/ / Articles

About That Kingdom… Come Again?

Two weeks ago, I shared my thoughts about the dual nature (spiritual and physical) of Christ’s Kingdom and how this worldview is not often reflected in fiction. One reader took objection, and I’m glad he question my assertions, as it’s […]
| Oct 16, 2013 | No comments |

file0001006582285Two weeks ago, I shared my thoughts about the dual nature (spiritual and physical) of Christ’s Kingdom and how this worldview is not often reflected in fiction.

One reader took objection, and I’m glad he question my assertions, as it’s useful to rethink our positions and make sure we articulate our thoughts clearly. After a little back-and-forth, I thought I should try again to explain myself here.

If you’d like to see what came before, here’s the original post and the resulting conversation.

Okay, so what do I mean by saying God has given control of this world to Satan? First, let me emphasize that it’s God in His sovereignty who gives this control, not Satan who takes it. How so? In the Isaiah 10:5-19, the nation of Assyria provides an example. God gave this godless nation temporary dominion for a specific purpose, yet held them accountable for their sins against Him and His people. God gave Satan limited power to afflict Job, in Job 1 and 2. As Jesus said in John 10:17-18 and 19:11, his persecutors had no power against Him other than what God gave them. Though God calls Satan the god of this world, 2 Corinthians 4:3-4 (or “god of this age” or “present age,” depending on the version), that title is only his because God allows it. It is limited, and it is temporary. But it is a fact at this point in time.

But we can’t base a doctrine on one isolated passage, for scripturally, it is only by the testimony of two or more witnesses that the truth is established (Deuteronomy 19:15; Matthew 18:16; John 8:17; etc.). In the spirit of scriptural integrity, therefore, let’s take a look at some other places the Bible talks about this.

In John 12:31, Jesus called the devil “the prince of this world” and noted that his position as such is subject to God. Ephesians 2:2 refers to him as the “prince of the power of the air,” the idea being that his power does not extend beyond this planet’s inhabitable surface. This answers one of the questions raised earlier: Satan does not exert control, even to a limited degree, over all the physical universe.

In some versions, 1 John 5:19 says “the whole world is under control of the evil one;” the KJV renders this “the whole world lieth in wickedness.” Either way, it’s the whole world—not all of creation.

So what does this means in a practical sense?

In the case of we who are in Christ, our eternal souls are freed from sin’s curse and safe from all harm; we are now, and forever will be, citizens of the spiritual kingdom of God. However, because the kingdom of heaven has not yet been established on this earth, our physical, not-yet-resurrected bodies will continue to be battered by the evil one as long as we inhabit them.

Satan manifests himself in many ways, and they often touch us physically. It hardly seems necessary to show scriptural support of this, because it’s everywhere. Nevertheless, a quick look at the incomplete list of difficulties Paul endured in 2 Corinthians 11:24-33 is a start, and the scriptures give numerous other examples of how the devil causes physical mischief. In fact, most of his attacks are physical; scriptural evidence suggests that the inner (non-physical) struggles we face, such as temptations and uncertainties, often arise from our own fleshly nature and ingrained habits rather than any assault by the devil (James 1:13-14).

What did I mean by saying that it’s not up to Christians to save the broken world? Simply this: though we are citizens of the kingdom of God, we cannot expect to see the kingdom of heaven on earth until Christ returns. In the meantime, no matter how we might try to change things, the truth will continue to be twisted, the innocent will keep on suffering, and justice will be miscarried again and again. Corruption prevails in every government across the planet. Men dethrone one despot only to replace him with another. Medical advances eradicate one disease, and two more pop up to take its place. Whether we give a man a fish or teach him to fish, starvation is never eliminated.

Even Jesus, referencing Deuteronomy 15:11, said there will always be poverty (Matthew 26:11; John 12:8). He wasn’t telling His followers to not bother trying to relieve suffering. Quite the contrary, we are to love mercy and do justice and help others. But in the context of those passages, our first priority should be serving Him. When we focus on the physical, whom do we serve (Matthew 6:24-34)?

Though our souls have been rescued from the power of darkness and delivered into the kingdom of Christ (Colossians 1:13), we do still have physical bodies with physical needs, which we are to tend to with due diligence. Not only are we to keep ourselves pure and unstained by the sin of the world (1 Thess. 4:3-7; 1 Peter 1:13-16), but also, we are to work for a living, providing for ourselves and our family (2 Thessalonians 3:10-12; 1 Timothy 5:8). We should be compassionate toward others, relieving distress and sharing our material blessings when God gives us opportunity (James 2:15-16). But, necessary as all that is, it is not the Christian’s highest purpose in life. The Church has a mission, and the devil will oppose it through all the considerable means at his disposal. When we allow ourselves to be distracted from Christ’s Kingdom purposes, we make Satan’s job easier.

Paul warned in Colossians 2:20-23 that sometimes even our efforts to worship God focus on the flesh, putting the emphasis on what we can’t do rather than living freely for the Lord. He goes on to say in Colossians 3:1-3 that, if we are in fact risen with Christ, we are to set our affections on things above (the kingdom of God). We are strangers on earth, and pilgrims. As citizens of the kingdom of God, this present world—the “air” that the devil is the prince of—is not our home.

That’s the practical side. What about the literary ramifications?

First, the question of allegory: the whole physical world is an allegory, and the Bible is so full of allegories there would be little left if you removed them. Why would anyone consider that literary device to be of the devil? It appears, rather, to have originated with God.

But wait, back up a minute: what’s that about the physical world being an allegory? Consider just a very few of the myriad examples: marriage is an allegory for the church’s relationship with Christ (Ephesians 5:31-32). The sunrise is a picture of Christ’s return (Psalm 19:4-6; Malachi Screen shot 2013-10-15 at 2.36.38 PM4:2. Just think: every moment of every day, the sunrise brings light to some part of the earth. This planet’s perpetual dawn proclaims Christ’s coming to judge and bring light to this dark world. Talk about awesome allegory!) The tabernacle of Moses was a picture of the true tabernacle in Heaven, and the various rituals and celebrations of the Mosaic Law are allegories for Christ’s works.  And so on, and so on, on and on. To an unknown degree that we cannot at this time fathom, the physical world is a shadow of the eternal truth it pictures (Colossians 2:16-17; Hebrews 8:1-5).

I don’t see allegory, parables, fantasy, or any literary genre or device as playing into the devil’s hand. What I spoke of as pandering to the Satan is thinking the Church has either the obligation or the power to de-throne evil. We’re to give him no place in our lives, to be sure; but Christ has already given us the victory there. The world stage is a different matter.

For reasons I explained earlier, I’m uncomfortable with supernatural stories in which demonic forces take on a visible form and/or the reader is led to speculate what those beings’ existence might be like, how they may think or act or behave. A tale in which the hero tries to save the world is fun now and then and can sometimes be instructive. I merely lamented the scarcity of plots that depict the worldview described above.

One more thing, and then I’m done. The statement “Further affiant sayeth not” (originally “Further affiant sayeth naught,” with naught meaning nothing) is the legal language used to conclude a sworn affidavit. It means the person making the statement (the “affiant”) has enumerated all the facts and has nothing further to say. It is wholly unrelated to the idea of “taking the Fifth,” which I would not do in this case. If setting our affections on things above is a crime, I will freely incriminate myself.

Similar articles

Leave a Reply

avatar
  Subscribe  
Notify of
notleia
Guest
notleia

LOL WAT.

No, really, what? This explanation has just reinforced my WAT from the last one.
I guess I’m failing to see the connection between this view of the kingdom of God (which looks more like Milton than the Bible, despite all the proof-texts) and the defense of allegory.
I’d say the more relevant thing to say in defense of allegory is that although Christian fiction might very deservedly be called a one-trick pony with allegory, the tool of allegory isn’t so much the problem as that people are using it sloppily.

D. M. Dutcher
Member

As I understand it by reading the two posts, it’s that you have to be careful with how you portray spiritual warfare in fiction, because in reality it’s quite different. That we can’t really face off with demons or wrest control of towns from them through our prayers in some metaphysical sense, because for now Satan has some measure of freedom and rulership over the current world. Also, that spiritual struggle is far above what humans can do, and that even angels are threatened by them when they do battle.

So having demons materialize in a form the righteous believer can go two rounds with in the boxing ring is a dangerous idea. Or having humans directly influence the spiritual realm in physical ways, if not used as an analogy or as an unclear one.

Allegory isn’t bad in itself, but it’s possible to warp understanding of people if it;s not clear it’s an allegory. This Present Darkness did a fair amount of damage in fundamentalist circles by personalizing spiritual warfare a bit too much, and that’s why Peretti’s never really revisited those two novels.

I’m not sure I’m getting the entire thrust of the posts and back-and-forth, but this is my impression.

notleia
Guest
notleia

Now I’m wondering who takes spiritual warfare fiction that seriously. (And then my cynical side suggests a few.)
But basically this all comes back to Biblical interpretation, and that’s a mosh pit that has raged on for centuries without us poking at it right now.

D. M. Dutcher
Member

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deliverance_ministry would be an example. I think it drew a lot of strength from spiritual fiction, in a case of life imitating art. Maybe unconsciously, but still.

E. Stephen Burnett
Admin

We can’t really face off with demons or wrest control of towns from them through our prayers in some metaphysical sense, because for now Satan has some measure of freedom and rulership over the current world.

This phrasing helps me: “Satan has some measure of freedom and rulership.”

From reading Yvonne’s column, I also read a strong attempt to distinguish “this world” to mean “this era of sin,” “this sinful age,” etc. I’m not reading any de-emphasis on the value of physical things, the coming resurrection of the physical creation, and so on. When we understand those realities, it’s also essential to know that in some measure, certainly the Devil is still alive and kicking. Yet his authorities have been disarmed and openly shamed at the Cross (Col. 2:15), and the Devil now does not have nearly the freedom he had before Christ came.

For my part, I sympathize with the view of the (currently more-controversial) Biblical teacher John MacArthur who, while certainly more “cessationist” than I am, rightly concludes that Scripture always describes spiritual warfare not in terms of Christians doing demon-hunting or taking back territory, but pursuing personal holiness and defeat of temptations based solely on the Word of God.

Rachel
Guest
Rachel

If I may, it seems to me like you’re telling us we can’t combat demons at all. Is that what I’m getting from this post?

Kessie Carroll
Member

Here’s a passage from some of Diana Wynne Jones’s essays that I think addresses this issue better than I can:

______

Fantasy certainly does provide comfort–and who is not entitled to a little comfort if they can get it? For those who need that, it is the mind’s perfect safety valve.

But a child reading, say, a fairy story is doing a great deal more. Most fairy stories are practically perfect examples of narratives that fit the pattern of the mind at work. They state a problem as a “what if” from the outside. “What if there were this wicked uncle? That evil stepmother, who is a witch? This loathsome monster?”

Stated in this way, the problem (parent? bully?) is posed for the widest number of people, but posed in a way that enables the reader to walk all round it and see the rights and wrongs of it. This uncle, witch or monster is a vile being behaving vilely. As these beings will invariably match with an actual person: parent, sibling, schoolfellow, what a child gains thereby is a sort of blueprint of society.

Reading the story, he or she is constructing a mental map–in bold colors or stark black-and-white–of right and wrong and life as it should be. Turning to the actual parent or schoolfellow, where right and wrong are apt to be very blurred, this child will now have a mental map for guidance.

_________

I think adults need spiritual warfare/demon hunter books for this very reason. To pose spiritual warfare as a “what if?”, that they can walk all round it and understand it. We can’t understand spiritual realities, which is why Jesus explained it to us in imperfect word pictures. That’s the only way our three-dimensional minds can grasp eternity.

We need fairytales, even fairytales with demons in them.

Galadriel
Guest

It’s always good to remember that we aren’t responsible for saving the world, because sometimes it feels that way.

Robert Mullin
Member

“Even Jesus, referencing Deuteronomy 15:11, said there will always be poverty (Matthew 26:11; John 12:8). He wasn’t telling His followers to not bother trying to relieve suffering. Quite the contrary, we are to love mercy and do justice and help others. But in the context of those passages, our first priority should be serving Him. When we focus on the physical, whom do we serve (Matthew 6:24-34)?”

James 1:27
English Standard Version (ESV)
27 Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.

Matthew 25:31-46
English Standard Version (ESV)
The Final Judgment

31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. 34 Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ 37 Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? 38 And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? 39 And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ 40 And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers,[a] you did it to me.’

41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ 44 Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ 45 Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ 46 And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

To focus on the physical IS to focus on the spiritual. Over two hundred verses tell us how God feels about those who do not take care of the needs of those “less fortunate.” Jesus was saying that he would not be with them much longer, not that following him in some vague spiritual sense was more important than what he commanded them to continually do for one another in this life.

Not trying to split hairs here, and it may be that I have misconstrued the nature of what you were trying to say. But I see this lofty attitude all too often among the brothers and sisters, and I think it’s not only wrong, but dangerous.

Kirsty
Guest

Was the point not that we shouldn’t be focussing on the physical? If we focus on the spiritual (i.e. Jesus) that will naturally lead to us doing all the things you’ve rightly listed above (if it doesn’t, there’s something wrong with the way we’re focussing on Jesus – because he told us to do them).

But the problem is focussing on these things instead of Jesus.

Robert Mullin
Member

Kirsty, I would like to agree with you, but I’ve seen the tendency of the church to be so heavenly-minded that we are no earthly good. Ideally, you would be correct. But I have not seen the evidence that focusing on Jesus (a rather vague concept) automatically leads to the kind of behavior he expects from us. He expects obedience (he who loves me will obey my commands). I see nothing in scripture about “focusing on Jesus,” but I do see dozens of commands to feed the hungry and clothe the naked in one form or another. Goodness does not just happen.

E. Stephen Burnett
Admin

Regarding the “don’t be so heavenly minded you’re no earthly good” phrase: I understand the sentiment behind it, yet the apostle Paul urged us to set our minds on things above, not earthly things (Col. 3:2). Other direct admonitions, such as in Hebrews, emphasize how earthly things are but copies or shadows of heavenly realities. So there’s precedent for the phrase.

The problem arises when we wrongly understand “heavenly things.” Scripture’s Author and authors do not belittle the importance of physical reality when they speak of heaven or spiritual reality. Rather, they add perspective to these things. So in Hebrews, the eartly Tabernacle does not have value in and of itself, but because it reflects the heavenly Temple. Similarly, humans aren’t worthless, but in fact worthy because they are made in the image of God in heaven. And so on.

So when we say, “don’t be so heavenly minded,” I hear “heaven” in the sense of a “spiritual” imposter, a misunderstanding of the eternal state. “Heaven” is not a vague, distant, escapist, non-physical fantasy. It is a present reality, yet Other than this sin-groaning age. And this present reality will become future, when God brings New Heaven to New Earth (Rev. 21).

Robert Mullin
Member

Of course there is nothing wrong with setting our minds on heavenly things, but not to the exclusion of those around us. It does us no good to memorize verses and “focus on Jesus” if we step on a homeless person on the way to church. I have observed all too often (even in myself) the notion that “as long as I’ve done no bad, I’m okay.” Christ makes it clear that is not enough. We must go out of our way to meet the physical needs of others. Remember our righteousness being as filthy rags?

As I said, I may have taken the comment wrong, or out of context. But I have seen the tendency of the present-day church to be more focused on doctrine than on works, and I wanted to make sure that wasn’t what was being said.

Austin Gunderson
Member

I think our differences on this issue are largely peripheral at this point (i.e. your interpretation of Eph. 2:2 strikes me as more applicable to Lewis’ Thulcandra than to the world we know — unless you really believe the devil has no power to influence astronauts in orbit). As you point out, the reality we can see and hear and touch is indeed a reflection of greater heavenly realities. I agree in principle with your identification of the entire world as an allegory. But it’s so much more than that. Christ had to meet the demands of both reality-sets in order to fulfill His purpose (Heb. 9:11-14). Though the physical realm is less glorious by far, it’s just as important as the spiritual realm. Christ’s incarnation leaves no room for doubt in that regard.

In many ways, Christ’s coming represents the ultimate legitimization of the physical realm: it hasn’t fallen so far that God isn’t willing to inhabit it. Yes, it will all be renewed when Christ returns to consummate His marriage. Yes, all that we hold dear on earth will be under constant assault until that glorious Day. Yes, the fleeting transience of this life should move us to hold it loosely, not tightly. And yes, I too am a pessimist when it comes to humanity’s earthly prospects. But none of that gives us any cause to minimize or dismiss what occurs in the physical realm.

We’re called to do good with what we have where we’re at. For some of us, that may mean getting involved in politics or business or social work. For others, it may mean writing a novel. At their face value, these activities lack eternal ramifications. But I myself am powerless to affect eternity anyway; only the Spirit of God can do that. All I can do is work as unto the Lord, be a wise steward of the talents He’s bequeathed me, and love other people like He’s loved me. It’s for Him to give the spiritual increase. Is this attitude “focusing on the physical”? I think we’d both agree that it’s not. And yet I’m pretty sure that when Robert Mullin indignantly (and rightly) points out above that the physical and spiritual are indistinguishable, he’s interpreting your remarks, as I did, to mean that Christians should abandon this world to its inevitable fate.

But I’m also pretty sure at this point that you believe no such thing, and that the misunderstandings in this discussion have resulted from differences in semantic emphasis, not theological substance.

Teddi Deppner
Guest

I appreciate all the thought that went into this discussion. Everyone has different understanding of the Word and breadth of experience. We all choose what we believe and what we consider unlikely or untrue.

With respect, I disagree with the idea that the spiritual and the physical are so disconnected, with the idea that our spiritual authority in Christ is limited somehow to just our personal spiritual life and doesn’t extend to physical things like houses or cities.

What did I mean by saying that it’s not up to Christians to save the broken world? Simply this: though we are citizens of the kingdom of God, we cannot expect to see the kingdom of heaven on earth until Christ returns.

And yet Jesus said we should pray “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven” and taught that what believers did on earth would affect things in heaven (Matt. 16:19, 18:18). Not that the context of that was demonic activity per se, but just pointing out the connection between earth and heaven.

In the vision that the prophet Daniel had, the stone that hit the feet of the giant statue represented the government of God, the kingdom of God. And after shattering the feet, that stone grew and grew and grew — never to stop expanding. It is the kingdom of God that will have no end, and Jesus said believers have been given the “keys of the kingdom of heaven”. Why would we think that what He began isn’t what we are supposed to continue?

I’m not here to speculate or argue about the details so much as express that I think the argument presented in this post doesn’t address certain things, and contains significant gaps in scriptural support. There’s much more than I mention here, but hey — this is a comment, not a book on the subject. Although I’m sure people look at my comment length sometimes and wonder… ;-P

Teddi Deppner
Guest

What I spoke of as pandering to the Satan is thinking the Church has either the obligation or the power to de-throne evil. We’re to give him no place in our lives, to be sure; but Christ has already given us the victory there. The world stage is a different matter.

Jesus cast out demons. The book of Daniel indicates there are evil spirits assigned to geographical territories that resist the angels who are sent to do God’s work. The apostle Paul said, “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.” (Eph. 6:12)

This “spiritual warfare” is not emphasized in scripture and there isn’t a lot of detail given about how to do it. That tells me that either it isn’t a primary focus or it isn’t something God wanted specified in detail because of our tendency to create formulas out of examples. Probably both.

I think we stray if we spend all or much of our time focused on the devil, demons and the work of evil spirits. Then again, I also think we stray if we pretend that dealing with them isn’t our job, if it comes up in the course of what God is assigning us to do.

For reasons I explained earlier, I’m uncomfortable with supernatural stories in which demonic forces take on a visible form and/or the reader is led to speculate what those beings’ existence might be like, how they may think or act or behave.

I’ve heard too many testimonies of demons manifesting just like they did in bible times to believe it doesn’t happen. My own sister has seen them. My husband. I’ve sensed the presence of evil too often to believe it doesn’t exist. I’ve seen it flee too often to believe that we cannot have a part in making that happen.

One thing I can agree with whole-heartedly: It would be good to see fiction deal with these things in a way that glorified God and put demonic power in its proper place — crushed underneath our feet by His power (Rom. 16:20) and not a major player in our lives at all.

It is always a good prayer to ask that we be wise concerning what is good and naive to evil and its ways. There are some things I’d rather not know. But I will not flinch if faced with a wrestling match against evil in the course of my Christian walk. The greater one lives in me. At His name, the dark ones must flee.

Pray for me, because my own fiction deals with these issues. I portray things scripturally as best I can. And since scripture leaves certain things open, I also draw on the experiences of missionaries and other men and women of God (as well as my own) for accuracy.

Evil exists. It manifests. I don’t like it any more than you do, but I think it’s vital that people see — even in our fiction — that God is greater.