Thursday, October 30, 2014

Paranoid of Satan

There is a danger of Christians becoming paranoid of things demonic. This happened in the Late Medieval and Early Modern periods, resulting in the witch hunts. It seems to be happening again today. The problem is making Satan and his followers too strong and God too weak.

There are three views on the power of demons. One is that they have no power or do not exist. This is the traditional view of modern society, but we are drifting away from it. Many Christians buy into this view in some form. But this leads to complacency and ignores the Biblical warnings to be alert (Ephesians 6:10-13; 1 Peter 5:8,9; 2 Corinthians 11:2,3).

Or one can hold the Late Medieval view that sees demons as having great power to influence the world. They can change one thing into another and work serious harm, while God seems to be far off. This is contrary to the fact that Christ is victorious over evil (Colossians 2:15; 1 John 4:4; Luke 10:19). This leads to being afraid of demons and building conspiracy theories based on what they are doing. We see that same attitude at work today. If you want stir up a furor, suggest that something is connected to witchcraft or Satan worship. Now I do not want endorse these beliefs, but there are a large number of beliefs that are just as contrary to Christianity. And inventing vast conspiracies does not seem to be the right way to approach the issue. Nor is it helpful to become irate over things like Harry Potter or the Wizard of Oz. The truth is that the majority of books out there do not fit in with a Christian worldview. We need to learn to read all of them with our guard up. But to single out the ones that seem (often very questionably) to have some connection to witchcraft or Satanism is simplistic. Satan does not care who or what you worship as long as it is not God.

While Scripture does not teach the particulars, the view that makes the most sense to me is that of the early church fathers and the Early Middle Ages. This view is that demons have power, but it is limited. They do not really turn people into wolves or make them fly around on broomsticks, but put them into a trance where they think they have done such things. They do not really know the future, but there are a lot of them and they move about and communicate at high speeds, so they can make good guesses about what will happen. They cannot really make living things, but they can do some good sleight of hand that enables them to switch rods with snakes. But most of all, God is greater than they are and is in ultimate control of the world (Romans 8:28; Ephesians 1:11; Isaiah 43:13). It is only as we have God in perspective that we can avoid blowing demons out of proportion.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Dealing with Demonic Influcence

What do we do if we have encountered what we believe is demonic influence in our lives or the lives of others? How do we deal with it? We should use prayer (Mark 9:28,29; Ephesians 6:18; Philippians 4:6,7). (The presence of fasting is a textual issue, but this does seem to be a proper approach to serious prayer.) We can use the Scriptures (Matthew 4:1-11; Ephesians 6:17; Psalms 119:11). There also seems to some value in the act of worship (1 Samuel 16:23) (I would suspect that it is this, rather than just music, that is in view here). And if you feel certain there is something demonic involved, there is a place for the direct rebuke (Mark 1:25-27; Acts 16:18; Luke 4:41).

But none of these should be seen as magic talismans, like waving a cross in front of a vampire. They must be used with faith (Ephesians 6:16; Mark 9:23,24; Proverbs 3:5,6) and humility (1 Peter 5:6-9; James 4:6-10; Luke 10:17-20). And this must be rooted in our knowledge of Christ, that He is victorious (Colossians 2:15; 1 John 4:4; Romans 16:20). There is an example in Scripture of what happens to those who try using these things merely as a form (Acts 19:11-16). It should also be noted that, except for the direct rebuke, these are the same remedies that should be applied to the problem even if there is no demonic influence involved. Which is why I think that, unless it is really clear, we should start by dealing with the problem and confront the demonic aspect only as it becomes evident.  

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

God Is Love

"God is love" is clearly found in Scripture (1 John 4:7,8). But what does it mean? Love is something highly valued but variously defined. As C. S. Lewis points out in The Problem of Pain, often what we want in the love of God is a vague benevolence. A love that will simply let us do what we want and never call us to account for it. But as Lewis explains, this is actually a fairly weak form of love. The love of God is pictured as that of a father to a child (John 1:12,13; Romans 8:14-17; 1 John 3:1) or of a groom for his bride (Ephesians 5:22-33; 2 Corinthians 11:1-3; Revelation 19:7,8).

Now the love of God is unconditional; He loved us when we were His enemies (Romans 5:6-8; John 3:14-18; 1 John 4:9,10). He loves us though we are sinners whose righteousnesses are as filthy rags before Him (Isaiah 64:6, Romans 3:23; Jeremiah 17:9). And He offers salvation as a free gift in Jesus Christ, if we are willing to put our faith in His promises (Ephesians 2:8,9; Romans 4:4,5, Philippians 3:9), not based on anything we do to earn it (Titus 3:5,6; Romans 3:19,20; Galatians 3:10-14). But in that love is the desire to change us into what we should be (Titus 2:11-14; Ephesians 2:10; Philippians 2:13), to transform us into the image of Christ (2 Corinthians 3:18; Romans 8:28-30; 1 John 3:2,3). Now this change is a response to God's love for us (1 John 4:19; 2 Corinthians 5:14,15; Romans 12:1,2). Nonetheless, it is the response God is working to produce in the lives of those who put their faith in Christ.

The father may love and even sacrifice for the child, even though that child is misbehaving. So may the husband, the wife. But love cannot simply be satisfied with this situation. It is a very nominal love that says, "Fine, live that way" and means it. Now there can be someone who, in the name of love, is so overzealous they drive people away. But I do not see indifference as being the result of a deep love. Serious love must care. That is why I do not have a great problem reconciling God's love and God's justice. I do not believe God can love people and simply stand by and allow them to be mistreated without judging. Or even allow them to go down paths that will ultimately be damaging to them. However, that same love also holds back judgment to allow space for repentance  (2 Peter 3:9; Romans 2:4; Proverbs 28:13). But God loves us too much to simply leave us alone to follow our own desires. 

Monday, October 27, 2014

A Touch of Humor - Mistaken Identity

Who are we really? How do we find our real identity?

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Old Erich Proverb - Spooks

Jesus has defeated the powers of darkness, that Christians need not fear any spooks, real or imagined.

Friday, October 24, 2014

A Voice from the Past - Athanasius

And on the other hand it was not his own death but that of men the Saviour came to fulfill. Therefore he did not lay aside the body by his own death - for he had none since he was life - but he accepted the death imposed by men in order to destroy it completely when it came to his own body.

Athanasius, 293-373 AD, De Incarnatione, 22 (translated by Robert W. Thomson, Contra Gentes and De Incarnatione, Oxford on the Clarendon Press, 1971, p. 189)

Does it matter how Christ died? Why?

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Athanasius - The Man Who Stood Against the World

Athanasius was a man who, at a crucial time, stood up for his principles against those around him. Alexander, archbishop of Alexandria, had gotten into a dispute with one of his subordinates, Arius, over the deity of Christ. Arius claimed Christ was just the first and greatest of all created beings. The Emperor Constantine wanted them to ignore their differences and get along. When this failed, Constantine called the leaders of the church together for the Council of  Nicaea. At the council Alexander and his supporter Athanasius carried the day. The deity of Christ was affirmed in the Nicene creed, and Arius and his followers were sent into exile. But Constantine, wanting to promote peace, allowed the exiles back. They continued to spread their ideas underground.

Alexander and Arius died soon afterwards, leaving Athanasius as archbishop of Alexandria. Those who opposed him or desired a middle ground held a council and, with the concurrence of Constantine, sent Athanasius into exile on technical and trumped-up charges. Constantine died soon after and was succeeded by his sons. As a result of which one was in power, Athanasius was recalled and banished numerous times. Finally, Constantius gained sole power and tried to impose Arianism by force. Many went along to be safe, and others followed Athanasius into exile. Then Constantius died and Julian attempted to revive paganism. He brought Athanasius back from exile to get the Christians fighting one another. But Athanasius immediately preached a sermon against paganism and was sent back into exile. Athanasius died as archbishop of Alexandria, but it was not until after his death that the Nicene creed was reaffirmed at the council of Constantinople. Athanasius's epitaph was "Athanasius against the world"; and by the power of God, Athanasius, against the world, had won.

It is claimed that Athanasius got into an argument over a single letter. But a single letter can make a big difference in meaning. Whether Jesus was God come in the flesh to save His people from their sin or just one more messenger, with only limited ability beyond delivering the message, makes a huge difference in theology. It is claimed he used force to impose his viewpoint on others. Rather, he stood firmly against those using force to impose their views on him. Even the pagan historians note it was the Arians who used force and the orthodox, at least initially, who practiced toleration. Athanasius did encourage the idea of monasticism by writing a bibliography of Anthony (more on that in a later post). Athanasius was a man who stood firmly for his principles. Like all such men, he was perhaps too firm at times, though he seems to have maintained his composure and sense of humor under stress. Some of the technicalities he was accused of may have been the result of cutting a few technical corners to defend his principles. But it requires a man of strong convictions to stand against such opposition, and in this situation Athanasius proved to be that man.