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21 April 2016

The Holy Spirit and the supernatural.

The Spirit empowers us to do miracles. Real miracles. So learn how they really work.

1 Corinthians 12.1-7

Supernatural /su.pər'nætʃ(.ə).rəl/ n. An event caused by (or credited to) some force beyond scientific understanding, or the laws of nature.

If you wanna get technical, whenever anyone interferes with the natural course of events, it’s more-than-natural; it’s super-natural. If I put plastic pink flamingos in the front yard, they aren’t the product of Mommy plastic flamingo and Daddy plastic flamingo loving one another very much; nor did they sprout up from the ground like mutant orchids. Somebody—a whole bunch of somebodies—drilled for petroleum, extracted the plastic, colored it pink, molded it into a flamingo shape, lost all sense of what’s appropriate for lawn ornaments, bought them, and placed them there. Didn’t happen naturally.

But we don’t usually call that stuff supernatural. (We tend to call it un-natural.) We save the term “supernatural” for stuff which obviously wasn’t done by humans. If I build a flying saucer and fly it around the neighborhood, we don’t call it supernatural; at most we call it annoying. But if we don’t know where a flying saucer came from, and baselessly leap to the conclusion it was built by space aliens, now we’re talking supernatural.

And because the word “supernatural” tends to get flung around like that, a lot of Christians really don’t care to use it when we’re talking about the acts of the Holy Spirit. “Supernatural” is a word for stage magicians, fake psychics, people who believe in poltergeists and space aliens and boogeymen. It’s for those who dupe others, and those who’ve been duped.

I get that. 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. When God creates something from scratch, or fixes what’s broken, or cures the sick, or proclaims the future through his prophets, or otherwise does stuff we can’t adequately explain through science and physics, it’s supernatural.

Now it’s possible God uses science and physics to do as he does. When he got an axehead to float, 2Ki 6.1-7 we know iron doesn’t ordinarily float, but maybe upstream somebody dumped a whole lot of chemicals in the water which made it momentarily denser than iron. Of course that’s a wild guess, as many of our “scientific” explanations for miracles will be. Fact is, we might be able to duplicate God’s results, Ex 7.11, 22, 8.7 but we don’t know how he did it unless he tells us. The supernatural might have a wholly natural explanation—but same as with pink flamingos, it doesn’t really have a natural cause. ’Cause God.

Pagans and the supernatural.

The ancient Greeks called the supernatural nefmatikí/“spirit-things.” Things having to do with, created by, or made of, spirit. Whatever “spirit” is. It’s not physical, y’know, even though we regularly compare it to physical things like air and wind and fire. Nor even energy, even though we regularly call it power.

The ancient Greeks definitely believed in the supernatural. No, not because they didn’t understand science; these were the guys who invented science, remember? But even as scientific as they were, they were religious: They believed in the Greek gods. They believed in the Greek afterlife: When you died, your néfma/“spirit” left your rotting body and went to Ilýsion. (Unless you were bad; then Tártaros.) Mixed in with their books on how they thought science worked, the philosophers included plenty of books about how they thought spirit worked. Their spirits, other spirit—namely this old pagan idea about how every object and action and movement and thinking, had its own unique spirit encouraging and empowering it. And you could even give these spirits names, and worship ’em. If you’re a big fan of éros/“love,” you could personify it as Éros and worship it. And some did. (And really, some still do.)

Problem is, unlike the LORD, the Greek gods were mute. (Duh; they weren’t even gods. Ga 4.8) Because their gods didn’t talk, the Greeks figured they had to deduce their will through signs and omens. So they watched to see whether the right bird was sitting on the right building at the right time. Or whether the planets and stars lined up just so. Or cut open a sacrificial sheep and fiddled with its guts. Or hung priestesses over a open vent of natural gas and listened to her brain-damaged ramblings. They looked for anything which might be a sign from the gods.

(You do realize some Christians do exactly the same thing. Cessationists claim God stopped talking back in bible times, and is just as silent as the Greek gods. But every once in a while they’re desperate to hear from him… so they too start looking for signs and omens. If God won’t talk to us, we’ll settle for superstition.)

In the hands of a clever con artist, these “signs” from the Greek gods could be interpreted any which way. In 560BC the Pythia of Delphi famously told told Croesus of Lydia, “You will destroy a mighty empire.” After the prophecy turned out completely wrong—the Persians beat Croesus badly—the Delphians spun it as if the Pythia meant just the opposite: The “mighty empire” was Croesus’s empire. You gotta resort to such obvious scams when you’re faking prophecy.

The result of all this scamming was mass confusion: Pagans couldn’t trust anything they deduced. Not their prophets. Nor even the gods: They might just try to trick ’em into self-destruction, just like they apparently tricked Croesus. And when you read Greek myths, the gods are totally unreliable. Why’d the Greeks even worship them, then? Well, they didn’t know they had better options.

Pagans today suffer the very same problems. They don’t understand the supernatural, and are as superstitious as the ancients. They dabble in in augury (tarot, hexagrams, palm-reading, aura-reading) or psychics, or astrology. The results they get still don’t make 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 people 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.

Again, we see the same thing still happening. In charismatic churches, you’ll occasionally find new Christians who used to be “psychic” back when they were pagan. They were pretty good at reading people, assumed there was something supernatural to it, and developed this ability with some psychic techniques. (Really, mentalism tricks.) And once they became Christian, they got it into their heads that all their old psychic stuff was actually prophecy. So now they’re gonna dabble in prophecy—more precisely, they’re gonna use all their old techniques, but call ’em “prophecy” now. It’s why their track records are just as inaccurate as before.

Christians like that will make such a hash of things, and lead themselves and others astray. It’s why, in the case of Corinth, 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 “Lord 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 Lord;
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 Spirit in charge, the One True God. No others.

And the Spirit, since he points to Jesus, is never gonna dismiss Jesus, downplay Jesus, or oppose Jesus. No true Christian, especially no Spirit-filled, Spirit-empowered Christian, will ever throw out Jesus or his teachings. 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 belief are gonna come from the Holy Spirit. Ever. Period.

Now, crazy beliefs will definitely come from 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 keister: The Spirit’s never gonna misquote himself. If you know your bible, it’s honestly the easiest way to detect fake prophets. They always wanna sound more impressive, so they try to make their prophecies “sound biblical”—and 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 Christians, 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. 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.

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

Paul’s word 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.

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.