The Death of God and the Birth of Idols: Nietzsche’s Pronouncement and Christian Theism

A Life Without God, A Life Without Value

“Have you ever heard of the madman who on a bright morning lighted a lantern and ran to the marketplace calling out unceasingly: ‘I seek God! I seek God!’ As there were many people standing about who did not believe in God, he caused a great deal of amusement. Why! Is he lost? Said one. Has he strayed away like a child? Said another. Or does he keep himself hidden? Is he afraid of us? Has he taken a sea voyage? Has he emigrated? The people cried out laughingly, all in a hubbub. The insane man jumped into their midst and transfixed them with his glances. ‘Where is God gone?’ he called out.

I mean to tell you! We have killed him—you and I! We are all his murderers! But how have we done it? How are we able to drink up the sea? Who gave us the sponge to wipe away the whole horizon? What did we do when we loosened this earth from its sun? Whither does it now move? Whither do we move? Away from all suns? Do we not dash on uncertainty? Backwards, sideways, forwards, in all directions? Is there still an above and below? Do we not stray, as though infinite nothingness? Does not empty space breathe upon us? Has it not become colder? Does not night come on continually, darker and darker? Shall we not have to light lanterns in the morning? Do we not hear the voice of the gravediggers who are bearing God? Do we not smell the divine putrefaction? For even Gods putrefy! God is dead! God remains dead! And we have killed him! How shall we console ourselves, the most murderous of all murders? The holiest and mightiest that the world has hitherto possessed, has bled to death under our knife—who will wipe the blood from us? With what water could we cleanse ourselves? What lustrums, what scared games shall we have to devise? Is not the magnitude of this deed too great for us? Shall we not ourselves have to become Gods, merely to seem worthy of it? There never was a greater event—and on account of it, all who are born after us belong to a higher history than any history hitherto!” (Nietzsche, The Gay Science, 103.)

If God is dead, what becomes of the world? Can a world make sense without God? Will not everything have to be turned upside down? Does any part of this world remain unaffected? Can there be a sacred piece unshaken by the fall of the Almighty? Can there be a world without God? Has mankind by their crime undone all meaning? What is man without God? Is he even a man? What is man? Can creation declare independence from its creator? In rejecting God can he keep himself? If God is dead, what becomes of the world in which he once existed? This is where Nietzsche comes in.

“‘God is dead,’ Nietzsche proclaimed. But he did not say this in triumph (Bloom, The Closing of the American Mind, 195). “Rather he said it in the anguished tones of the most powerful and delicate piety deprived of its proper object. Man, who loved and needed God, has lost his Father and Savoir without possibility of resurrection.” (Bloom, 196). “Nietzsche replaces easygoing or self-satisfied atheism with agonized atheism, suffering its human consequences” (Bloom 197). Emancipation came at a cost. One in which the Enlightenment writers didn’t foresee. The reasonableness that incited the Enlightenment proved unreasonable to those subjected to it. The Age of Reason promised redemption from the old and outdated, without ever giving thought to the cruel realities that were lying in wait for all who believed. An entire generation of revolutionaries, reasonable men, passionately seized, converted, then driven to a man made paradise just out of reach. The demise came before the ascent. Nietzsche saw that the Enlightenment’s defeat was mankind’s failure to grasp the situation. They were so busy butchering religious authority to ask what would be left after the deed was done.

Their fatal flaw was the very thing they renounced—the necessity of God. Rejecting God meant also rejecting God’s world. But what was lost in the process? God created the world out of nothing. God established the heavens and the earth. God gave man morality. God separated darkness from light, good from evil, heaven from hell. God created order and gave meaning. Rationality found its grounding in God; Causation its intelligibility; Man his identity, the world its purpose. All was dependent on God. “The men of the Enlightenment did not know that the cosmos would rebel at the deed, and the world became ‘a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing’” (Bloom, 196). “Behold what has happened,” the Madman cried.

By Nietzsche’s time, metaphysics had long become an ancient ruin. Epistemology was mortally ill and ethics had been so defiled and maltreated it was hardly recognizable. French genocide was the outcome of Enlightenment rationality. Nietzsche concluded that rationalism was unable to rule the soul (Bloom, 196), “that it cannot defend itself theoretically and that its human consequences are intolerable” (Bloom, 196). “Modern man is longing, or has lost, the capacity to value, and therewith his humanity” (Bloom 197-198).

The Encompassing Void

Now, remember how the unbelievers responded to the madman in the story? They laughed and made jokes about what the man was saying. What happened next is extremely insightful, “Here the madman was silent and looked again at his hearers; they also were silent and looked at him in surprise. At last he threw his lantern on the ground, so that it broke in pieces and was extinguished. ‘I have come too early,’ he then said, ‘I am not yet at the right time. This prodigious event is still on its way, and is traveling— it has not yet reached men’s ears. Lightning and thunder need time, the light of the stars need time, deeds need time, even after they are done, to be seen and heard. This deed is as yet further from them than the furthest star—and yet they have done it!’” (Nietzsche, The Gay Science, 104). 

The Madman saw the condition and diagnosed the situation as terminal. Enlightenment Rationality had no epistemic foundation and lacked metaphysical footing. Man has untied himself from certainty to drift aimlessly in doubt. Clutching for meaning the Madman cries, “Do we not dash on uncertainty?” Can one be enlightened in the dark? He asks, “Has it not become colder?” Has not the rejection of God, brought the dejection of man? Has not everything taken on a gray meaninglessness? The world has dulled till gray. Exhausted, man settles into a moribund apathy. Nihilism has always welcomed the crippled, broken and vulnerable. “Man can not live under these withering conditions,” the Madman cries. It breaks a man before it devours him.

The crowd around that Madman is the dilemma. They are still blind to their own doing. They take the death of God lightly because they see no need for him. They feel no distress—but the madman knows there is more at stake than just abstract philosophical theories. He knows “Religion, or the sacred, is the most important human phenomenon” (Bloom, 195) Man is by nature religious. Even the men of the Enlightenment who claimed to have no religion were religious about what they believed. The Madman knew to be without religion is to be without value. The dead of God is the dead of value

“Nietzsche says that modern man is losing, or has lost, the capacity to value, and therewith his humanity” (Bloom, 197-198). Man believes himself to be in an irreligious world; yet haunted by a need to be religious. “Longing to believe, along with intransigent refusal to satisfy that longing, is, according to Nietzsche, the profound response to our entire spiritual condition” (Bloom, 196).  

A Purported Hope

Nietzsche’s solution to man’s problem is to reject Enlightenment philosophy and to bring man into a new Religion. The Enlightenment killed the Christian God but deserted man soon after the exodus. The great revolution was better at tearing down the old than building the new. Nihilism has been housing mankind ever since. Though it is deadly, Nietzsche saw it as a necessary stage in human history.

Nihilism breaks a man but man must leave its dwelling before it devours him. Nihilism is only a go-between that prepares man for a new religious awakening. Man must do what mankind has always done when their religion dies, they must build a new one. This religion will bring with it new morality and meaning so that man can be fully human, if he doesn’t, he will waste away under the cruel tyranny of Nihilism.

But where does one get a new religion? “Nietzsche was ineluctably led to meditation on the coming to be of God . . . for God is the highest value, on which others depend. God is not creative, for God is not. But God as made by man reflects what man is, unbeknownst to himself . . . man makes something, God out of nothing” (Bloom, 199). For Nietzsche, the creation of a religion is psychological. This creativity for making religion comes from the subconscious; from some place deep and hidden in the human psyche. Most men are not able to build a new religion. “The rarest of men is the creator, and all other men need and follow him . . . It is not the truth of their thought that distinguished them, but its capacity to generate culture. A value is only a value if it is life-preserving and life-enhancing” (Bloom 201). “Producing values and believing in them are acts of the will. Lack of will, not lack of understanding, becomes the crucial defect . . . Commitment is the equivalent of faith when the living God has been supplanted by self-provided values . . . Commitment values the values and makes them valuable.” It’s the “Will to Value” (Bloom 201).

Nietzsche’s understood that nihilism is all encompassing so the solution to Nihilism must be all encompassing. Man needs religion, this is true, but religion is not an end in itself. The goal of religion is the establishing of a culture. This culture is man’s highest good. Culture is what shapes and defines the world. “Man needs culture and must do what is necessary to create and maintain cultures . . . Culture is, from his point of view, the only framework within which to account for what is specifically human in man. Man is pure becoming, unlike any other being in nature; and it is in culture that he becomes something that transcends nature and has no other mode of existence and no other support than a particular culture” (Bloom, 202-203). The highest Standard in a man’s worldview is his culture. Man’s actuality is shaped by culture alone. All man’s reasoning, habits, rituals, customs and values are shaped by his culture. Even his thinking patterns are shaped by the culture a man is in. Rationally itself is culturally based. In Nietzsche’s eyes, the Enlightenment left man without, yes value, rationality and religion, but most of all it took away what man needs most—culture.

Christ Our Life, Better Than The Idols

Nietzsche understood that man needed a religion, but he didn’t think it had to be true. Religion was nothing more than a cultural value system made by a self-appointed authority to meet the psychological needs of the masses. Truth has nothing to do with it. It’s about one great man creating a new religion that he then imposes on other men who don’t have his same abilities. Nietzsche claims that all religions, yes, all ideologies are nothing more than the will to power—nothing more than a power game. What about Nietzsche’s own philosophy, is this a “will to power”? His answer is a bit surprising. He said it is. Yet, he still claims that the new philosopher is the people’s savoir because he saves them out of Nihilism. He brings to them new myths, religions and values—he establishes a culture that gives order to a meaningless existence.

The Madman’s conclusions were right but Nietzsche’s solutions were wrong.

The Madman shines his lantern on the problem of our day. The loss of value is not a neutral thing. That loss births an existential crisis. The death of God is devastating. The destruction of one’s worldview is overwhelming. Man cannot bear up under it.

When anyone experiences a drastic change in their worldview it is easy for them to fall into Nihilism. What they believed to be so certain and secure has crumbled before their very eyes. It is no wonder that many begin to doubt meaning and value altogether. Nietzsche’s form: Dead of the Old, Then Nihilism, then birth of the New is a powerful way to consider history, but it is not ultimate. One example of this form is the rise of the Third Reich. After World War I, Germany was reduced to a kind of cultural Nihilism. All that had meaning and worth was destroyed by foreign Nations. The old value system had died leaving the German people in ruin. Germany was religiously, politically and culturally bankrupt. Form the ashes of this Nihilism rose a man who proclaimed a new religion—this man was Adolf Hitler. His new ideology was all encompassing. Religion, politics and culture transformed. He was the German people’s savoir because he saved them out of Nihilistic existence. He gave to them new myths and values. He gave them a religion and a savoir. He establishes a culture that gave order to a their existence.

The Nazi party fulfills all that Nietzsche calls for in a new religion. It gave the German people a new culture, logic, value system and religion. What could be wrong? They were saved from their Nihilistic slavery. Hitler produced a life-preserving and life-enhancing culture for his people. Let history show that other nations even recognized this in the early years of the Third Reich. The economy was booming. In 1936, even the Olympic games were hosted by the Germany with the Nazi party. It was a time of thriving—just not for all.

The same man who was named Man of the Year by Time Magazine in 1938 was the same man who led the German people in a global war in 1939. The self-proclaimed Savoir was also committing mass genocide. It turns out that the same horrors committed in the Enlightenment are the same horrors committed under this new religion. This new religion destroyed the German people. Even what they had was taken away. After World War II, there was nothing left. The peoples’ new found culture went the same way as their leader—dead at their own hands. Nietzsche’s argument assumes that any movement that gives its people an ideology is better than Nihilism, but there is a fate worse than Nihilism.

Conclusion: Wisdom For The Asking

The Madman shares the same concern as the Christian. He sees what happens when men abandon their creator. Nihilism is the conclusion of rejecting God. All philosophy done apart from God is reduced to subjectivism. Subjectivism then is reduced to meaninglessness. Meaninglessness is Nihilism. The Madman argument should cause the crowd to stop and think. His argument calls men to return to God. Nietzsche’s solution is nothing more than the building of an idol. The thing about idolatry is that it degrades and destroys all who will follow it. It promises a new light but delivers a deathblow. End the final analysis, the Enlightenment and Nietzsche’s philosophy bring men to the same end because they are cut from the same cloth. Both are idolatry and both bring an idol’s fruit—death.

Citations
Nietzsche, Friedrich Wilhelm, Thomas Common, Paul V. Cohn, and Maude Dominica Petre. The Gay Science. New York: Barnes & Noble, 2008.

Bloom, Allan David. Closing of the American Mind. New York: Simon and Schuster.

Nietzsche, Friedrich, and Reginald J. Hollingdale. Beyond Good and Evil. London: Penguin Books, 2003.

Fear: Nature, Causes, and Cure

The Theme of Fear

Fear is part of the daily human experience. Fear resides in almost every corner of the modern world. Whether on YouTube, Facebook, or Netflix; there it is. Most, if not all, news today is fear driven. Fear drives human behavior. Politicians long ago learned to use this strong motivator to influence public opinion. Whether we like it or not, there is no escaping the influence of fear.

Fear Defined

The world we know is filled with real disappointments, unexpected circumstances, and internal struggles. John Flavel was familiar with the depth and force of fear. He had to mourn the death of his first wife and infant. In that place and time, fear was with him. When he was ejected from his pulpit in 1662, fear accompanied him. While running from the authorities, he drove his horse into the sea to escape arrest—fear resided still. This close relationship with fear would shape his life and works. He defined fear as, “… the trouble or agitation of mind that arises when we perceive approaching evil or impending danger.” (Flavel, Triumphing Over Sinful Fear, 8).  Aristotle similarly said, “Let fear, then, be a kind of pain or disturbance resulting from the imagination of impending danger, either destructive or painful…” (Aristotle, The Art of Rhetoric, 153). To illustrate this definition, we know most people fear public speaking over dying. Why is that? It is because most people see public speaking as at hand, while dying as far away. People don’t fear what is far off. What is far off is forgotten. The object of fear must be drawing near all at once with crisis in its wings. If it is to be felt, it must be close enough to feel.

Legitimate Fear

Fear is not always sinful, and not all fear comes from a sinful disposition. There are reasons for legitimate fear. When Satan contradicted God’s word in the garden, Eve should have feared. She was made good, and good judgment would have led her to heed God’s word. It was a lack of fear that led her not to see the impending danger before her. Fear is a gift of God given to protect us. When a parent and a child cross a busy street, the parent will hold the hand of the child. Why? The parent is protecting the child. The parent’s action is caused by fear. Yes, there are other motivators involved, such as care, love etc., but fear is one of them. Legitimate fear is an emotional reaction given to protect us from legitimate danger. After a child burns his hand on a stove, he becomes afraid to touch it again. This kind of fear reacts appropriately to the danger at hand without exaggerating it out of proportion. The sinless Christ while in the garden of Gethsemane experienced legitimate fear. It is recorded that he “took with him Peter and James and John, and began to be greatly distressed and troubled. And he said to them, ‘My soul is very sorrowful, even to death…’” (Mk. 14:33-34a).

Sinful Fear

On the other hand, “Sinful fear arises from unbelief—an unworthy distrust of God. This occurs when we fail to rely upon the security of God’s promise; in other words, when we refuse to trust in God’s protection.” Fear becomes sinful when it is inflamed out of proportion. These distortions give way to all kinds of chaos and irrationality. “When fear is exceedingly great, reason is displaced and unable to guide us.” This feeling becomes a captor. It becomes an internal prison locked from the inside.

The unbeliever is wholly given over to his fears. His life is one of worry, misery and terror. New anxieties wait around the corner.  Fear gives sleepless nights and fills the mind with agitations all day. “The wicked flee when no one pursues” (Pro. 28:1a) and again, “There they are, in great terror, when there is no terror!” (Ps. 53.5a). By nature, men through the fear of death are subject to lifelong slavery. Christ is the only salvation from this bondage. Christ’s love sets men free. Perfect love casts out fear.

Situational Fear

Now, this side of heaven, even the Christian will never be completely free from sinful fear. Sometimes, it is the situation that gives rise to fear. And “the greater the evil, the stronger the fear.” The disciples, asleep in the boat, illustrate this point: “… Behold, there arose a great storm on the sea, so that the boat was being swamped by the waves; but he was asleep. And they went and woke him, saying, ‘Save us, Lord; we are perishing.’ And he said to them, ‘Why are you afraid, O you of little faith?’ Then he rose and rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was a great calm. And the men marveled, saying, ‘What sort of man is this, that even winds and sea obey him?’” (Mt. 8:23b-27). The waves nearly sunk their boat, but their fears sunk their faith. Jesus rebukes their unbelief because it gives birth to fear. Notice not only the quality of their unbelief, but also the quantity of their fear. It was this unhealthy degree of fear that caused them to wake the sleeping Jesus. They could not keep their fearfulness to themselves. They are at their wits ends. In the midst of their fear, they had forgotten what was written long ago: “But now thus says the Lord, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: ‘Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you.’” (Is. 43:1-2). The disciples had forgotten the promise of God. The promise was written down for their encouragement and comfort, yet, they did not heed its words nor did they calm themselves with its peace. Fear is antithetical to the promises. Fear is a thief of all the blessings Christ gives. Fear rejects the promises before the heart has time to meditate on it. It steals the comfort the Christian needs. This leaves many saints to believe that heaven is closed and their prayers are not heard. Fear can lead a man to distrust sure things, even the things of God. Despair is the climax of doubt.

Existential Fear

There is another type of fear that Christians experience this side of heaven. It’s not just the fears out there, but inward fears that a Christian must be delivered from. Existential fear comes from guilt. This fear is many times the most damaging to the Christian. Though the Christian knows he is forgiven in Christ for all his sins, past, present and future, he finds it hard to believe. His guilt is so near to him and the promises seem so far away. This compounds into other problems. Isolation, shame, and despair lead the Christian to adopt a false identity, an identity of shame. This new false identity wars against his Christian identity. This leads to all manner of fears. The Christian can’t be himself and is driven to extremes. Double-mindedness is born. Either he plays the hypocrite by pretending to be a “Good Christian”, or he gives up the whole Christian walk altogether. His guilt fills him with fear and questions whether he is a true Christian. Along with this, all true fellowship is destroyed because fear has forced this man into hiding or despair. Hell becomes other people. This whole process destroys any hope of doing good works. Fear detracts from obedience. It drives a man from his duty and leads him into temptation.

Correctives Against Fear

This is why “Fear not” is the most repeated command in Scripture. God knows our condition. He knows our frailty. He knows our struggles, infirmities, and doubts. This is why he gives the command, “Do not be afraid.” This command is not to be a burden on your back, but a weight off your shoulders. Look at the context that surrounds the command. What reasons has God given you? Look at Deut. 31:8, “It is the Lord who goes before you. He will be with you; he will not leave you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed.” God doesn’t leave a person alone by himself or herself after he gives them this command. He gives them a promise to go along with it. He promises to be with them.

This doesn’t mean that the Christian will never fear. It’s not that you won’t struggle with fear. The question is what you do when you do fear? When David was overcome with fear, he put his trust in God to protect him. As he said in Ps. 56:3, “When I am afraid, I put my trust in you.” Fear was not absent from David, but neither was trust in God. On the subject of fear, Luther wrote to Melanchthon, “I beseech you by Christ not to neglect divine promises and comforts” (Flavel, Triumphing Over Sinful Fear, Pg. 68). Here can be found an important lesson from the doctor. Fear abounds when promises are forgotten. Find any Christian who is given over to fear and there you will find a Christian who doesn’t have a promise to put his faith in. The promises were written down for the Christian’s encouragement and comfort. But, how many do not heed its help? The Christian cries for help from heaven, when God has given support on earth. Consider Acts 27:13-44 when Paul was caught in storm at sea. Why was Paul so calm while all the other passengers were filled with fear? Was it not because Paul had received a promise from God that he would survive the storm? Is your situation any different? You have promises just as Paul did. God has not left you without a word from him.

He has filled the Scriptures with promises for every occasion. No matter the situation or the potential danger, there is a promise waiting to be applied. Instead of spending all your time worrying, spend your time searching until you find a promise that suits your situation. God is not calling you to ignore the danger you perceive, for David did not ignore the danger he faced. “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me (Ps. 23:4).” Once again, when he felt he was in danger and his heart filled with fear, he put his trust in God. God is not calling you to deny your circumstances, but he is calling you to trust his sovereign rule.

The promises of God are also the only relief from existential or inward fears caused by guilt. This type of fear is cured by meditation on the love of God towards you.

As it says, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. We love because he first loved us (1 Jn. 4:18-19.” The love of Christ sets men free from the slavery of fear. So when you are afraid, listen to the Psalmist’s words, “When the cares of my heart are many, your consolations cheer my soul (Ps. 94:19).”

Here are some practical questions to ask yourself, when you are afraid:

  1. What kind of fear am I experiencing (legitimate or sinful)?
  2. Is the intensity of my fear proportionate to the danger (objectively)?
  3. Which promises apply to my situation?
  4. How do those promises apply to my situation?
  5. How should these promises change my thoughts and actions going forward?
  6. What comfort or hope to these promises grant?

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus (Phil. 4:6-7).”

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Bibliography

Aristotle, and Hugh C. Lawson-Tancred. The Art of Rhetoric. London: Penguin, 2004.

Flavel, John, and J. Stephen Yuille. Triumphing over Sinful Fear. Grand Rapids, MI: Reformation Heritage Books, 2011.

 

Demon Possession Today?

Can people become demon possessed today? This is a question few want to ask, let alone attempt to answer. In our day, from the outset, spiritual answers are rejected to such a question. There seems to be no room for such a question in a world, which has been impoverished by a flimsy faith in the scientific method. This madness in the year of our Lord, 2018, has even poured into the church and unsuspecting sheep have eaten long in the fields of naturalism. The church is much like the world these days. No more of the mysticism that fueled much of church history. “We are too rational for mysticism”—right? Well—what of it?­­­­ Reformed men and women across this country are quite comfortable with the idea that demon possession is something that only those crazy, unlearned and superstitious Charismatics believe. Yet the Scripture’s doctrine as to the mystical is more supernatural than we have dared to believe, much to our shame.

The overly zealous Reformed Cessationist say, “I have a way to explain away this supposed phenomena, it is not for today. It was only during the early ministry of Christ and his Apostles.” This is one group’s opinion… one opinion indeed. This group either doesn’t know or doesn’t care that they disagree with the majority of church history. They seem to forget that the supernatural doesn’t have an expiration date.

The Church’s Witness Historically

Rev. John L. Nevius a forty-year missionary to China is one of those voices. He launched a full inductive study after a first hand encounter with the phenomenon. The book was titled “Demon Possession and Allied Themes: Being an Inductive Study of Phenomena of Our Own Times.” Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones claimed it was the greatest work on the subject and that every minister should read it, but he was a little too mystical after all, right? —Maybe, maybe not. Lloyd-Jones also had first hand experience with the demonic and found the book informative.

Before the days of naturalism demon possession was a commonly accepted reality within the church. The church Fathers spoke plainly about the matter.

When the Early Fathers wrote they gave specific details about the beliefs, practices and frequent occurrences of demon possession among the pagans in their day. They spoke of, “…the character of demons; the sphere and limits of demon agency; and the manner in which they deceive men, referring at the same time to the facts of demon-possession and demon expulsion as familiarly known and universally acknowledged both by heathen and Christians.”

Tertullian (155-240 AD) says in his Apology addressed to the Rulers of the Roman Empire, “For, first of all, they (sorcerers) make you ill, then to get a miracle out of it, they command the application of remedies, either altogether new, or contrary to those in use, and straightway withdrawing hurtful influences, they are supposed to have wrought a cure . . . Moreover, if sorcerers call forth ghosts, and even make what seem the souls of the dead, to appear, if with these juggling illusions they make a pretense of doing various miracles; if they put dreams into people’s minds by the power of the angels and demons whose aid they have invited, by whose influence, too, goats and tables are made to divide, how much more likely is this power of evil to be zealous in doing with all its might, of its  own inclination, and for its own objects, what it does to serve the ends of others! Or if both angels and demons do just what your gods do, where in that case is the pre-eminence of deity, which we must surely think to be above all in might?”

After arguing that sorcerers were using demons to deceive people for gain, he states, “Let a person be brought before your tribunals who is plainly under demoniacal possession.  The wicked spirit, bidden to speak by a follower of Christ will as readily make the truthful confession that he is a demon as elsewhere he has falsely asserted that he is a god. Or, if you will, let there be produced one of the god-possessed, as they are supposed: —if they do not confess, in their fear of lying to a Christian that they are demons, then and there shed the blood of that most impudent follower of Christ.” Tertullian not only assumes that demon possession is a reality, but assumes demons are so subjected to Christ that Christians can force the demon to confess his identity.

In confidence, Tertullian calls Roman authorities to put his claims to the test. Tertullian would never have a fellow believer put to death. His challenge carried with it no risk whatsoever, because of the certitude of the exorcism being preformed. He states, “All the authority and power we have over demons is from our naming the name of Christ, and recalling to their memory the woes with which God threatens them at the hand of Christ their judge, and which they expect one day to overtake them. Fearing Christ in God and God in Christ, they become subject to the servants of God and Christ. So at one touch and breathing, overwhelmed by the thought and realization of those judgment fires, they leave at our command the bodies they have entered, unwilling and distressed and, before your very eyes, put to an open shame.” His statement lacks timidity. Christ is Lord. He then rebukes the Rulers of the Roman Empire, “You believe the demons when they lie, give credit to them when they speak the truth about themselves. No one plays the liar to bring disgrace upon his own head but for the sake of honor rather. You give a readier confidence to people making confessions against themselves than denials in their own behalf. It has not been an unusual thing accordingly for those testimonies of your deities to convert men to Christianity, for in giving full belief to them we are led to believe in Christ. Yes, your very gods kindle up faith in our Scriptures; they build up the confidence of our hope.”

Justin Martyr (100-165 AD) speaks in like manner in his second Apology addressed to the Roman Senate. Cyprian (210-258 AD) too testifies that, “Nevertheless these evil spirits adjured by the living God immediately obey us, submit to us… and are forced to come out of the bodies they possess.” Athanasius’ (296-373 AD) states, “Let him that would make trial of this come, and amidst all the delusions of devils, the impostures of oracles, and the prodigies of magic, let him use the sign of the cross, which the heathen laugh at, and they shall see how the devils fly away affrighted how the oracles immediately cease, and all the enchantments of magic remain destitute of their usual force.”

The early Fathers agree completely on demonic possession. Even Lactantius (250- 325 AD) asserts that, “when the heathen sacrifice to their gods, if there be any one present whose forehead is marked with the sign of the cross the sacrifices do not succeed, nor the false prophets give answer. This has given frequent occasion to bad princes to persecute the Christians.”

Nevuis’ helpfully comments that, “the prevalence of demon-possession in the Roman Empire during the period of the Early Fathers is further evidenced by the use in the church of a special class of laborers called exorcists whose duty it was to heal, instruct, and prepare for admission to the church candidates for baptism who had been afflicted by evil spirits…The testimony of the Fathers proves conclusively that cases of demon-possession were not confined to Judea in the times of our Savior and the Apostles, but that they were met with in the Roman Empire centuries afterward.” Yet many will still construct their own version of history to better fit their own vision of theology. They lump demon possession into their catchall Cessasstionist grid. “Demon possession” was only around to give evidence of Christ’s authority in the way of signs and wonders, in their system. They seem to ignore the fact that the Old Testament records cases of demonic possession. The problem with this Ad Hoc reasoning is that it ignores all of church history. This kind of reasoning must be uncovered for the ugliness inherent within it. In the final analysis, it is nothing more that modern theologizing in a vacuum. It is divorced and reprobated from all history before it.

Demonic possession is not taken seriously in the church today. Many Charismatics do no service to the truth, due to their undue fascination with the “spiritually” odd. Reformed people, in a knee jerk response quickly run the other extreme; their system is more characteristic of David Hume than Scriptures. Still others, especially Americans, want to avoid feeling uncomfortable. The whole idea of demonic possession leaves them uneasy. Supernaturalism, with all its humiliation, carries its head very low these days. “Demonic possession is just something uneducated superstitious people believe.” The scientific method is baptized and is given the name apologetic.

John L. Nevius followed this same line of thinking; “I brought with me to China a strong conviction that a belief in demons, and communications with spiritual beings, belongs exclusively to a barbarous and superstitious age, and at present can consist only with mental weakness and want of culture.” He noticed, “that no Protestant missionary…has ever given native converts instructions as to casting out spirits; and few, if any, have dreamed that their converts would have the disposition, the ability, or the opportunity to do so.” To Nevius shock, it was native lay Christians who were preforming exorcisms. “When converts have undertaken to do it, it has always been from an unsuggested spontaneous impulse, the natural result of reading the Scriptures and applying its teachings to their actual circumstances.” This came as a shock to most western missionaries who didn’t know how to handle a demonic situation. Church history thoroughly testifies to the continuation of demonic possession. The present day rejection of the phenomena is more characteristic of modern day Naturalism, than of Christian history.

Demonic Possession, It’s Nature: Induction and Exegesis

Now at this point the reader might think that the Early Church didn’t understand the difference between demon possession, mental disorders, multiple personality disorder or epilepsy. The Gospel writers clariy the issue, “And he went throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction among the people. So his fame spread throughout all Syria, and they brought him all the sick, those afflicted with various diseases and pains, those oppressed by demons, those having seizures, and paralytics, and he healed them (Mt. 4.23-24).” The Gospel writers and those who came after them weren’t as foolish as many claim. They knew the difference between demon possession and sickness, sickness and seizures, seizures and paralytics.

Clearly there is a difference between demon possession and other sicknesses. Here is a list of distinctly demonic signs: (1) There will be a change in the possessed persons temperament and personality. This change in personality is in no way minor. “This new personality also manifests itself in sentiments, declarations, facial expressions and physical manifestations.” The new personality takes over while the victim’s personality is partially or wholly dormant. The new personality remains consistent with itself, even in rapid conversations with numerous by-standers, yet is completely inconsistent with all who knew the victim previously.

(2) The character of the person possessed will also “change for the worst, becoming vile, curd, and violent. Some tear off their clothes.” A little shy and respectful boy may scream blasphemies against Jesus who he has never heard of and will attack those present. “The character presented is debased and malicious, having an extreme aversion and hatred to God, and especially to the Lord Jesus Christ and the Christian religion. Prayer, or even the reading of the Bible or some Christian book, throws the patient into a paroxysm of opposition and rage; and persistence in these exercises is almost invariably followed by the return of the subject to the normal state.” (3) Another sign of demonic possession is super human strength. Like a little child over powering a full grown man.

(4) Further the subject possesses knowledge of things they could never know. “They often appear to know of the Lord Jesus Christ as a Divine Person, and show an aversion to, and fear of Him.” The subject is ignorant of Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord, but the demons testify to be aware of this knowledge. They know the Savior’s authority and power. “They sometimes converse in foreign languages of which in their normal states they are entirely ignorant.” One testimony said, “The afflicted were said to have climbed trees like squirrels, to have shown superhuman strength, and to have experienced the gift of tongues, speaking in German and Latin, and even in Arabic.” (5) There is also always a hatred of Jesus Christ and his followers. The subject will shriek and curse in loud ear piercing screams.

(6) When Christians confront the demon, he will answer questions, curse Christ, insult believers and confess his identity, just as Tertullian said. For example, “When he saw Jesus, he cried out and fell down before him and said with a loud voice, ‘What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, do not torment me.’ For he had commanded the unclean spirit to come out of the man. (For many a time it had seized him. He was kept under guard and bound with chains and shackles, but he would break the bonds and be driven by the demon into the desert.) Jesus then asked him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Legion,” for many demons had entered him. And they begged him not to command them to depart into the abyss (Lk 8:28-31).”

(7) The use of notable pronouns is a key indicator of demonic possession.  “The first personal pronoun always represents the demon while by-standers are addressed in the second person, and the subject “possessed” is generally spoken of in the 3d person and regarded for the time being as in an unconscious state, and practically non-existent.” No one with multiple personality disorder would do this. Those suffering for MPD will always use first person “I”. In the case of demon possession the demon uses I to refer to himself and you he or she to refer to the subject possessed.

(8).  “During transition from the normal to the abnormal state, the subject is often thrown into paroxysms, more or less violent, during which he sometimes falls on the ground senseless, or foams at the mouth presenting symptoms similar to those of epilepsy or hysteria…The intervals between these attacks vary indefinitely from hours to months, and during these intervals the physical and mental condition of the subject may be in every respect healthy and normal. The duration of the abnormal states varies from a few minutes to several days…when normal consciousness is restored after one of these attacks the subject is entirely ignorant of everything which has passed during that state.”

(9). “There are often heard, in connection with “demon-possessions,” rappings and noises in places where no physical cause for them can be found; and tables, chairs, crockery and the like are moved about without, so far as can be discovered, any application of physical force, exactly as we are told is the case among spiritualists.”

The Scripture concurs with this witness. The Scriptures state that afflicted persons can be any age or gender. Sometimes the demonic will manifest itself through a physical disturbance or bodily convulsion. As in Luke 9:39, “And behold, a spirit seizes him, and he suddenly cries out. It convulses him so that he foams at the mouth, and shatters him, and will hardly leave him.” Subjects also may harm themselves. Scripture testifies that many were thrown down, torn and bruised, and cut themselves with stones. Mark 5:3-5 says, “He lived among the tombs. And no one could bind him anymore, not even with a chain, for he had often been bound with shackles and chains, but he wrenched the chains apart, and he broke the shackles in pieces. No one had the strength to subdue him. Night and day among the tombs and on the mountains he was always crying out and cutting himself with stones.” The demons tormented the poor subject and he cried out because of his hopeless condition.

The Scripture and the church, throughout her history, testify to the continuing reality of demonic possession. The reader has no room to doubt the continuance of this phenomenon. It is especially the minister’s duty to distinguish between demon possession, spiritual issues, physical problems and psychological illness. It is not an easy task, but anyone who wishes to care for souls will prepare himself accordingly.

If a Christian does come into contact with the demonic, one should note that, “Many cases of “demon-possession” have been cured by prayer to Christ, or in his name; some very readily, some with difficulty. So far as we have been able to discover, this method of cure has not failed in any case, however stubborn and long it continued. And in no instance, so far as appears, has the malady returned, if the subject, has become a Christian, and continued to lead a Christian life.” A demon can be exercised by the reading of Scripture out loud and fervent prayer. If you attempt this, make sure you stand firm in the armor God has given you (Eph. 6).

 

 

 

Hallucinogenics: Informing the Reformed

It was the 1960s and change was in the air. Timothy Leary, a Harvard psychologist, suddenly called an entire generation to “Turn on, tune in, and drop out.” What did this mean and why was it happening? What was all the fuss about? Why this sudden call for radical change? Hunter S. Thompson described the 1960s in this way, “There was madness in any direction, at any hour. . . . you could strike sparks anywhere. There was a fantastic universal sense that whatever we were doing was right, that we were winning. . . . And that, I think, was the handle—that sense of inevitable victory over the forces of Old and Evil. Not in any mean or military sense; we didn’t need that. Our energy would simply prevail. There was no point in fighting—on our side or theirs. We had all the momentum; we were riding the crest of a high and beautiful wave.” There was such rapid change in such a short period of time; both in culture and in politics. Anyone who knows the history is bound to ask, “what caused this madness?”

The main catalyst was a strong hallucinogenic drug called LSD; the drug that defined a generation. This drug changed the way people viewed culture, gender, politics, war, religion, oneself, and God. Many claimed it expanded the mind. An entire generation bought into the notion that this drug was the gateway into a new way of life, to a new self and a new world.

But what became of that generation? What happened to the movement that a drug helped create? What happened to the promised new world?

Thompson provides an eye-opening answer, when he said, “So now, less than five years later, you can go up on a steep hill in Las Vegas and look West, and with the right kind of eyes you can almost see the high-water mark—that place where the wave finally broke and rolled back.” He goes on to explain how this great idealism destroyed a generation. “We are all wired into a survival trip now. No more of the speed that fueled that 60’s. That was the fatal flaw in Tim Leary’s trip. He crashed around America selling ‘consciousness expansion’ without ever giving a thought to the grim meat-hook realities that were lying in wait for all the people who took him seriously… All those pathetically eager acid freaks who thought they could buy peace and understanding for three bucks a hit. But their loss and failure was ours too. What Leary took down with him was the central illusion of a whole life-style that he helped create… a generation of permanent cripples, failed seekers, who never understood the essential old-mystic fallacy of the Acid Culture: the desperate assumption that somebody… or at least some force – is tending the light at the end of the tunnel.” Here Thompson recaptures the death of an ideology. Less than 5 years later, this monumental movement died like so many before it. It is now given over to the sands of time and locked away in a grade school history book. Consciousness expansion, peace and love took its last breath at the feet of nihilism. It is as if he said, “The LSD movement is dead and you have killed it.” All that was left in its wake was failed gurus and seekers who couldn’t handle the pressure of the real world. The god at the end of the tunnel never picked up the phone. A false leader promoting an unattainable ideal with a powerfully distorting substance, drew in, blew up and throw out an entire generation, leaving them with no way to cope with the bleak realities of a normal life. Survival is all that remained.

Even after the 1960s wave, there were still others who ran decades after to catch these moving waters in the hope of experiencing the once ‘great’ wave. It seems that for every generation of psychedelic, Neo-hippies there is a guru who is willing to propagate these drugs to a sub-culture who have already bought in. These gurus pump out the same New Age, Neo-Shaman, mysticism as their forefathers did, with rhetoric and pseudoscience included. They promise enlightenment. They claim hallucinogenic drugs are the catalyst to economic creativity and provide metaphysical insights. Got emotional problems such as depression, or alcoholism? Then look no further than to what the snake oil salesman tells you. “This is the wonder drug and cure-all. The one stop shop for all you have ever wanted or needed. It carries with it the power to create dreams and destroy your psychological nightmares. Come step right up and turn on, drink in and be blown out of this universal to another dimension where you will meet aliens that will tell you secret knowledge hidden long ago, and it is available for you now for only $10 a hit.”

What does the Christian worldview have to say concerning this kind of drug use and the ideology that comes with it? It claims the same thing that one of its own gurus professed, “They are all wired into a survival trip now… [leaving in it’s wake] a generation of permanent cripples, failed seekers” and a failed promise that through this drug one could expand ones mind and come to a knowledge of god. This is a failed ideology that is subjecting one’s mind to an unquestioning faith, it is crippling the user’s will by not preparing them for the hardships of life in the real world and it is robbing them of any hope in anything. It offers only a temporary door of escape that never solves the need to escape. After all is said and done, the trip is over and the seeker is in a worse condition than before. All he has is a bunch of distorted memories of things that never really happened. The ideology is like the drug, they both deceive.

Does the Bible have a word in season for all of those who survived the 60s? What about a word for the new generation that is looking into psychedelics? Yes in many ways.

The word the Bible uses in this context is Pharmakeia meaning: 1. Magic arts, witchcraft. 2. The use or the ministering of drugs. A Sorcerer is one who mixes up drug-based incantations. This has a ‘drugging’ effect on the religious devotee, inducing them to think they have been enlightened or have obtained special god-like abilities.

Paul states in Gal. 5:19-21, that sorcery is a work of the flesh and reminds the Galatians the fate of those who practice such things when he says, “Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.” The book of Revelation says that those who practice sorcery have “their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death (Rev. 21:8).”

Another way the Bible gives light to the issue of using psychedelic drugs is when it talks about “drunkenness”. Drunkenness is referring to intoxication. To intoxicate means, “to excite or stupefied by alcohol or a drug especially to the point where physical and mental control is markedly diminished.” Though it is referring to alcohol first and foremost, it applies theologically to any substance that produces intoxication. Paul in the same passage in Galatians condemns drunkenness too and warns them that they will not inherit the kingdom of God either. Paul also says, “Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God (1Cor. 6:9-10).”

Another reason that goes hand in hand with this topic is the command throughout the Bible to be sober minded. The call to sobriety is a call to be self-controlled both in mind and body. Paul says it this way, “But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation 1 Thess. 5:8).” Instead of running off to follow a guru who offers a revelation in a drug, Christians are called to prepare their minds for action, to be sober-minded, and to set their hope fully on the grace that will be brought to them at the revelation of Jesus Christ (1 Peter 1:13). Christians are also called to be sober-minded and watchful for good reason because the Christian’s adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour (1 Peter.5:8).

Thirdly, one of the plainest arguments against any Christian partaking of hallucinogenic drugs is that they are illegal to consume. Usually these drugs carry with them an ideology that is against authorities. The Christian on the other hand is called to submit to governing authority because God has placed them over him for his protection (Romans 131-5; 1 Peter ‪2:13-16; Titus 3:1-2).

The final reason Christians are called to abstain from these drugs and those like is because of the nature of the Christian’s calling as a Christian. The Christian is not his own, but has been bought with a price. Paul says, “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect (Romans 12:1-2).” The Christian lives to glorify God and enjoy him. The Christian also is to have nothing to do with pagan practices. Paul says, “What accord has Christ with Belial? Or what portion does a believer share with an unbeliever? What agreement has the temple of God with idols?” For we are the temple of the living God; as God said, “I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Therefore go out from their midst, and be separate from them, says the Lord, and touch no unclean thing; then I will welcome you (2 Corinthians. ‪6:15-17).”

For the Christian there is no high wave that breaks and rolls back. There is only the light of dawn, which shines brighter and brighter until full day (Proverbs 4.18). There is no survival trip of permanent cripples, but the Spirit of the Lord and his freedom (1 Corinthians. 3:17-18). There are no failed seekers, but for those who knock the door will be open. The light promised at the end of the tunnel doesn’t fade, but now the Christian sees “in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known (1 Corinthians 13:12).” For those who want to know themselves, they must know God, and to know God they must know Christ. Let the Christian not make idols out of the created world but let them follow Christ, the only one who keeps every promise he makes.