When one speaks of the supernatural these days, he is bound to get one of three reactions: skepticism, shock, or scoffing. The skeptic points to the supremacy of reason and science and is dismayed that anyone still believes in all that other stuff. Meanwhile, the shocked (after recovering her breath) asks with a hint of fear, “Do you think they really exist?” And the scoffer (whom we encounter more often than not these days) merely chuckles and shakes his head.
And these responses are not limited to those outside the Christian faith. Many otherwise Bible-believing, church-going folk simply don’t think much about the supernatural. So when we come across passages like Deuteronomy 18 (and even that means getting past Leviticus and Numbers), we really don’t know what to make of it:
When you come into the land that the LORD your God is giving you, you shall not learn to follow the abominable practices of those nations. There shall not be found among you anyone who burns his son or his daughter as an offering, anyone who practices divination or tells fortunes or interprets omens, or a sorcerer or a charmer or a medium or a necromancer or one who inquires of the dead, for whoever does these things is an abomination to the LORD. And because of these abominations the LORD your God is driving them out before you. You shall be blameless before the LORD your God, for these nations, which you are about to dispossess, listen to fortune-tellers and to diviners. But as for you, the LORD your God has not allowed you to do this. (Deu 18:9-14 ESV)
If I were to teach through this passage on a Sunday morning, I can only begin to imagine the litany of questions: Do the stars know the future? Are we able to understand what they tell us? Does God give us other signs outside of Scripture that reveal his will for us? Does magic exist, and if so, what is the power behind it? Are the dead able to communicate with the living, perhaps even being visible to them?
This, too, would only be the beginning. Since Israel’s day the number of issues relating to the world of spirits has only grown: Are miracles possible? Can man initiate them? What about angels and demons (and possessions and exorcisms)? Or about shapeshifting, vampires, ghosts, poltergeists, or hauntings (all of which I hope to address in the coming weeks)? Both the increasing influence of spiritual beliefs in the modern world (especially in the Global South, postmodernism and Pentecostalism) and the broader world of pop culture (The Lord of the Rings, The Chronicles of Narnia, Harry Potter, and Twilight) point to the persistence of the spiritual in the human imagination.
But there is also a word of caution. What C.S. Lewis once wrote about demons could easily be expanded to other aspects of our discussion: “There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them. They themselves are equally pleased by both errors and hail a materialist or a magician with the same delight” (Screwtape ix). Or as Chesterton once wrote, “It is always easy to let the age have its head; the difficult thing is to keep one’s own” (103). To understand the supernatural, then, we must strike a biblical balance between the unbiblical extremes of blind faith and rationalistic materialism so common in our age.
The first step toward maintaining this balance comes by immersing ourselves in the literary, historical and theological context of the Bible. The task will be difficult, but as Oden points out, it is only when we step out of our modern mindset and into the biblical world that we begin to transform our own view of things into God’s—to adopt God’s worldview (Rom 12:1-2). Oden continues,
Christianity has passed through many worldviews. It still requires some empathic effort for the modern worldview to enter into the worldview of those who make known to us the revelation of God that both transcends and penetrates all particular worldviews. Even within the frame of contemporary scientific worldviews . . . it is hardly reasonable to rule out superpersonal intelligences in this vast cosmos that we still know so incompletely. (1.6.2)
This sort of contextualization will also involve changing our ideas on what reason is and what it means to be reasonable. Chesterton points out that there are really two types of insanity: “The man who cannot believe his senses, and the man who cannot believe anything else . . . . have both locked themselves up . . . they are both unable to get out, the one into the health and happiness of heaven, the other even to the health and happiness of earth” (Chesterton 22). We must retrain ourselves, then, to open our eyes to the rationality of faith evident in the very words of God himself (Heb 11:1; Isa 6:9-10). So here is what we hope to discuss in the coming weeks:
But since it will take us quite some time to work out all these issues, I want to give you the key to these mysteries upfront. In fact, it is the very same key Moses gave in Deuteronomy 18: “And the LORD said to me, ‘ . . . I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers. And I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him. And whoever will not listen to my words that he shall speak in my name, I myself will require it of him’” (Deu 18:17-19). Centuries later, Peter tells us that this prophet is not merely the human successor of Moses, but “the Holy and Righteous One,” the very “Author of life, whom God raised from the dead” (Acts 3:14-23).
The key to understanding mysteries of the supernatural, then, is the resurrected Son of God, Jesus Christ our Lord. In him, all mysteries are revealed (Rom 16:25; Luke 8:10), that we might understand the eternal plan of God made known through his apostles, to equip us for the spiritual battles to come (Eph 1:9; 3:3-4, 9; 5:32; 6:19). This is, “the mystery hidden for ages and generations but now revealed to his saints,” “the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Col 1:26-27, emphasis added). The only way to examine these subjects fully and in the right perspective, is to address these subjects from the foot of the cross, where the mysteries that surround the supernatural fade away in the vibrant glory of the Son of God. And, Lord willing, we’ll begin that journey together next week.