The Supernatural: How Do We Know?
- The Supernatural: How Do We Know?
The Supernatural: How Do We Know?
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I would like to take this week and several weeks to come on the topic of the supernatural. I have been interested to study it lately, and I think that it might have some good application for us here. By the supernatural, I am talking about the existence of beings who don’t need a body.
Today these things are being accepted by everyone. Over 1/3 of the movies released last year had elements of the occult. Usually, they are called, “Horror flicks.” But they feature demons, spirits and forces which are at work for evil in the world around us.
Virtually every newspaper has sections devoted to astrology and future telling of various kinds.
Now these 900 numbers have your own personal fortune teller. And tarot cards and ouigi boards are common toys.
All these are remnants of occult practice that have been around for centuries. Of course, today we believe that they may be manifestations of more natural forces, like waves or powers that emanate in the world around us. “Benign forces. Maybe they’re patterns that have always been around and now we’re just starting to understand them?!” Which is kind of a weird thought. Because when I deal with a ouigi board, it is communicating to me. And when I read tarot cards, that is a communication.
Well, when I was down at OSU, they tried to convince me that monkeys could talk. But no one has ever tried to convince me that waves, particles and forces could speak to me! Communication is something which is very personal! That’s what makes it significant.
Example: Just think of it for a moment. If you go to the beach, and the waves have left a pattern in the sand, you wouldn’t say, “What is the ocean trying to tell me?” Would you? Unless, of course, you believed that there were sea-nymphs.
But that’s just the point. Personal beings communicate. Things don’t communicate unless they are somehow animated by personal beings.
So, what I’m driving at here is that it is a dangerous, foolish and naive thing to assume that things like cards, voices, and various signs are harmless manifestation of impersonal forces. If you just think about it for a second, I think you’ll realize that impersonal forces don’t talk to you.
If there are personal forces out there communicating to us, then we need to know, what are they like? What are their intentions? Do they want good? Or do they want bad? Are they powerful? Can I control them? Or will they control me?
These are the kind of questions we are going to be studying over the next several weeks. But first, we need to think about how we know about these things. Because these matters are very mysterious. They are very strange. And everyone seems to have an opinion. So, how do we know?
God’s existence . . . supernatural
As we sit here tonight, having a Bible study, obviously one thing we take for granted here is the existence of God. Althougyh maybe we shouldn’t. Maybe that’s something that some of us need to look into further.
One of the implications of God’s existence is that there is a supernatural realm. That follows automatically from affirming that he exists. Because he is supernatural. He is spiritual, in that he exists without the aid of a body.
How do we find out about God?
But here again we have the same question. If we look at things and come to the conclusion that it is most likely that a God exists, how are we supposed to find out about him? How are we supposed to know, “Oh, this is what he is like”?
Lots of people would answer that we should look at the world around us. But there are a couple problems with that. One is that the world around me gives a bunch of different pictures. Which one am I supposed to look at?
Example: Should I look at the beauty of a fall day and say, “God is truly a genius who loves beauty?” Or should I look at the violence of this world and say, “God is a sadist who loves to watch pain?”
The fact is, looking at the world around us gives us mixed messages. And we don’t have any criteria to judge which message we should look at.
But beyond that, there is the problem of our own bias. The fact is, you look at the world your way, and I look at it my way. How we interpret things is entirely different.
Example: It wasn’t too long ago I was sitting at a stoplight and kind of drifting off in my mind. I was watching the car next to me. The light hadn’t turned green yet, but he started moving forward. He kept moving forward and I was wondering, “Why is he going to run that red light?” Just after that thought occured to me, I smashed into the car in back of me!
This is how we are. We each see things differently and are convinced that our perspective is the right one.
Example: And let’s not forget, mental institutions are filled with people who think that they are experts on the spiritual realm. They are convinced that they understand it better than any of us.
We need revelation
So it is, then, that as Christians we believe we need revelation. We believe that in order to find out what God is like, he needs to reveal himself.
This is why we look to the Bible, which claims to be written by God.
And there is some very good evidence for that, which you should concern yourself with. The Bible is not a book which just says, “Here I am from God.” It also provides proof and vindication by means like prophecy. One of these weeks we’ll have to look into biblical prophecy as it has been fulfilled in history, because it gives some good reason to believe the Bible is what it claims to be.
On the topic of communications from God, you should also know that the Bible is one of very few books that claim to be one. And the others, such as the Koran or the Book of Mormon, are actually extensions of the Bible. In other words, they don’t claim to be in place of the Bible. They claim to be in addition to the Bible.
So I think at the very least we owe it to ourselves to see what the Bible says about God, what it says about the supernatural, and so on.
I am going to assume tonight that the Bible is God’s word. But let me tell you, I haven’t always assumed that. I have put the Bible under a microscope to look at it and see if it can stand up to scrutiny. After years of this, let me say that I am very satisfied.
Example: I know that some people talk about the contradictions in the Bible. It is kind of funny, though, that almost without exception when I ask people for an example of one, they don’t have one. But I do know of places that appear to be contradictions. I have looked at them very carefully and have yet to find a problem or a supposed contradiction to which there is not a very good answer.
I think people throw around the contradiction line as something that “everybody knows.” Just like everybody knows you don’t step on cracks, or everybody knows you aren’t supposed to take wooden nickels. It’s a piece of folklore that has grown popular, and I’m not sure why. Why not step on cracks? Why not take a wooden nickel? It’s probably worth more than a real one!
Why do people always say that the Bible is full of contradictions? I have to wonder if it’s not just an easy way to write the whole thing off. “I don’t have to pay any attention to it, because everyone knows it’s full of contradictions.”
I feel like I’m about as skeptical and critical as the next person. Let me challenge you with the notion that I don’t believe that. I don’t believe that and I would love to talk to anyone afterwards or any time in the future about the Bible’s supposed contradictions.
Don’t get me wrong. I still look at some things in the Bible and have problems. I see things that bother me. And I am still looking into things. But I have yet to find a contradiction or a problem so large that I say, “This can’t be God’s word.”
Most of the problems I have are problems that come from my own sensiblities. I have problems with some of the stuff that we are going to talk about tonight. But those problems aren’t because I know better and I can prove the Bible is wrong. When I see the Bible saying strange things about the supernatural, I say, “How can these things be!?” And it puzzles me. If it weren’t for the fact that the Bible speaks with such integrity elsehwere, I would never believe it.
Example: The Bible speaks of spirits who are sometimes so numerous that they completely cover the hills and the surounding landscape.
Example: Jesus, in the Bible, speaks of spirits who leave a man, and fly over “waterless places,” and then they can’t find a place to stay. So they come back to the man they left and bring seven friends. What kind of a picture is that?!
So these are the kind of problems I have. They’re problems because they stretch my view of things.
Beware of the arrogance of knowing everything
But here is the danger: just because we see things like this in the Bible that are hard to believe, we can’t be so arrogant as to write them off.
We need to beware of the arrogance which says, “I know everthing there is to know about the world around me.” It’s an arrogance that scoffs at the supernatural. We don’t understand it. It’s something that hasn’t touched our small world of experience. So, it’s not real. And people who believe in that kind of stuff are kind of nutty.
I know about this attitude because I’ve had it myself. Don’t fall into that trap.
What the Bible says
So we’ll assume that the Bible is God’s word for now, and study it. And it’s there that we’ll look for information on the supernatural realm. Because God does affirm the existence of other beings besides himself. And he affirms that not all of them are aligned with him, but that some of them are actually against him.
Let’s look into some of the things that the Bible says by way of introduction.
Who is Satan and where did he come from?
The first supernatural being that appears in the Bible aside from God is Satan. We find that somehow he is allowed in the garden of Eden to tempt the first humans. It’s so amazing because he is just there. He is taken for granted. We aren’t told very much about him at all, and yet his effect is absolutely devastating!
He is awesome
So, we begin to look at the rest of the Bible to find out about him. Well, one thing we know about Satan is that he is very powerful. In Jude 1:9, Jude tells us that Michael the archangel, who the Bible portrays as very powerful, does not have the authority or power to rebuke Satan. Even Michael has to treat Satan with respect and can’t rebuke him on his own authority. So it appears that Satan is the most powerful of all the supernatural beings, apart from God himself.
This is confirmed by a text in the OT that seems to be about Satan. In Ez. 28, there is a passage . . .
You see by this imagery that Ezekiel is trying to portray someone who is very powerful. By saying he is the cherub who covers, for example, he is saying that he was the cheiftain . . .
His downfall: Pride
This passage also gives us insight into what it was that caused Satan’s downfall . . .
This is confirmed in I Tim. 3:6, where Paul says that conceit was what entrapped the Devil.
He believes great things . . .
This gives us great insight into what Satan is all about. What we’re seeing is that Satan believes great things about himself. In fact, by rebelling against God, he is saying that somehow he is greater than God! Somehow, or in some way (maybe he thinks every way!), he is greater than God!
Which tells us a couple things:
For one, it tells us that this individual is insane. Now I hope you understand what I am saying by that statement. I am not saying that he is stupid. Insanity has nothing to do with intelligence. What I am saying is that Satan has decisively rejected reality. That’s what insanity is, a rejection of reality.
And he has done so to an extent that nobody else has, ever. He knows what God is like. We may wonder, but he knows . . .
And in spite of this, he has decided that he is greater. It is an amazing position to take.
But the second thing we can see about Satan’s nature from all this is that he is building something. He believes that he is building something great. He is inflated with himself. He believes in himself. And so he is setting up a kingdom to be a reflection of his greatness.
Some people are so silly that that think of Satan in terms of this guy who goes around making mischief–trying to get people to do things bad.
Example: What business does someone of this stature have in making people steal cookies? Or cheat on a test?
That’s not what he’s about! He is about himself. He is building for himself. And he is trying to accomplish something great. But this is often the way he is portrayed in movies and books. A guy who just goes around trying to get people to be naughty like he is.
Not at all. Satan is intelligent. He is opposed to God. And the reason he is opposed to God is that he believes his way is better. So is is busy building. He is busy building a kingdom of some kind.
Example: In Matt. 16, Jesus portrayed Satan’s domain as a kingdom, complete with gates and fortifications. And he said that one of the jobs of the church will be to batter down the walls of that kingdom.
Well, we’ll talk about this in coming weeks. But I just want to make the point about Satan’s nature, according to the Bible: He is upside down in his perspective about the world (that is, he is insane). Secondly, he is building on that assumption. He is in the world, actively building something.
What about demons?
Now, let’s turn to a question that effects us perhaps more than talk about Satan. The question of demons. There is only one Satan. But when it comes to demons, there are more than one. And if we are going to run into any of these spiritual beings, chances are the individual we run into won’t be Satan himself, but one of these lesser beings, a demon.
What in the world is a demon? And how many demons are there? These are two great questions we can conclude with here.
What is a demon?
The explanation that has been more or less accepted throughout the ages is that demons are angels that have also fallen away from God along with Satan.
This is backed up by Rev. 12:4, 9, where it says that a third of the angels fell from heaven along with Satan.
And, in Matt. 25:41 Jesus specifically says that Satan has angels who are aligned with him.
So, it appears that demons are angels, who have made the choice along with Satan to defy God. Now, I want to talk more about what kinds of demons are. And I want to talk about how demons effect us, etc. But that is going to be for later weeks.
How many are there?
But for this week, I though we might settle the question of just how many demons there are in the world. Does anyone have any idea? How would we find out this kind of thing?
Well, there are some numeric indicators.
Rev. 5:11 / 12:4
It says in Rev. 5:11 that the host of heaven is numbered “myriad upon myriad and legions of leagions.” This means 10,000 times 10,000. and thousands of thousands. I’m sure that the impression John is trying to give is that there were so many it was like a sea of individuals. So many it was useless counting.
OK, we keep that in mind. Add this to the fact that in Rev. 9 the host of heaven is compared to the stars of the sky, and I think that the author of Revelations is trying to say that there are a lot of angels!
And the important point for out study is that in Rev. 12:4, John says a third of them went with Satan! So if there are countless millions of angels, and a third of them went with Satan, then there are a lot of demons.
Application: Would they mess with me?
Why am I discussing the number of demons? Is this just some wierd thing I get into?
Not at all. I will say this with some good deal of confidence: Probably most of you don’t think that you get messed with by demons very much, if ever. If you aren’t that familiar with the biblical teaching on demons, perhaps most of you don’t think you ever get harassed by demons ever.
And I think one of the implications of what we are studying is that there is good reason to believe otherwise. If it is true that there are millions of demons in the world, then chances are very good that you will get the attention of at least one of them.
Example: There’s a story in Mark 5 about a guy who was possessed by demons. When Jesus asked how many there were, they replied that there was a legion of them! Now, a legion is 1000! I don’t know if these guys were being precise or what. But there were a lot of demons in this guy. They said, “We are many!”
Ask yourself, what are hundreds of demons doing in some guy who runs around in a graveyard gashing himself? What in the world are they doing there? Isn’t there something better they could be doing?
Example: I’ll give you another example. In Luke 13 there was a woman, Luke tells us, that was bent over by a demon for 18 years! A demon had made it his personal business to cause this woman’s back to bend over.
What in the world is this all about?
I think the implication is clear: There are a lot of demons in the world. And they have the time and motivation to screw around with just about anybody. If they will take the time to bend over an old lady for 18 years, what will they think about you? You, who are a Christian? You who Christ said, “You will be victorious over Satan’s kingdom?” I wonder if they have the numbers, time or motivation to work you over some? I think so.
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