Monday, February 16, 2009

Living with the Underworld - Pt 4

Chapters 3 and 4

As I turned to chapter 3 I was getting a little excited: would I finally get the answer to my long-held questions, did both my grandmothers have visits from the underworld, or merely over active imaginations? These chapters were a rare opportunity to have a proper look at the ancient world's attitude to ghosts and linked phenomena. And the thing that struck me was how much fear superstitions can generate. In one sense this is a no-brainer, we all grew up telling ghost stories precisely because they're scary. But Peter's descriptions of ancient beliefs brought home to me how paralysing it can be for people who actually believe the stories. It was sobering to hear of the man in Norway who feared reprisals from the underworld for demolishing his barn, and I can’t believe that curse tablets are now sold on the internet! Peter takes all this pretty seriously. On page 58 he writes 'We may live a knife-edge existence, with the underworld spaces all around us. We may live with underworld beings also surrounding us … The air may be filled with all kinds of ghosts, souls and unclean spirits ...'. And I don’t think he means may in the sense that it might or might not be true.

Jesus certainly took it all seriously. We can't get away from the fact that Jesus kept meeting demon possessed people. While us ‘modern Christians’ have sometimes tried to gloss over the bit about Jesus driving out demons, his contemporaries just debated by whose power he did it. Maybe Peter’s book is challenging us to confront this reality. But this will take some readjusting. My expectation when I first picked up this book was that it would explain it all as superstition, in line with our highly rational, non-Ted-Dekker-reading Christian culture. So what do I do now he's taking it seriously? Should I take it seriously too? And what are the implications?

But before we stray too far into the superstitious end of the spectrum, it’s good to note that Peter’s all important boundaries are still being carefully guarded. ‘Don't over embellish the marginal’ is still the message here. He acknowledges that while the Bible teaches that demons are a reality, once again our information is scanty! We don't know the ins and outs of possession, we only know that Jesus met people who were possessed and he could effortlessly free them.

This point could’ve done with being labored a bit more, since while my circles don't take the existence of demons seriously enough, there are many parts of the worldwide Christian church that give it far too much value. My brother once had demons driven out of him at some Charismatic mission. No-one in the family would've denied he had inner demons that could've done with dislodging (after all he was 16 at the time!) but we reflected later that you'd think it would've had a positive effect. When I asked my brother what happened, it all sounded rather dramatic, but it hadn’t changed his daily life. So much of this sort of stuff embellishes the marginal and ignores the true problems. The ‘beast within’ is something my brother hasn't yet dealt with, and it’s taken a bigger hold than whatever was or wasn't driven out of him 20 years ago.

And so the chapter comes back once again to our beast within. Maybe one of the reasons so many people want to be Satanists or perform exorcisms is that it's easier to build a dramatic picture of Satan than it is to feel thoroughly helpless when confronting our sin. The new perspective that Peter brings in chapters 3 and 4 is to remind us that the world is under Satan's control and the normal things we do and see are more satanic than rare encounters of monstrous creatures and dramatic exorcisms. Challenging us to be worried about being normal raises the stakes. Bolt's great achievement in this section of the book is to restore to us a biblical picture of Satan and his minions, and therefore the real picture. A highlight for me was his explanation of Peter's satanic moment in Mark 8, an incident I'd been left wondering about for many years. When he wrote that Jesus' statement 'get behind me Satan’ is saying that Peter’s thinking like a human and is therefore on-side with Satan it all suddenly became clear. How much we’ve been ensnared to think Satan’s thoughts. How much more do we need rescuing by Jesus! This is most clearly the direction that the book is going in, and I’m beginning to think that this may well be the most creative evangelistic book I’ve ever read.

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Hannah Blake said...

"Maybe one of the reasons so many people want to be Satanists or perform exorcisms is that it's easier to build a dramatic picture of Satan than it is to feel thoroughly helpless when confronting our sin."

This really struck me! I think that may be very true. It's really very hard to know that we can't do a thing about our sin.

Something I was thinking about as I read the book is Peter's comment that Christians should be sympathetic toward those who are in slavery to sin (p. 68). Is this true, and to what extent? Peter makes it clear that the Bible holds us accountable for our sin. But I also read this morning in C.J. Mahaney's Humility that God doesn't sympathise with us in our sinfulness but is opposed to us.

I'm wondering how these two points can be held up together. Just to throw something else into the mix, Hebrews 4:15 tells us that Jesus sympathises with us in our weakness. Any ideas on how to reconcile all those ideas?

Ali said...

From Alison Napier:

Thanks for the thoughtful comments Hannah. Don't you love it when an idea you've been pondering comes up again somewhere else? My answer to your first question is actually consistent with Mahaney's topic of humility. The Bible teaches that we have no right to be judging fellow sinners because of the great big logs in our own eyes. Only God has the clear sight to see sin and judge it. The Bible passage that most clearly tells us to sympathise with those in slavery to sin is Galatians 6:1. Jude 21-23 and 1 Peter 3:8 allude to it, perhaps also Colossians 3:12-13? Perhaps it's what Peter's getting at in 1 Peter 4:8 too? This issue of man sympathising with fellow sinners is also where Jesus' sympathy in Hebrews comes in since the context of that passage is how Jesus had to become man in order to bear our sin (see Heb 2:17-18), so I think that all fits together very nicely. At that point he's not relating to us as God but as man.