Do Christians really believe in the spiritual realm?
The other night on television I caught a little bit of a film that quite intrigued me. But sadly a few days later I could not recall its title. But when I posted a brief description of the scene I saw, and asked for help, one social media friend and obvious Sci-Fi fan quickly came to my aid, telling me what film it was.
It was a 2016 American science fiction film called Midnight Special. As a Wiki article says, it is about “a father who escapes with his son from both the government and a cult after they discover that his son has special powers.” The part that I saw is described this way:
Roy barrels through a roadblock, driving inside the perimeter as the Army scrambles to chase them. As they speed away, Alton lets them know just where to stop. Alton and Sarah speedily exit the car and run into the woods. Roy and Lucas lead the Army on a wild goose chase while Alton and Sarah reach the edge of a swamp. There, a great dome of light appears, engulfing much of Florida and surrounding states. Everyone inside the dome of light can see the futuristic structures of a parallel world. Eventually, other beings of this world gather around Alton, and the entire dome disappears, taking Alton with it.
I am the kind of guy who constantly finds spiritual truths or lessons in various things I see or hear. That of course happened while watching this. While Hollywood does not have in mind the biblical Christian story-line, it often can get some things right – in this case, that there is more to life than what meets the eye.
Indeed, the odd thing is, quite often secular writers and film makers can be more cluey about things than we Christians are. The idea that this life is not all there is, and there are more things going on than what we are aware of is often portrayed in various films.
The Matrix trilogy would be one obvious example: most folks live in a world of delusion and they are blind to what is really happening all around them. The Christian of course would know all about this – or should at least. But as I have written before, we may talk a lot about the spiritual realm and the unseen world, but how often do we live as if we really believe these truths?
In one piece I spoke about the reality of the spiritual realm and things like spiritual warfare, and how so many believers basically act as if they do NOT believe in these things. Sure, they pay lip service to it all the time, but pretty much live just like any other pagan does: billmuehlenberg.com/2020/02/22/the-need-for-improved-spiritual-vision/
We tend to not see spiritual reality all that much. The world around us has so very much grabbed our attention that we seldom really live as if we are just strangers in this world, just passing through. This world has far too much become home to us, and seeing beyond it is so hard to do.
Getting back to the film I mentioned above, the Bible of course has a number of instances where the wider spiritual world breaks in, or at least mere mortals are able to see it, even if just briefly. Let me highlight some of these Old Testament examples.
In Numbers 22 we have the famous story of Balaam and his donkey. The latter actually had spiritual eyes to see what Balaam could not see. Verses 22-35 describes this situation. Here is part of it (vv. 28-34):
Then the Lord opened the mouth of the donkey, and she said to Balaam, “What have I done to you, that you have struck me these three times?” And Balaam said to the donkey, “Because you have made a fool of me. I wish I had a sword in my hand, for then I would kill you.” And the donkey said to Balaam, “Am I not your donkey, on which you have ridden all your life long to this day? Is it my habit to treat you this way?” And he said, “No.” Then the Lord opened the eyes of Balaam, and he saw the angel of the Lord standing in the way, with his drawn sword in his hand. And he bowed down and fell on his face. And the angel of the Lord said to him, “Why have you struck your donkey these three times? Behold, I have come out to oppose you because your way is perverse before me. The donkey saw me and turned aside before me these three times. If she had not turned aside from me, surely just now I would have killed you and let her live.” Then Balaam said to the angel of the Lord, “I have sinned, for I did not know that you stood in the road against me. Now therefore, if it is evil in your sight, I will turn back.”
In Joshua 5:13-15 we read about this incident:
When Joshua was by Jericho, he lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, a man was standing before him with his drawn sword in his hand. And Joshua went to him and said to him, “Are you for us, or for our adversaries?” And he said, “No; but I am the commander of the army of the Lord. Now I have come.” And Joshua fell on his face to the earth and worshiped and said to him, “What does my lord say to his servant?” And the commander of the Lord’s army said to Joshua, “Take off your sandals from your feet, for the place where you are standing is holy.” And Joshua did so.
And 2 Kings 6:8-23 speaks about horses and chariots of fire. Here is part of that story (vv. 15-18):
When the servant of the man of God rose early in the morning and went out, behold, an army with horses and chariots was all around the city. And the servant said, “Alas, my master! What shall we do?” He said, “Do not be afraid, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them.” Then Elisha prayed and said, “O Lord, please open his eyes that he may see.” So the Lord opened the eyes of the young man, and he saw, and behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha. And when the Syrians came down against him, Elisha prayed to the Lord and said, “Please strike this people with blindness.” So he struck them with blindness in accordance with the prayer of Elisha.
Consider also what we find in 1 Chronicles 21:14-17:
So the Lord sent a pestilence on Israel, and 70,000 men of Israel fell. And God sent the angel to Jerusalem to destroy it, but as he was about to destroy it, the Lord saw, and he relented from the calamity. And he said to the angel who was working destruction, “It is enough; now stay your hand.” And the angel of the Lord was standing by the threshing floor of Ornan the Jebusite. And David lifted his eyes and saw the angel of the Lord standing between earth and heaven, and in his hand a drawn sword stretched out over Jerusalem. Then David and the elders, clothed in sackcloth, fell upon their faces. And David said to God, “Was it not I who gave command to number the people? It is I who have sinned and done great evil. But these sheep, what have they done? Please let your hand, O Lord my God, be against me and against my father’s house. But do not let the plague be on your people.”
One last example concerns the mighty victory of God over Sennacherib, king of Assyria. It is actually recorded three times in the Old Testament: 2 Kings 19; 2 Chronicles 32; and Isaiah 37. Here is the version as found in 2 Kings 19:32-37:
“Therefore thus says the Lord concerning the king of Assyria: He shall not come into this city or shoot an arrow there, or come before it with a shield or cast up a siege mound against it. By the way that he came, by the same he shall return, and he shall not come into this city, declares the Lord. For I will defend this city to save it, for my own sake and for the sake of my servant David.” And that night the angel of the Lord went out and struck down 185,000 in the camp of the Assyrians. And when people arose early in the morning, behold, these were all dead bodies. Then Sennacherib king of Assyria departed and went home and lived at Nineveh. And as he was worshiping in the house of Nisroch his god, Adrammelech and Sharezer, his sons, struck him down with the sword and escaped into the land of Ararat. And Esarhaddon his son reigned in his place.
And the New Testament also can be appealed to here. Just one story, from Acts 7 concerning the stoning of Stephen. In verses 54-60 we read:
Now when they heard these things they were enraged, and they ground their teeth at him. But he, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. And he said, “Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” But they cried out with a loud voice and stopped their ears and rushed together at him. Then they cast him out of the city and stoned him. And the witnesses laid down their garments at the feet of a young man named Saul. And as they were stoning Stephen, he called out, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” And falling to his knees he cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” And when he had said this, he fell asleep.
Of course I am not saying we should constantly seek to have various visions and mystical experiences. The Bible is our primary source of God’s truth. But we should seek to be sensitive to spiritual realities. And sure, God does not always perform such miraculous acts for us in everyday life as the ones I shared from the OT.
But these episodes – and others like them – should remind us that the spiritual realm must never be lost sight of. We too easily can become accustomed to this world and its values, and lose sight of the much more permanent world that in fact is all around us.
So be encouraged by some of these amazing stories, and pray that your spiritual eyes will constantly remain open.