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THE EFFECTS OF THE SPIRITUAL WORLD
It is clear, then, that we must continue to insist on the influence of the world of spirits on our world as Jesus attested. Similarly, we must hold on to the fact that Satan and his demons have a real effect on our world. But we are then directly faced with the question how we must visualise their operation. We know absolutely nothing about this matter, except from the Scripture.
Hence we are faced with a mystery. That spirits can influence each other, we experience daily. We also know from experience that our spirit affects our body. But neither experience nor science can answer the question as to how one spirit can affect another or how our spirits influence our bodies. Those influences take place in a sphere where our powers of observation have reached their limits. Here we are dealing with feelings, impressions, emotions and experiences. However, it is beyond us to determine the way this all works. We know the effect; we do not know the method, and every effort to discover it has failed.
It is clear that sometimes the spirit of one individual person is stronger than that of another and can more easily make an impression than the spirit of another person. It is also true that one spirit is more receptive to another’s influence than some are. It has, furthermore, been observed that it sometimes is easier to influence the spirit of a large crowd than each member of that crowd individually, but we are in the dark when it comes to the question of how this hypnotic or suggestive power works, on what power it is based and how it achieves its purpose. Even in a love affair we have an unsolved mystery, especially in cases where one single momentary glance can make such an emotional impression on a young man or woman that they find themselves drawn to each other by an irresistible power as if magnetic forces fuse their souls to each other. We all have a spirit within us and we get in touch with other spirits daily, but no one can analyse what that spirit actually is. All attempts at describing it fail us. We know what a spirit is not, but we do not know what it is. We know that a spirit has power, but how that power resides in the spirit, how it is activated or to what laws it is subject remains a hidden secret for us. We can observe that somewhere our soul makes contact with our nervous system, because it is through our nervous system that we absorb the experiences of our lives and of our senses into the soul, but where this point of contact is located, we do not know. One person holds the opinion that the soul is spread throughout the body; another locates it in our heart; a third puts it in the brain. Via amputation we can lose significant parts of our body without the spirit within us suffering at all. There are also parts of our body that cannot stand any significant damage without our losing consciousness immediately. Here you can guess, you can surmise, you can theorize all you want, but you will not arrive at any certainty.
So, most questions in this area remain unanswered and we are unable to account clearly for the way in which our spirit influences our body, but no one doubts the fact of this influence. That fact is confirmed every moment of our lives.
If we apply the above concerns to the spiritual realm that exists in the world outside of the human race and we start off with the revealed fact that there is indeed such an external spiritual realm, then it is obvious that there must be a certain relationship between the spirits that exist out there and those that are within humans. They have at least in common that both sets of beings are spirits and thus the characteristic features of our own spiritual life can also be found in those other spirits. We cannot go beyond this point. Our human spirituality may have peculiarities not shared by those other spirits and vice versa. Whatever gap there may exist, these others, too, are spirits and thus a type of being that shares certain basic characteristics with our own spirituality.
It is neither strange nor unnatural that these spirits could remain holy or desecrate themselves and that we can thus speak of good angels and fallen angels, of holy spirits and of demons. Of these evil spirits it may also be assumed that they can influence each other in the sense that one of them, as Satan, can exert a dominating influence over the other demonic spirits. Similarly, it can generally be assumed that both good and evil spirits can exert influence on the human spirit. Both demons and good angels can affect us. Going one step further, it can hardly be denied that, as our spirit affects our body and thus the material, so both good and evil spirits can affect the visible world.
The Scripture insists on this possibility. It teaches us that all spirits are serving spirits. That means a number of things: they have a service to perform; they are called to service; they have received the properties and powers necessary to perform it; this service is not restricted to heaven, but reaches out to this earth and its human inhabitants. Similarly, the good spirits affect our lives. They are partners in the great battle for the Kingdom of God. They rejoice in the fields of Ephratha. They are eager to participate in the work of deliverance. They are sent out to serve those who will inherit salvation. In the last day they will triumph along with Christ and those whom He delivered. We must not picture them as if they live in isolation above, while we live in separation here below. They participate in all our affairs. They rejoice and sorrow along with us. That in the parable of the rich man and Lazarus the angels deposited poor Lazarus in the bosom of Abraham is an imaginative expression of the participation of angels in our lives.
Not only does the Scripture teach that the good angels can affect us, but the fallen angels, the demons, can as well affect us as they seek our destruction. This was not their original inclination, but Satan wants to separate us from God and to draw us into his own kingdom. Satan has been called the “brother of Christ” in order to emphasise his pre-eminence among the spirits. It is exactly that pre-eminence that tempted him to rebel against God. Since then, all of his energies have been directed against the Kingdom of God in order to promote his own kingdom. To this end he does all he can to subject mankind to his own designs. In this attempt he has the advantage of unusually strong powers that stand ready to do his bidding. His preeminence goes along with great gifts and unusual powers. These qualities were meant to be used by him in the service of God, his Creator. Satan did not lose these qualities after his fall, but instead used them against God and His anointed one. These powers were first displayed in the Garden at the time he deceived our ancestors to fall into sin. Since that time, the Scriptures portray him restlessly sowing spiritual destruction among mankind, frustrating the grace of God working for our liberation and promoting his own kingdom on earth. He has been called the “ruler of this dark world” (Eph. 6:12) and the “prince of this world” (John 12:31, 14:30). The government of this world, promised by God to mankind, has been taken over by him. Through the use of all sorts of unholy, secret powers Satan keeps the children of men and the nations caught in his traps. Charms and magic are among his unholy arsenal of powers by which he retains the souls of people. This demonic rule stood unchallenged and unrestrained until the appearance of Christ. At that time he doubled his efforts and powers and turned the battle into a personal struggle against the anointed one in order to retain his own rule as prince of the world and to frustrate the coming of the Kingdom of Heaven.
In this power struggle Satan exerts influence over other demonic spirits by subjecting them to his will and thus making them subservient to the fulfillment of his designs. Similarly, Satan works in the human spirit to lead people astray, to catch them in his net and to destroy the seed of piety in them. He also affects the body and the material, as we see so graphically in Jesus’ days in those who were demon possessed. He even penetrated into Jesus’ inner circle: he led Jesus to His destruction, brought Peter into danger and eventually tempted and led people astray everywhere, so that Jesus laid the prayer, “Deliver us from evil” on the lips of all His followers. In our own day, Satan’s power comes and goes, wanes and waxes, but in Jesus’ days, Satan’s attacks were particularly vicious as we witness in the incidents of those possessed by demons in such overwhelming ways, that the demons themselves spoke to Jesus, “What do You want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have You come to destroy us? I know who You are--the Holy One of God!” (Mark 1:24-26; Luke 4:31-35). Jesus cast them out and at one time even had them invade a herd of swine which then went berserk and jumped into the nearby sea (Mat. 8, Mark 5, Luke 8). We are talking here about a spiritual influence and power that is not restricted to affecting the human spirit but that can also affect the human body and even the human personality. The incident of the swine shows that even the animal kingdom is drawn into its orbit.
It will not do to regard this influence of the spirits on our lives an unusual circumstance, for such a view cannot do justice to the phenomena under discussion. The Scripture hardly encourages such an interpretation. To the contrary, it depicts Satan as “your enemy the devil” who “prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour” (I Peter 5:8). Paul asserted that we are struggling “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” (Eph. 5:12), a struggle that knows no relief, but in which we are restlessly engaged from moment to moment. We need to call upon our God every morning and every evening for Him to “deliver us from the evil one.” And it is not only our own spiritual life that is constantly under threat of invasion and overpowering, but the same holds for all of nature. We read, “For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it.” Further, “The whole of creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time” in the hope that it “will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God” (Rom. 8:19-22).
We are not talking here about occasional exceptional events, but about a constant and dark influence exerted over all aspects of life and creation, of a demonic oppression that is exercised everywhere in our human society as well as throughout our world. That oppression came with the curse and as the nations wandered farther and farther away from God, it increased. That curse was dealt its lethal, principal blow with the coming of the Messiah, and, thanks to the pouring out of the Holy Spirit, it is significantly tempered or restrained where the Christian church is present. However, this oppression will not be totally done away with until Satan has been bound for eternity and the glorification of God’s children, along with the establishment of the new heaven and the new earth, will have taken place at the return of Christ.
The spirit does not simply repose or rest in the material, but it carries the material along. Through His almighty providence and the majesty of His will, God preserves the universe in its make-up. That almighty providence is present everywhere. There is not one creaturely spirit and not even one unit of the most microscopic material that does not owe its preservation to that almighty providence. All creation is at each point and at each moment carried along, preserved and empowered through this providential power of God, that resides everywhere in creation and motivates it. God, of course, is a spirit. To Him clings nothing that is visible or physical. Thus it is the almighty Spirit of God that created and upholds not only the creaturely spirit, but also the realm of the visible. No matter how deeply the sciences may penetrate into the composition, laws and powers of nature, they will never be able to touch the spiritual essence or base on which it all rests. Even when the physical material turns out to be all motion and power, science will not get beyond the motion and power. It is beyond the reach of science to determine how God, a Spirit, works within this material creation and motivates it. It is simply impossible to know anything about this subject, unless God reveals it to us. For this reason it is necessary for those of us who desire to form at least a vague conception of the spiritual base, constantly to return to His revelation.
Attempts have been made to prove the above without resort to divine revelation, but these have led from one error into another, from the pan into the fire. A superficial attempt has been made by appeal to Deism. This is the view that God has created this universe like a clock that automatically runs on and on without God having anything further to do with it. Still others have sought comfort in Pantheism. This view has it that as human beings have bodies infused with a soul that inspires and enlivens it, so can the entire universe be seen as a gigantic body of which God is the soul. In this view God has no existence apart from His creation and is exhausted by it. This God becomes conscious only in the human consciousness, but He has no independent existence or consciousness and is not marked by holiness. These views represent worldly wisdom to which they resorted who were interested in such questions but who would not accept God's holy revelation.
It was over against this pseudo-wisdom that Jesus and the apostles placed the divine wisdom that was hidden from the learned and wise for generations, but that was eventually revealed to little children (Mat. 11:25). Thus, we do not just have this little earth with our God far and high above it with nothing in between but death, but we have a creation of God that is filled with wonderful and rich life. There are 10,000 times 10,000 angels, as the apostle of Patmos expressed it. Those innumerable spirits are not just a jubilating and praising host, they are not merely marginal figures in the great drama of creation, but they are powerful heroes that carry out the Word of God. All these hosts are His servants who carry out His pleasure. They have a service to perform, a call, a task that basically is nothing else than to obey the voice of His word. They neither sleep nor rest, but they are forever busy in the fulfillment of their service. They are borne up by God Almighty, who appears in and through them as a personal power. Christ is appointed head over all this host. Under Him are the good angels of God, who form the host that restrains all demonic influences and seeks to overcome and destroy them.
It is not possible to restrict all this to the spiritual realm. There simply is no barrier that would prevent any point of contact between the spiritual and the material. The angels also affect the material, as the Scriptures show us repeatedly. This effect is demonstrated especially by the demonic spirits. It is precisely through the visible that they try to tempt us and bring us down. At first glance, the sin of pride would seem the most purely spiritual in nature, but even this sin often expresses itself in the material through money or goods, through honour or power.
Over against those angels that serve God without ceasing, there are the fallen angles. The latter did, of course, cease to serve God and now have no other task than to break down the Kingdom of God, but they do so with the powers and gifts with which God at one time equipped them for His service. They have retained the ability of approaching souls, to entice and tempt them, to affect our souls and thus exert influence over the material. This phenomenon is stronger in those possessed by demons than most of us experience today, but this “service to destruction,” as the apostle called it, continues so that all of life’s evil and abuse that cannot be squared with God’s love and holiness, must be explained on basis of these demonic influences. Life is covered by an impenetrable veil behind which takes place a struggle of spirits that we cannot explain and of which we only observe its effect on our lives.
All superstition has its cause in that mysterious background of our lives. People sensed the effects of this mysterious power in their lives and they felt the need to oppose it. But, instead of seeking help against this oppressing power and deliverance from it from God and His good angels, people depended on their own wits and sought to overcome evil by means of magic. This practice was, in fact, tantamount to serving and worshipping the demonic spirits themselves. People feared the power of these spirits and tried to gain their favour. In some circles this has actually developed into an open, unabashed service and worship of the evil one. Whatever form it took, the intent of this superstition and demonic magic was invariably to control this demonic influence by means of the demonic. The result has been that spiritually the nations found themselves tied more and more to the demonic. The spiritual was feared as a threat rather than recognised as a liberating force. People sensed the net in which they were caught, but they did not know how to extricate themselves from it. People felt themselves surrounded by a demonised nature.
Over against such a situation, Moses spoke these words of God, “The nations listen to those who practice sorcery or divination. But as for you, the Lord your God has not permitted you to do so. The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own brothers. You must listen to him” (Deut. 15:14-16). By this means, it was only among Israel that this demonic power was broken in principle. When the promised Prophet finally was announced victoriously, “This is my beloved Son. Hear Him,” the struggle in the wilderness between Christ and Satan began immediately. It was then that Satan’s head was crushed on the cross. It was then, in the hour of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, that a new power was released through the church to enter the world. This new power created an atmosphere of liberation for the human spirit so that the children of God could begin to develop themselves in freedom. That moment signaled the unfettered development of the human spirit. Gradually superstition was pushed back, this time not by resorting to magical tricks, but by research. By hard and serious scientific study, liberated mankind was able to recover its power over nature.
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