14 September 2021

The Holy Spirit and the supernatural.

1 Corinthians 12.1-7.

SUPERNATURAL su.pər'nætʃ(.ə).rəl noun. Event caused by (or credited to) some force beyond scientific understanding, beyond natural laws.

If you wanna get technical, whenever anyone interferes with the natural course of events, it’s more-than-natural. It’s supernatural.

Fr’instance if I install plastic pink flamingos in my front yard. Clearly they aren’t the product of Mommy plastic flamingo and Daddy plastic flamingo loving one another very much, and giving one another a special kind of “hug.” Nor did they sprout up from the ground like mutant orchids. Somebody—really a whole bunch of somebodies—drilled for petroleum, extracted the plastic, colored it pink, molded it into a flamingo shape, and painted it to resemble a living flamingo. Somebody else—i.e. me—lost all sense of what’s appropriate for lawn ornaments, bought them, put ’em in the lawn, and got all the neighbors to seriously consider banding together in a homeowner’s association just to ban ’em. Other than the outrage, none of this happened naturally.

But we tend to call this behavior unnatural, not supernatural. We save the term “supernatural” for stuff which, we suspect, wasn’t done by humans, nor done by our robots. If a sasquatch started leaving pink flamingos around town, or space aliens, or spirits, vampires, inexplicably hyper-intelligent raccoons… well we’d be weirded out by the very idea of non-human intelligences, and call ’em supernatural. ’Cause they’re not natural!

But y’notice all these “supernatural” beings are creatures most people don’t believe in, or won’t admit to believing in, or insist no reasonable person would believe in. So “supernatural” tends to have a sense of ridiculousness attached to it. No sane person should believe in the supernatural, right? Those things aren’t real. Con artists claim to believe in them, but they’re just trying to dupe people into giving them money.

And I get that; I don’t believe in sasquatches either. But just because frauds and the defrauded use a word, doesn’t mean it’s not a valid word. There’s real supernatural in the universe.

Namely God.

When God creates something from scratch, fixes what’s broken, cures the sick, shares unknowable things through his prophets, or otherwise does stuff we can’t adequately explain through science and physics, “supernatural” is the proper term for it. Miracles are supernatural.

Now certainly God can, and does, use physics to do as he does. When he parted the Red Sea for Moses and the Hebrews, he didn’t do it as shown in The Ten Commandments; a wind blew all night and blew back the water. Ex 14.21 Skeptics like to point to this natural-sounding description in Exodus, and claim it suggests maybe God wasn’t involved, and like to “debunk” the bible’s miracles by trying to explain the physics behind ’em. But some miracles just plain defy explanation. Like when God made an axehead float, 2Ki 6.1-7 when Jesus and Peter walked on water, and certainly every time someone got raptured. Natural explanations or not, these events don’t have a natural cause. They’re supernatural.

Pagans and the supernatural.

The ancient Greeks called the supernatural πνευματικοί/nefmatikí, “spirit things.” Whatever “spirit” is.

Ancient Greek used the word πνεῦμα/néfma, and ancient Hebrew the word רוּחַ/ruákh, to refer to both wind and spirit. But the ancients didn’t entirely understand that air is a physical substance, consisting of gases made of molecules. Usually they just meant something we humans can’t grab hold of; something which isn’t material, or isn’t physical.

The ancient Greeks definitely believed in the supernatural. No, not because they didn’t understand science. (These are the guys who invented science, remember?) But as scientific as they got sometimes, they were also superstitious, ’cause they believed in the Greek gods. They believed in the Greek afterlife: When you died, your néfma escaped your rotting corpse and went to Ἠλύσιον/Ilýsion, their idea of Paradise. Assuming you weren’t bad; for bad people there’s Τάρταρος/Tártaros. Mixed in with their books on how they figured science works, the philosophers included plenty on how they imagine spirit works. How they figured everything has a spirit… and how you could even worship certain spirits, and turn ’em into gods.

Problem is, the Greek gods were mute. (’Cause duh, they aren’t even gods. Ga 4.8) They’d talk to their gods, but their gods wouldn’t talk back, and the only way Greeks might find out what their gods desired was by looking for signs and omens. Hence the Greeks were very superstitious, and the Romans were even worse. Anything and everything might be a divine sign: Planets and stars, the behavior of their gods’ favorite animals, the guts of sacrificial animals, or the brain-damaged ramblings of priests whom they dangled over an open vent of natural gas. They were so desperate for communication from their gods… and you know some of us Christians, especially those of us who think God stopped talking in bible times, get this same kind of desperate, and go looking for signs too. (Don’t!)

In the hands of clever con artists, these “signs” from the gods could be interpreted any which way. In 560BC the Pythia of Delphi famously told told Crœsus of Lydia, “You will destroy a mighty empire.” After the Persians beat Crœsus like a gong, the Delphians spun it as if the Pythia meant just the opposite: Turns out the “mighty empire” was Crœsus’s empire. You gotta resort to such obvious scams whenever you fake prophecy. But the result was simply more confusion: Pagans felt they couldn’t trust anything their prophets said, and nothing their gods said. After all, according to their myths, their gods weren’t even good. They were totally unreliable, and might just try to trick ’em into self-destruction like Crœsus.

Why’d the Greeks even worship these gods in the first place? Well, they figured the gods were mighty. Who else might you turn to if you need a favor? They never knew they had the LORD as a far, far better option.

Pagans today suffer the very same problems. They don’t understand the supernatural, and get just as superstitious as the ancients. They dabble in astrology, psychics, tarot cards, hexagrams, palm-reading, aura-reading, Meyers-Briggs personality profiles… and the results still make no sense. They’re half wrong, contradict one another, or are as ambiguous as any fortune cookie. They look for any “sign” from the universe they can find. If you’re looking for truth, all pagans will do is confuse you. Times change, but scams really don’t.

Christians and the supernatural.

Once these Greeks became Christian, a lot of ’em tried to add their old pagan spiritual ideas to their new religion.

And this practice is still going on. In continuationist churches, we occasionally find newbie Christians who used to be “psychic” back when they were pagan. And they often think—because Christians actually told them so—this means they already have natural, God-given abilities to hear the Holy Spirit better than average. It’s just they were using ’em wrong, with the wrong attitudes, in the wrong venues. But they’re Christian now, so all this stuff is now “prophetic”—and back they go to all their pagan augury, but now they’ve relabeled everything with Christian-sounding names.

Christians like this will make such a hash of things, and lead themselves and others astray. It’s why their track records are just as inaccurate as before they were Christian.

The ancient Christians in Corinth, Peloponnesia, were making this very same mistake, which is why Paul and Sosthenes had to step in and correct them.

1 Corinthians 12.1-7 KWL
1 I don’t want you to be ignorant regarding the supernatural, Christians.
2 Gentiles: Remember when you followed idols which don’t talk, which always led you astray?
3 It’s why I have to tell you: Nobody speaking by God’s Spirit can say, “Damn Jesus.”
Nobody can say “Master Jesus” unless they’re in the Holy Spirit.
4 And there are a diversity of supernatural things—and the same Holy Spirit;
5 a diversity of ministries—and the same Master;
6 a diversity of activities—and the same God activating all of them in all of us.
7 Each individual is given an individual revelation of the Spirit—to bring together.

First things first: In Christianity, the supernatural is entirely under the control of the Holy Spirit. We might use the terms “spirit of prophecy” or “spirit of miracles” or “spirit of discernment” or “spirit of healing,” but make no mistake: We do not mean there are different spirits in charge of these things, like Apollo for prophecy and Asclepius for healing. There’s one Holy Spirit in charge, the One True God. No others.

Since the Spirit points to Jesus, he’s never gonna dismiss Jesus, downplay Jesus, nor oppose Jesus. No true Christian, especially no Spirit-filled, Spirit-empowered Christian, will ever put aside Jesus, his teachings, or his attitudes. No Spirit-led prophet will say, “I don’t do Jesus; I only speak the words of God.” Nor “Jesus was just a wise teacher like the Buddha; there are plenty of guys on higher astral planes than Jesus.” Nor “Jesus isn’t Lord; you are.” No crazy Jesus-denying pagan beliefs are gonna come from the Holy Spirit. Ever. Period.

Now crazy beliefs will definitely come from humans. Including Christians. Just never the Holy Spirit. If a prophet claims, “Thus says the LORD,” and proceeds to interpret a bible passage totally out of context, we can immediately tell the prophet’s talking out of their own arse. The Spirit never misquotes himself. If you know your bible, it’s honestly the easiest way to detect fake prophets. They always wanna sound impressive, so they try to make their prophecies sound “biblical”—yet always get the bible wrong.

But apart from prophecy: There are plenty of Spirit-empowered Christians who misunderstand Jesus. While they’d never denounce him—’cause they are truly Christian—and while God has given them the ability to do all sorts of miracles on his behalf, they still may lack spiritual maturity. They’re short on love, short on patience, short on kindness, short on good fruit. Some of ’em are definitely short on bible knowledge. They’ll assume their anointed ministry comes with an anointed mind, and teach some of the stupidest things about Christ you’ve ever heard. Sometimes they’re downright heretic, and are so lucky we no longer stone false prophets to death.

The apostles never claimed Spirit-empowered Christians will be infallible. Just that we’ll know where our power came from. And we’ll never (intentionally) challenge Jesus, push aside his teachings, or reject him. Mistakes will happen. But not out of malice; just ignorance or stupidity. Fakes are malicious: They don’t have the Holy Spirit in the first place, and they covet our worship and money. They wanna control us.

Paul’s word ἀνάθεμα/anáthema, “damn,” is exactly the sort of thing people shouted at him when he tried to proclaim Jesus in synagogue: “Would you shut up about your damn Jesus?” (If that offends you, it should. It offends me too.) Obviously those folks weren’t speaking by the Holy Spirit. And no legitimate worker of the supernatural will reject Jesus. Only fakes will.

The logical complement is if we call Jesus our Lord, we gotta have the Holy Spirit. He won’t truly be our Master otherwise. We’d be unable to follow him, or know anything about him. We’d certainly be unable to perform the supernatural.

I know; this all sounds very basic. But sometimes we gotta start with the basics. Since the Corinthians knew nothing, Paul had to start ’em off with step 1. And if the Christian supernatural is a new idea for you, this’d be step 1 for you too.