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THE WORLD OF THE SPIRITS
We have seen that the restoration of sovereignty over nature by the Son of Man has two aspects. First, there is the immediate, direct power exerted by means of His miracles. Secondly, there is the mediate, indirect power that through Christ has developed by means of the rise of scientific knowledge. We have also seen how Christ referred to the effects of this scientific development as “the greater works” that His followers would perform. This development took place thanks to the work of Christ, for He added the explanation, “because I am going to the Father” (John 14:12).
This latter point is so important that it requires further explanation. It cannot be denied that our superior knowledge of and control over nature arose in those cultures where the Christian religion took deep root. However, that fact itself does not explain the relationship between this superiority and the influence of Christ on the hearts of men. It might be self-explanatory if the scientists who discovered all this knowledge were mostly faithful Christians, but the opposite has largely been the case, with non-Christians having taken the lead, while Christians often avoided the enterprise. There seems to be an inner contradiction here when we remember that Jesus emphasised that those who would do those greater works would be those who have faith in Him. It is not possible to locate the origin of this higher power over nature in Jesus’ royal reign and at the same time to separate this development from the faith. Thus we are confronted with the question how it is possible that Jesus tied this development so closely to faith in Him, while in fact science has been practised without reference to Him and even in a spirit hostile to Him. If we are to hold on to both of these, we will have to find a point of contact between them that will dissolve the apparent contradiction.
Let us return to Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness (Mat. 4). The Messiah appeared as the Son of Man in order to restore to us our rule over this earth. Before He began His public ministry among Israel, the devil himself appeared to Him in the desert. The devil claimed to have control over the kingdom of this world and to have the authority to hand over this rule to Jesus, provided Jesus would bow before him and worship him. It will not do to regard this claim of satan as a baseless pretence, for Jesus Himself at one time referred to satan as the ruler of this world, a term that in effect makes satan the king.
It was not only at this particular time in the desert that Jesus struggled with him over the power of this Kingdom. Christ struggled with him throughout His ministry. This struggle would not come to its victorious climax until its conclusion on the cross. Throughout Jesus’ ministry, deliverance from demons was a prominent part of His programme. The power He gave to His disciples included that of casting out demons. In a moment of holy ecstasy Jesus claimed that He “saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven” (Luke 10:18). This struggle against Satan was so much in the foreground that in the Lord’s Prayer, He included the phrase “And deliver us from the evil one.” It would be a thorough distortion of Jesus if we were to explain away His struggle with the devil psychologically, for this struggle was the essence of His ministry. It is not without reason that the Apostles constantly emphasised the struggle between the Spirit that Jesus poured out and the spirit of Satan. They opposed every attempt to cast the struggle of believers into an ordinary moral struggle. As believers who have been delivered, we struggle “not against flesh and blood, but against ... the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realm”(Eph. 6:12). Till this day, “the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8). When the final triumph of the church was depicted on the island of Patmos, the further outworking of this spiritual drama showed that Satan was once more freed, after which he is to be cast into the lake of fire, the event which will spell the complete defeat of all anti-Christian and anti-godly forces. “The man of lawlessness” which Paul mentioned in II Thessalonians 2:3-12 “will be in accordance with the work of Satan displayed in all kinds of counterfeit miracles, signs and wonders.” As in Jesus the Son of God became human and the eternal Word became flesh, so Satan attempted to incarnate himself, an attempt that constituted the height of blasphemy and that led to his eternal downfall. Luther expressed this in his description of Satan as the ape or imitator of God in so far as he, in his struggle against God over control of this earth and of the human race, imitates or apes God in what God in His mercy prepared for our redemption.
Liberal, modern theological studies have completely divorced the study of Jesus’ work from this most crucial demonic background to His entire ministry and ignored it. All the stories and sayings in the Gospels and apostolic writings concerning the world of spirits and demons are explained away as the result of imagination and superstition. These were the categories of thought, it is alleged, of the superstitious civilization in which Jesus was brought up and that He also accepted. Those superstitions, of course, were all in error. We modern people know better today and we must therefore re-interpret the Bible to suit the modern mind, thus dropping all serious considerations of this aspect of the Bible. References to demons and spirits must be explained psychologically. Such methods of re-interpreting the Bible have sometimes been referred to as demythologizing, that is, taking the myths out of the Bible by explaining them away.
It should not surprise us that such interpretations are advanced by scholars who see no more in Jesus than a prominent Jewish rabbi or teacher, or, perhaps, a religious genius. Such scholars cannot accept Him as the Bible presents Him and therefore must make Him palatable to their own tastes and theories.
What is more difficult to understand is that even some scholars who regard themselves as orthodox believers and who claim to honour Christ in all His divinity, go along with various types of demythologizing by suggesting that Jesus not merely went along with the world view of the ancients, but that He actually shared their mistaken views. Since we now know better, we are free today to reject that world view, including the demons and evil spirits.
These views are mutually exclusive. You cannot at the same time hold the opinions that Jesus is divine and that He was wrong. Some try to get around this difficulty by asserting that Jesus realised that their world view was false, but in order to have access to the hearts of the people He adjusted Himself to their way of thinking and complied with it. This attempt is based on pure nonsense and flies in the face of all facts. The temptation in the wilderness was a struggle into which He was led by the Holy Spirit and which was witnessed by none of His disciples. Jesus’ casting out of demons cannot adequately be understood as merely an attempt to adjust Himself to a wrong world view. It constituted a serious struggle with demons during which they themselves spoke to Him. Without any inducement from the disciples, Jesus said on His way to Gethsemane that the ruler of the world was about to make his last attack. And how could Jesus possibly include a prayer for deliverance from the evil one in the Lord’s Prayer, if Satan did not work in the hearts of people? All such explanations are to be rejected without reservation. His struggle with Satan to deliver the sheep of His pasture from the claws of the world is not a side issue in Jesus’ life, but a dominant concern. In fact, the entire history from the days of the Garden to Christ’s return makes no sense whatsoever, unless one recognised the overwhelming dominance of the motif of the struggle between God and Satan for the soul of mankind. Actually, during the days of Jesus’ ministry the demons worked harder and had greater influence than normally. The influence of spiritual powers, whether angelic or demonic, can vary from time to time. At the time the battle between God and Satan was about to be decided, angels and demons intensified their activities beyond that of normal times. Thus, to eliminate or to discount the influence of demons is in effect to completely distort a central aspect of the ministry of Christ among us.
When you look at these issues carefully, you will realise that they are not only related to the reality or otherwise of angels and devils, but that they also touch spiritual life in general. The conclusions of those who deny the existence of demons reach further and eventually lead logically to the denial of the existence of the soul, of the resurrection, of the very existence of God and finally forces upon them a reality that consists only of nature, of the body and of the physical. Of course, for all these concerns are intertwined. When you lock yourself up in a finite, closed world, you will turn that restricted vision into the measuring rod of all reality. That measuring rod will then determine for you what is possible and what can or cannot exist. You will have pulled the shutter over the window that gave you a view of the spiritual world and no longer see anything of the world.
The measuring rod of the visible cannot measure the spiritual. The spiritual is of a different nature, operates with different powers and proceeds according to other laws. If you try to measure the spiritual world by the categories or laws of the physical and visible, and you are consistent, you are almost sure to arrive at a position that has no room left for miracles, spirits, souls or even God. A fish cannot appreciate the grandeur of a great mountain range, because his vision and experience is restricted to its watery abode. Similarly, when you restrict your vision to the world of the visible, you will have no eye for the beauty and glory of the spiritual world. Even if you were still to acknowledge the reality of all that is beautiful and good, you will find yourself measuring it by the standard of the visible, as if it emerged from matter. You will not know or recognise another, separate realm that has its own composition and that is not within reach of the measuring rod of the visible. Science that takes a position above faith and against it ends up negating the entire spiritual realm. Such science excluded the spiritual and is in fact another kind of distorted faith that has conformed to a one-sided science. Such science has forfeited a place of honour that is rightly reserved for true science.
The tense relationship between faith in such one-sided science and scriptural faith has somewhat softened in the Western world with the rise of a series of phenomena that are related to movements like spiritism, telepathy and clairvoyance. This development has influenced a sizeable community to recognise certain puzzling phenomena and mysterious powers that would be worthwhile examining, even though such examination is not likely to lead anywhere, since we cannot penetrate that shadowy world with our reason. Nevertheless, this situation has yielded us some gain in that even among non-Christian scholars there are those who admit to the existence of something like a spiritual world that wields a certain influence on our psychology and life.
Though meager, this situation has yielded something positive for us. It is now more generally admitted that there is more to reality than scholars had wanted to acknowledge. People are once again becoming used to the idea that there exists another order of reality that is distinguishable from that of the visible. It is realised now that we relate to this other world in a very different manner from that of the visible world around us. It has been noted that, while some people have experienced nothing of this other world and laugh at it, others have contact with it and believe firmly in it. It can no longer be denied that there is a certain similarity here with what was earlier revealed by the prophets and apostles about another spiritual realm.
Though the similarity is there, we should not jump to the conclusion that the prophetic and apostolic revelation was the same as that of spiritism, clairvoyance and the rest of them. In fact, the differences are emphatic. Nevertheless, the two share the affirmation of a realm other than the physical and that there are means whereby entities and powers from within that realm can communicate with us. There have even been those who were about to lose their Christian faith because of its affirmations about that realm, but who, under the influence of these newer movements, once again acknowledge that after all there is an eternal life after death. To them the spirits causing tables to dance are as reliable evidence as the resurrection of Christ.
Of course, faithful Christians will never stoop down to such outright heresy. Their communion with the spiritual realm is of a totally different character. The Christian relationship to that realm does not depend on spiritualistic witnesses but rests on faith in God, a foundation as solid as a rock.
Though Christians do not attach the great value to these phenomena that others attribute to them, there is nevertheless something positive about this development in the struggle between Christian and scientistic faith. The short-sighted pretence of scientists who deny the possibility of that other realm has been dealt a serious blow. The existence of this other realm is now admitted along with the fact that there are powers in that realm that cannot be explained scientifically. The world of spirits with which they have come into contact almost automatically opens the way to believe in the existence of a spiritual world. By this means the question arises spontaneously and necessarily as to what to make of this spiritual world and in which way this realm exerts its influence on the visible world and on mankind.
In psychology the same development is taking place. It is no longer satisfied with the vague data with which its practitioners used to operate. It is assumed that psychological phenomena must reveal themselves in one or another in or through the body to the outside. In so far as these phenomena, whether they are healthy or sickly, normal or abnormal, are visible or audible outside a person, they can be observed, touched, compared or contrasted, seen in relation to other phenomena and conclusions can be drawn from them. Though there are many who would prefer to explain such phenomena purely by determining their cause solely in the body, and though not a few deny the existence of the soul, the fact continues to impress itself upon us that the physical data are insufficient to explain what is observed. Thus, researchers are forced to accept that there is something in a person that does not have its origin in the physical and to acknowledge at the same time that this spiritual dimension has its own sphere in which other, peculiar laws operate and where the normal laws of nature do not apply. In many aspects of the person, such as in thought life, imagination, dreams, artistic expression, sense of beauty, moral motivations and, yes, even in the way our sense of right and power is shaped, you run into phenomena that are shrouded in a mystery. You could go on to the power of religion, to the mystery of love, to heroism and so much more, all of which touch our lives deeply in ways that defy explanation unless you admit to the influence of the spiritual realm on mankind.
The materialistic attitude that has been so prevalent has lost some of its adherents among the finest thinkers. A more spiritual attitude is gaining acceptance. People are increasingly feeling and acknowledging that there is a mystical world to which we somehow stand in a certain relation. The previous indifference is being replaced by the tendency to search for a mystical relationship to that world. It is felt that there surely is that other sphere of spiritual life, knowledge of which such people deeply desire. They thus open the portals of their hearts deeply in order to allow the influence of that mystical world to penetrate. Hence, among our greatest scholars there is at present an excessive receptivity towards the spiritual. The callous materialism that half a century ago was so rife in scholarly circles is now largely restricted to the pseudo-scholars, to business people and to the revolutionaries among the lower classes.
Nevertheless, it is characteristic of our day that same circle of scholars that is presently so open to that mystical view, still wants nothing to do with the revelation of God that has come to us out of that mystical spiritual world in God’s Word. These people clamp on to what they have learned of Buddhism. They delve deeply into Theosophy. They attempt to resurrect the Spirit of the philosopher Hegel. They will lend their ear to anything at all. But as soon as you mention the special revelation of God that came to us in the prophets, in Christ and in the apostles, then you are suddenly faced with fierce opposition. They will agree that there is this spiritual world and that we have a relationship with it and that it is very important that we understand the relationship, but, that knowledge must come from within us, from our own conjectures and findings, from our own rational activities, from our own pondering and meditating. We human beings, we must be the source of this knowledge. That this knowledge might be revealed to us by God by His own means is not allowed.
Believers themselves certainly share in the responsibility for this development. I am, not suggesting that believers also have denied revelation. The contrary is true. Nevertheless, even with them the broad mysterious background of this revelation has been relegated to the insignificant. Ask yourself what significance the host of angels still has for most believers or how they regard the influence of demons and Satan. How many believers have not completely come to disregard these agents? They may not deny their existence, but they have become mere meaningless figures for them. 1616Kuyper here describes the spirituality that marked most missionaries that came to Africa. This missionary spirituality is the explanation for the weakness of most of the Nigeria missionary churches in the face of African spirituality. If these beings were to cease to exist, it would have no difference on their watered-down faith. Oh, of course, they adhere to the influence of the Holy Spirit on their souls. But casting out of demons by Jesus and His disciples is by many believers regarded as psychological healing of disturbed patients. Even in the preaching of the Gospel much of what the Gospels tell us about that spiritual world disappears without a trace. And if you point to Satan as the ruler of the world who took by plunder what belonged to the Son of Man and that this kingdom was restored to its rightful owner through Golgotha and the open grave, then you are taking your audience to a terrain that is completely foreign to them. They have never regarded the power of Satan over this world and over the spirits as real, as actual. For this reason, they cannot recognise the greatness of Christ’s victory over Satan. This is precisely the reason they fail to understand how Christ made possible the subjection of nature to the human spirit by His coming into the world and breaking the spiritual power of Satan, while freeing the human spirit. This attitude of believers has provided the basis for the rejection of the revelation of God on the part of scientists who are otherwise open to the existence of a spiritual realm. Thus the church shares the burden of responsibility for this development.
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