings influence events in the spiritual realm. If the earthly event of the cross and resurrection disarmed spiritual entities (Colossians 2:15) then I think we have a model here that shows that study, belief in and proclamation of the gospel continues to push against the enemies of God in the spiritual realm. In fact, any move we make toward Christ while on earth, pushes back the spiritual darkness.
That's what I think I think, what do you think you think?