189. from either/or to both/and
I am really confused. See, back in blog 168 I talked about how I saw what some would call a demon manifestation. Well the friend of mine (I’ll refer to him as “T”) through whom the manifestation took place believed that there was still one big fat (and I hesitate to use the word, but for simplicity’s sake I will) demon left inside himself and so he invited me to go to the Monday night healing service at Moanalua Gardens Missionary Church. And although I have some serious reservations about this whole demons and prophecy and healings thing, I went for two reasons. One, I wanted to support my friend. Two, I wanted to see what would happen.
Now I don’t want to give a blow by blow account of what took place. It was basically the same thing as what I described in blog 168, only this time there were more people praying in our little circle. It got pretty intense sometimes, but after about an hour or so of prayer and laying on of hands and scripture reading, T kind of launched out of his chair onto the floor and then it was all over. He said he felt lighter, that just before he felt the demon leave he saw a shining white hand reach into him and yank something out. And the guy who was leading the whole prayer thing said that finally, T was free of any kind of demonic oppression.
And while we were still in the middle of it, there was the same gnashing of teeth and growling that I had seen before, but at one point the guy praying for him had to restrain T’s arms because T started punching himself. In the face. It got pretty wild like that.
And I feel bad for saying this because I know what happened means a lot to T, but at the time, I just wasn’t buying it.
“So you think it was all an act?”
Well, no. I don’t think T was putting on a show or that he was consciously acting out some kind of scripted routine. T’s not like that.
“Well, he certainly wasn’t acting like himself, so if he wasn’t doing it consciously then it must be some kind of possession right?”
Well, no. If pressed, I would say that I think what I was witnessing was a combination of a few things.
1. I think it’s a kind of psychosomatic acting out. See, T’s been attending a church with a heavy pentecostal flavor to it and so he’s exposed to a community that believes in spiritual strongholds and demonic influences and open doors, etc. And to me, it’s only natural that he’d buy into that way of seeing the world. I mean, when in Rome right?
2. T used to be a heavy drug user and I can’t help but think that that takes a toll on the wiring inside his brain. I think there are a few frayed ends that are sparking a bit too hard, causing him to act these things out.
3. The guy who’s been praying for T when he attends these healing services has a pretty elaborate understanding of these spiritual matters and because he’s praying for T and because T is acting out in such a pronounced way, this guy tries to share his understanding of these spiritual matters with T. And to me, that’s just adding fuel to the fire – it’s just giving him more license to act these things out.
4. T is a self-confessed danger junkie. He’s not one of those extreme dudes who jumps out of planes or off bridges, he just likes to see what he can get away with. I was in Vegas with him a few years ago (to help him put on an art show, not for gambling or the shows…I think Vegas is a stupid city) and we were looking for something and we were getting lost and somehow I let T talk me into letting him drive the rental. Well, we have to make a U-turn and once he gets on the dirt shoulder, he guns the engine and kicks up a Pigpen-style ball of dust before returning to the road. Why? Just because. And I can’t help but think that this whole demon possession idea appeals to that side of him.
And so it seems like there are ways to explain what I saw.
But here’s the other side of it. These things happened in the past. The gospels are full of stories about Jesus casting out demons and his disciples continue this in the book of Acts. And if you believe that the Bible tells a truthful tale, then what do you do with accounts of healing and exorcism?
“Yeah, but that was then.”
And yes, there is the unspoken assumption in most congregations that supernatural acts took place in the early church but they don’t happen anymore. But where do they get that from? Where in the Bible does it say that those things are supposed to stop happening? As far as I can tell, there’s no verse or passage where the Bible talks about these spiritual events as a limited engagement event. They weren’t supposed to have a shelf life. And what are you going to do with a verse like Ephesians 6:22, which says, “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” (NIV)
To reduce what T went through to some kind of short term psychosis brought on by psychosomatic stimuli, compounded by history of non-prescribed psycotropic drug use, is to discount the fact that the physical world that we see, touch, taste, smell, and hear is not all that exists. God is a spiritual being and if you believe in God then you must believe that there is a spiritual component to reality. And if you don’t believe in God then I imagine you stopped reading this blog a long time ago (and if you don’t believe in God but read anyway, two kudos to the open mind).
The bottom line…
I had a really good conversation this afternoon with the talented Rocky Green. And not only is he a ripping guitar player, he’s also a very smart man (dare I admit that he unintentionally talks over my head sometimes? Well, I just did, didn’t I?) and I kind of asked him about this struggle that I’m going through and I’m not sure if he meant for me to take it this way, but the conclusion I came to at the end of our conversation was this: it’s all about metaphors.
There are some who look at the world and rationalize everything with empirical evidence – facts and logic and proof are the metaphors that they use to grasp reality. And then there are other people who look at the world and see spiritual oppression and strongholds and open doors through which the influence of the enemy can enter in – angels and demons and spiritual warfare are the metaphors they use to grasp reality. And those who are conversant with one view of the world have a very hard time communicating with the other because their metaphors are different and so the words they use don’t mean the same thing. People squarely in the logic camp might say that it’s a problem of starting premisses. People in the pentecostal camp might say that a heavy spirit of skepticism is at work here.
But here’s the thing. I believe both perspectives are a fallen way of looking at the world because those perspectives were developed and were passed on by fallen people – smart people, gifted people, devoted people who studied and thought long and hard about their viewpoints, but in the end they were people subject to the fall. No one has the whole, complete, inerrant picture of how the world works. Not the cloistered academic, not the flaming pentecostal, not even the ultra-moderate mega-church pastor. None of them does and none of us will.
“Well what are you saying then? Does that mean there’s nothing we can know about God, that people can just go and believe whatever they want to believe?”
No. There are essentials that must be held to, and here’s where we can thank our liturgical brethren (and sistren) for the work that their forefathers did in developing the creeds (not to be confused with the band Creed, which
I’m more than happy to be rid of). On any given weekend, there will be congregations around the world gathered in all kinds of churches who will recite the words originally penned in the fourth century at the Councils of Nicaea, otherwise known as the Nicene Creed. And I believe part of the genius (and usefulness) of the creed is that it can be recited by both the academic and the pentecostal with no feathers ruffled on either side.
And so in closing, let’s all say together:
We believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty
Maker of heaven and earth, of all that is seen and unseen.
We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ,
the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father,
God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God,
begotten, not made, one in Being with the Father.
Through him all things were made.
For us and for our salvation he came down from heaven:
by the power of the Holy Spirit he was born of the Virgin Mary, and became man.
For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate; he suffered, died, and was buried.
On the third day he rose again in fulfillment of the Scriptures
he ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead,
And his kingdom will have no end
We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the Giver of Life,
Who proceeds from the Father and the Son
With the Father and the Son he is worshipped and glorified
He has spoken through the Prophets.
We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church
We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.
We look for the resurrection of the dead,
and the life of the world to come.