CultureWatch

Bill Muehlenberg's commentary on issues of the day...

The Need For Improved Spiritual Vision

Feb 22, 2020

Most Western Christians are oblivious to the spiritual realities all around us:

We all have varying levels of vision. Some folks are born blind, and never get to see anything – they can only go by the descriptions of others. And some may be born with other eye ailments. I have always had poor eyesight, so early on I had to get glasses. And then, in my late teens, for nearly a year I went without any glasses, so when I did get them again it was quite amazing to once more see clearly.

And even more recently as my eyes continued to deteriorate, including cataracts, I underwent laser eye surgery which again restored my sight to something close to normal, and I was once more amazed to see things so much better than I had previously. And on top of all that, I am partially colour blind.

Imagine those who are fully colour blind – they are missing out on so much of the real world. But if you were born with this condition, you would not know any difference. You would think everyone sees the world this way. So we all can have some limitations in terms of our physical eyesight.

I raise these matters to make a spiritual point: there is more to reality than just the physical. The natural is supplemented by the supernatural. The physical is also part of the metaphysical. Christians of course recognise both realms, but my point here is this: far too many Christians live and act as if only the natural world exists.

They have little sense of the supernatural. Sure, they mentally and theologically affirm the reality of God, angels and spiritual reality. But too often they live as if only the physical world exists. They are basically blind to the supernatural.

I say all this for two main reasons. One, in my morning reading I again read about the story of Balaam’s donkey. We read about this in Numbers 22:21-41. You would know the story: three times Balaam wants to get his donkey to move, but three times the animal refuses.

Finally the spiritual blindness of Balaam is addressed by God, as we read in v. 31: “Then the Lord opened Balaam’s eyes, and he saw the angel of the Lord standing in the road with his sword drawn. So he bowed low and fell facedown.” Balaam’s ass had more spiritual awareness and perception than he did!

Of course this is just one of many episodes and stories found in the Bible about various supernatural forces – both good and ill. Let me offer just one more similar Old Testament passage, 2 Kings 6:15-17:

When the servant of the man of God got up and went out early the next morning, an army with horses and chariots had surrounded the city. “Oh no, my lord! What shall we do?” the servant asked. “Don’t be afraid,” the prophet answered. “Those who are with us are more than those who are with them.” And Elisha prayed, “Open his eyes, Lord, so that he may see.” Then the Lord opened the servant’s eyes, and he looked and saw the hills full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.

And consider just one New Testament passage along these lines – Hebrews 13:2: “Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.” The supernatural is all around us, but we so seldom are even aware of this.

Too seldom are we cognisant of the spiritual realm, whether the angelic, the demonic, or simply God himself. We all need to have our spiritual eyes opened. Here in the West especially we need to be reminded that spiritual realities are very much all around us, and therefore having spiritual discernment and engaging in spiritual warfare is part of the normal Christian life.

Indeed, if we knew just how many angels are cheering us on; if we knew just how many demons are arrayed against us; if we could see the heavenly hosts watching our every move, we all might be living our Christian lives a whole lot differently.

A very clear illustration of this comes from my recent time in Africa. Here in the West we have lengthy and massive intellectual debates about things like homosexuality and the like. When we engage with these folks, we are oh so polite and civil, and try to prevent doing or saying anything that might offend or upset anyone.

But in places like Africa where the reality of the supernatural is just as real as the natural – if not more so – they don’t spend years having nice little discussions. The Christians ask the person they are witnessing to and ministering to if they can lay hands on them and pray, and if so, then the spiritual warfare begins.

Many of these folks are gloriously delivered, freed from their destructive and dark lifestyles, set free in the mighty name of Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit. Would that we saw real-deal Christianity like this in action in the West like we do overseas.

In fact, how often do you think the New Testament speaks about power? I just took a quick look and was amazed at how often the word is used. Here are just a few examples of so many:

Mark 12:24 Jesus replied, “Are you not in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God?”

Image of The Unseen Realm: Recovering the Supernatural Worldview of the Bible
The Unseen Realm: Recovering the Supernatural Worldview of the Bible by Array Amazon logo

Luke 4:36 All the people were amazed and said to each other, “What words these are! With authority and power he gives orders to impure spirits and they come out!”

Luke 24:49 “I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.”

Acts 1:8 “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

1 Corinthians 4:20 For the kingdom of God is not a matter of talk but of power.

I will need to do a further article or two on this in the near future. But I mentioned that there were two reasons why I am writing this article. The second has to do with a number of books I am now reading by an American biblical scholar, Michael Heiser.

He and his books will also have to be the stuff of future articles, but I can briefly mention a few things here. He has been writing a lot on an area not often discussed in theological circles. I refer to the whole matter of the “divine council” as found in Psalm 82:1 (ESV), or the “great assembly” (NIV), or the “the congregation of the mighty” (NKJV).

Other texts include Psalm 89:5-7 where we read about “the council of the holy ones” (ESV) and Daniel 7:10 where we learn about the “court”. Who and what these spiritual beings are, and how they feature throughout the biblical storyline is at the heart of his numerous books on these matters.

His PhD was done on this subject, and two books appeared in 2015 from Lexham Press with the gist of his research. The fuller 400-page treatment is found in The Unseen Realm: Recovering the Supernatural Worldview of the Bible. A shorter, more popular level treatment is found in the 170-page book, Supernatural: What the Bible Teaches About the Unseen World – and Why It Matters.

Other books by him have appeared on these themes, including two more recent ones:

Angels: What the Bible Really Says About God’s Heavenly Host. Lexham Press, 2018.

Demons: What the Bible Really Says About the Powers of Darkness. Lexham Press, 2020.

As mentioned, I will need to do other articles on these volumes in the days ahead. But you might be interested to grab a volume or two of these books and take a look for yourself.

I conclude this piece by repeating what I have said earlier: we all have blind spots, and we all tend to have spiritual myopia. We believers are quite adept at looking at, assessing and interacting with the physical world, with the natural world.

But as Christians we need to be far more in tune with the spiritual world. The power that Jesus spoke about so often is fully at our disposal. We certainly will need every bit of it if we expect to stand – and stand strong – in the days ahead as things get even darker and more malevolent.

(Australians will find most of the books mentioned here at Koorong: www.koorong.com/ )

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12 Responses to The Need For Improved Spiritual Vision

  • The Greek word for power is “??????” (dunami), which is the root of the English word “dynamic”.

  • Sorry, I copied & pasted the Greek letters, but they didn’t reproduce”.

  • Thanks Stephen. Yes dunamis is the Greek word often translated power in the NT. Other modern words, including dynamite, are derived from the old Greek word. But that was invented in the 1860s, so it would be anachronistic to think that Paul or other NT writers had dynamite in mind when they spoke of God’s power!

  • Thanks Bill – the Greek copied perfectly to the comments on Facebook – I clarified there.

  • Bill, have you listened to Heisner’s podcast “The Naked Bible”? I found it disturbing and heretical.

  • Thanks John. I have not, but four quick replies if I may:
    -I am only just reading his works now, so I have not seen everything he has come out with so far.
    -I believe he has an entire series of podcasts by that name, so it is not just one video. Thus you would need to specify here which one!
    -To say one finds much of interest in another’s works is not to say that one agrees with everything he says of course.
    -When you have solid evangelicals like Darrell Bock, Tremper Longman, Daniel Block and John Goldingay – among others – basically supporting his work, it seems hard to believe we have actual hard-core heresy being promoted by the guy.
    But thanks for your thoughts.

  • The punch line for me the you quote from 1 Corinthians 4:20 “For the kingdom of God is not a matter of talk but of power.” Bill your comments about the power-less-ness of the Church (the Western Church in particular) is the symptom of worrying about men’s point of view rather than God’s point of view, worrying more about the physical (temporal) then the spiritual (eternal). Paul warns of this in the last days in his second letter to Timothy (in chapter 3) “…5 having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with such people.” (ouch!)

  • Robert Henderson talks a lot about the “Courts of Heaven” and to me his teaching, while perhaps starting from a fairly sound base, has now gone in to the imaginary world where his followers with the tickling ears have encouraged him, and they have remained on the edge of their seats.
    It seems to me that the “Courts of Heaven” teaching is all (again) about getting God to do our bidding; “God is for us”.
    Much of modern popular theology has lost the awesomeness of the sovereignty of God where instead we are to find our being in Him, (Acts 17:28) , leading us firstly to repentance.
    Is there a cross fertilization between Henderson and some of Heiser’s teaching here?

  • Thanks Bruce. I never heard of Robert Henderson so I of course cannot comment on him or on his teachings. But what you describe in your comment seems to have little or nothing to do with what Heiser is talking about.

  • So Paul wasn’t doing an ancient JJ Evans???

  • So many Christians don’t seem to even understand there IS a war. They think satan is powerless and can do nothing OR since God’s power is great neither satan nor his demons could go against it. Well America has had the greatest military for the past several decades but even we have had to go to war. As far as power he appears from what I have gathered to be an archangel the equal of Michael, in th OT, it says Michael is one of the chief princes which would indicate the is more than one archangel, it also calls him the anointed cherub and the description almost makes it sound like he was t the highest created being prior to humans. So it would be folly to say he is powerless. Of course just bringing up the subject can bring out the accusation are you saying he is more powerful than God. Which you aren’t but they want to put you on the defensive so they don’t have to talk about spiritual realities.

    I think people want easy, comfortable, rocking chair Christianity the kind where you sit back relax do nothing and get into heaven and party down with the Lord. (Or boogie down if you prefer with Jesus in his white polyester leisure suit). They don’t want to take up their cross daily and follow him. That is the hard, back breaking, crawling on your knees through the trench floors covered in glass Christianity. To the world only a fool would want to do that. I would rather the world think of me as a fool than as the ideal Christian because the world’s ideal Christian is no Christian at all. If I am a fool for Christ fine better that than a wise man for satan.

  • I have listened to Michael Heiser on various podcasts and youtube for a few years now, I have always found what he says believable and encouraging. I have heard there are criticisms of some of his teaching but I have not come across anything I would recognize as heretical myself, and I consider myself well informed.

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