“A Biblical Worldview--the Evil Empire”
21 November 04
Texts: Mark 5:1-20
October 25, 2004, Time magazine ran an article on the hypothesis that God is in our genes (pp.62-72). In that article, a book by molecular biologist Dean Hamer is partially reviewed. He has an understanding of human spirituality and definition of humanity which is naturalism reduced to its core. He sees human spirituality as an adaptive trait--with survival value (those who have a “spirituality” gene do better at surviving than those who don’t). He believes that he has located that gene--”a gene that just happens to code for production of the neurotransmitters that regulate our moods.” “Our most profound feelings of spirituality, according to a literal reading of Hamer’s work, may be due to little more than an occasional shot of intoxicating chemicals governed by our DNA.” (p. 65) I pause to note that this view is deterministic. It reduces spirituality to the mechanics of brain function--in one fell swoop, transcendence is gone and the need for a personal Creator/Redeemer God is abolished. I will quote Hamer, as cited,” I am a believer that every thought we think and every feeling we feel is the result of activity in the brain, I think we follow the basic law of nature, which is that we are a bunch of chemical reactions running around in a bag.” Dean Hamer, as you might imagine, has many outspoken critics. John Polkinghorne, a physicist who is also Canon Theologian at Liverpool Cathedral, says, “You can’t cut (faith) down to the lowest common denominator of genetic survival. It shows the poverty of reductionist thinking.” Now we have another choice: Is man a bag of chemical reactions? Or, is man a creature of God designed in His image? And on what basis would you choose between the two, given that the implications of the alternative choice are too huge to even imagine? Do we live in a God-ordained personal universe fraught with goodness, wonder and worship? Or is all that merely the working out of an indifferent, evolutionist program which is both inevitable and inescapable?
I do not ask these questions idly. Time is short. So, I am not interested in speculation particularly--that being the frame within which I put much evolutionist theory--I am interested in the impact of such philosophical reductionism in the church--the mental habits of our “secular” culture as they impact on our Christian thinking at East Winthrop.. Let me give you an illustration--it comes from a conversation that I had with a woman pastor at the installation of Pastor Dick Haley last Sunday afternoon. Gail and I were discussing the fact that the God of the Bible is a covenant-making and covenant-keeping God. But we live in, and work in a very different culture. When God cut a covenant with Abraham, something inviolable, something irrevocable took place--God made certain promises and Abraham could be very sure that this covenant would be kept. When we turn to our culture, covenant making is so insipid, and covenant breaking so flagrant as to gut the meaning of the word covenant. Is that damage irreparable? Can people in this culture even understand the meaning of covenant? It’s hard. Perhaps we can make some progress here if we liken a covenant to the mortgage on our house, or to car payments. We know what the payment is, and when its due and we also know that if we mess up there are swift, unhappy consequences--the car is repossessed, the house has to be refinanced usually at a significant cost, and rate hike! Less dramatically, we could liken covenant to the warranty on that new car. We buy the car and a warranty together. We understand that the warranty means that we are protected from flaws in manufacturing, or mechanical failure under certain conditions and for a specified period of time. If something goes wrong with our vehicle and we take it in for repairs, we are suddenly very much in touch with the meaning of our covenant with the dealership. We understand the warranty as being a promise (this product is what they say it is--if there are any mechanical problems they will stand behind the car and make things right). So, in these ways, we redeem the notion of covenant somewhat by likening it to a buyer protection plan on a vehicle. Then we are in a position to appreciate the biblical culture, and specifically the biblical understanding of covenant better than before. It is imperative that we be able to penetrate biblical culture if we want to fully understand what God is communicating to us through scripture!
Now, last week I spoke to the charge we have from God to instruct our children scripturally--I spoke to the scope and sequences, the study materials and methodology. A major hindrance to our being able to keep that covenant of relationship, that walk of obedience is the existence of a real, live, personal Satan and his fellow fallen angels, the demons. The is the Kingdom of God and there is an evil empire opposing God’s rule on earth. This week I purpose to explore the basis for this scriptural understanding of reality. Okay? So here’s a biblical text for us to consider:
Mat 4:24 And the news about Him went out into all Syria; and they brought to Him all who were ill, taken with various diseases and pains, demoniacs, epileptics, paralytics; and He healed them.
New American Standard, or, in the King James Version
Mat 4:24 And his fame went throughout all Syria: and they brought unto him all sick people that were taken with divers diseases and torments, and those which were possessed with devils, and those which were lunatic, and those that had the palsy; and he healed them.
Note Jesus was known, inside and outside the scriptures, as a prophet, a man who went about doing good and as an exorcist--that is to say, he would bind evil spirits and cast them out of those persons whom they had infested. He cast out devils, which scripture records are the fallen angels --He ejected demons from persons. This data is so discomforting to 19th and 20th century mind, to rationalists that many concordances written during those years don’t even list demons and demon possession! But the uncomfortable facts remain--Jesus believed in the existence of devils, or demons as an inescapable part of reality. Now, if Jesus believed in demons, and practiced deliverance ministry, we are bound to embrace the existence of demons as just as real to us as to Him and the process of deliverance just as valid as He did! If not, we are saying that Jesus was either ignorant, or practicing open deception--either He didn’t know what He was doing, or He knew and chose to mislead people by acting as if their mistaken notions about demons and demon possession were unimportant--they did not warrant correction. These are both unhappy and unacceptable conclusions. They are also unnecessary--if we grant that the biblical worldview is valid, the supposed problems go away. Only the skeptical are left with a quandary--but their doubts about the existence of demons is a problem in their heads, not a problem with reality.
Before we get too far away from the above text, I want to make an important point. Even in the times that the scripture was recorded, it appears that people knew the difference between demon possession and lunacy because they are clearly distinguished in the text. It will not do then to write off demon possession as a form of delusional mental illness, or insanity--even the so-called ancients knew better.
So, what are we to do when our “enlightened“ cosmology and the scriptural cosmology of our Lord and Savior differ on such a topic as this? What shall we do with our reductionism? Do not think this is a new problem or an unimportant one. Even in Jesus’ day, there were people, educated and enlightened persons, who denied the reality of the supernatural. The Pharisees affirmed the reality of an afterlife and of angels--but the Sadducees denied both. They represent, I think it is fair to say, the conservatives and liberals of their day. And the truth is that both parties were mistaken in their worldview in very significant ways--they misinterpreted the Scripture, which Jesus always treated as authoritative. When Jesus sought to persuade the Sadducees of their error, in denying an afterlife, Jesus used Scripture to refute them: He said, when God says I AM the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob--He is by force of the present tense declaring that He, God, is the God of the living. (Mat 22:32 'I AM THE GOD OF ABRAHAM, AND THE GOD OF ISAAC, AND THE GOD OF JACOB'? He is not the God of the dead but of the living.") Therefore Abraham is still living and there must be an afterlife for, behold, the tombs of the patriarchs were very much in evidence even in Jesus’ day. When He corrected the Pharisees for their misreading of the Law, Jesus cited scripture, Go and learn what it means, I desire mercy rather than sacrifice. (Hosea 6:6 For I desired mercy, and not sacrifice; and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings.) So, the problem isn’t new--and the solution is a proper application of Scripture. I also said, the problem isn’t unimportant: churches divide over such issues all the time. If someone believes that the spiritual gifts are inoperative today, he will find the use of the gifts offensive. If someone else believe that demons are unreal, or non-existent, he will find the practice of deliverance inappropriate, if not offensive. Indeed, by virtue of such denials, these persons will also be ignorant of such practices, suspicious of their practitioners and unable to judge accurately whether the matter is of God, or not. And, denying the actual existence of demons, they may even find dabbling in the occult (tarot cards, horoscopes, palm reading, séances, casting spells) an amusing, harmless entertainment--and find those who oppose such things on biblical grounds “offensive,” calling them narrow, judgmental and, even, superstitious. The only basis for determining the truth these matters is Scripture--the standard we have covenanted to hold up as our rule of faith and practice. Let’s turn to our standard.
Well, is there a personal devil? Is his name Satan? And does he head up, with the help of legions of demons, an evil empire? The biblical response is a resounding “yes..” I have not completed an exhaustive study of the subject of the devil and his demonic hosts, but I can report to you over thirty substantial references to it. There are 18 references to Satan in the Old Testament and twice that many in the New Testament. There are 60 passages related to Satan’s personage, character and activity. There are seven cases of demonic possession in the New Testament alone--and there this condition is distinguished there explicitly from both insanity and disease.--the most common rationalizations of the modern mind! It is seen as producing harm in Mark 5:1-5. Twelve passages deal with demons, their nature and their abilities--with two more passages explaining the influence of evil spirits in the life of Saul and of Ahab. The point? The evidence for the reality of demons, and their pervasiveness is simply overwhelming.
So, where do we go from here? We have set out on this, our adventure, and we have refreshed our memory that our enemies are real--they are not mythical dragons! Do we panic? Are we put to flight? I suppose if we are not equipped, if we are not in close relationship to God, if we are not wearing the full armor of God, a hasty retreat might be well-advised. At a strategic regrouping would be in order. A reality check. Remind yourself that this is warfare. And remind yourself that while Christ had the victory on the cross, our foes will not be finally subdued until the Lion of Judah returns to slay them all with His breath. I cannot help thinking of the Tales of Narnia here and of Aslan, the king. There is a wonderful exchange between Mr. Beaver and the children. It goes something like this:
Mr. Beaver has just been asked if Aslan is safe: “Goodness, no. You haven’t been listening to a thing I’ve been saying. Aslan’s not safe, but he’s good.”
An excellent piece of theology that. You see, beloved, our safety lies solely in the character of our God. We may suffer harm, we will face dangers. We are opposed by enemies and the adventure of faith is costly. It’s always costly . . . Everything valuable is costly and some things are even worth dying for. Robert Frost once said he’d like to make the world “safer for everything but salvation.” Every encounter with God means that our lives will change--and those who want things to stay the same will run from God. They prefer safety to salvation even.
We must be courageous, too. There is much for us dare and to do. We have witnessing to do, we have service to provide, and we have worship to enact. We do not need to walk in fear. We are familiar with the wiles of our enemy and we have spiritual provision to put him to flight over and over again--until there is nothing in our life which has not been redeemed! We have truth, we have Christ in us. We are the saints of God. All the resources of heaven are ours to call upon for empowerment and refreshment. We have a reward coming, too. We are on the victor’s side--so we read our circumstances very differently from those who do not share our faith. We are strengthened by the witness of those who have gone before. We exult with Luther:
“For still our ancient foe Doth seek to work us woe; His craft and power are great, And, armed with cruel hate, On earth is not his equal. . .”
“And though this world, with devils filled, Should theaten to undo us, we will not fear, for God has willed His truth to triumph through us:
The Prince of Darkness grim, We tremble not for him; His rage we can endure, for lo, his doom is sure; One little word shall fell him.” And that word is Jesus. Jesus Lord and Savior..
Do you know Him? For if you know Jesus, even though you may be enlisted in His army, you may be sure you are no mere “bunch of chemical reactions running around in a bag,” rather you are the blood-bought child of God. He will never leave you, or forsake you. Even if you were to die, you shall live forever.