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Wanting More


A lot of people suffer disappointment with God when they encounter some kind of trauma: death of a loved one, terminal illness, horrific abuse, or a terrible accident. Nothing like that has ever happened to me. I’m not so much disappointed as discontent. I can’t help thinking that the Christian life isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. I’m not sure why. Let me give some examples.

The church I attend is very good. We have ministries that extend help to the homeless, food to the hungry, and good counsel to the perplexed. We pray for the sick. We give generously to similar efforts in other countries. Our church has grown because it attracts people to the faith and attracts believers. We have two thriving programs that attract people to the faith.

One of those programs is called Alpha. It is a non-threatening introduction to the Christian faith that originated in England. Those who attend hear the gospel presented in clear, easy-to-understand terms. Many become followers of Jesus, and some of those begin attending our church and becoming involved in it. A good number of our new members have come from Alpha.

The other program is called Celebrate Recovery. It has its roots in the 12-step program of Alcoholics Anonymous, but this program was developed at Rick Warren’s Saddleback Church in California. The program has been very effective in helping people overcome various forms of addiction, from drugs and alcohol to pornography and life-controlling obsessive behaviors. Again, several of those who have attended have made their way into the life of the church.

Both of these programs have produced excellent results. Their aim is not to make our church grow but to help people. Growth has been an ancillary result. From the perspective of our church, they have helped us fulfill our mission and grow. From the perspectives of participants, they have helped them come to Christ and overcome life-controlling habits. Good news all around.

Yet when I consider the need within the community, I realize that our church is barely making a dent. I do not see the rapid cultural transformation that was characteristic of the church in the first and second centuries. I do not see the growth Jesus himself talked of when he said, “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. Though it is the smallest of all your seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and perch in its branches.” If the kingdom of heaven really is as powerful and effective as Jesus says, then why hasn’t it transformed our communities? Why does its growth seem so piecemeal instead of exponential?

On a more personal level I see the same process in operation. We pray for the sick, and often they feel better for a while. We pray for those oppressed by Satan, and they sometimes turn from self-destructive behaviors for a while. Why don’t the sick simply recover? Why don’t the lame walk? Why don’t the blind see? Why don’t those oppressed by Satan become such victors that they begin delivering others themselves?

I am dissatisfied with what I get because it is not more. In fact, it’s barely enough.

I know all the answers. I know that miracles require faith, which is often in short supply in our mechanistically inclined culture. I know that what I desire requires spending everything. The kingdom of heaven is like a man who found buried treasure in a field. He buried it again and in his joy went and sold everything he had and bought that field. What if the treasure turns out to be a few bits of rusty metal and old buttons with a few genuine coins thrown in? What if it’s always a bit less than you hoped for? What if it’s enough but never an abundance? Does that sound like what Jesus promised?

Of course, I’m not talking about eternal life. I’m talking about God’s present blessing. Perhaps eternity should be enough for me. Perhaps I suffer from temporal myopia. Perhaps I should just repent of grumbling and get back to work.

I want more than just okay.

religion spiritual life theology

Eerie Happenings

I originally wrote this post about a year and a half ago while I was on the road. I had been staying at a hotel and had just finished watching The Mothman Prophecies, which was certainly an eerie movie. It got me thinking about eeriness in general and about my own experiences with the eerie. This is one of the posts accidentally deleted a few days ago. I thought it was good enough to re-post.

I’ve debated with myself whether to tell about an eerie experience I had several years ago. I’ve decided to do it because I don’t have much reputation to lose anyway.

Several years ago I was visiting my sister, Lani, in Arizona. She and her husband, Doug, lived in the Verde Valley near Cottonwood. The Verde River makes a thin ribbon of green through an otherwise desolate land, and their house was quite close to the river. I was on leave from the Air Force, and I had once lived in nearby Cottonwood myself where I still had a few friends. We all stayed up quite late catching up with one another. When it finally came time for bed, Lani and Doug retired to their room and I stretched out with a blanket on the couch. I fell asleep almost instantly.

I don’t know how long I slept, whether only a few minutes or several hours. I woke up but found myself unable to move. I couldn’t even swallow. I was conscious of a terrible fear and an evil presence in the room. Though my eyes were closed, and I was conscious of being in a dreamlike state, no dream I have ever had before or since was as vivid as this experience. I saw gray mongrel dogs running around the room and barking. They ran furiously, slavering with their teeth bared. One great brute leapt up on my chest and stood with its fangs only inches from my throat, growling and barking. I knew that these creatures were demons. I also knew with perfect certainty that if I could just say the name Jesus, I would awake, and they would be gone. I struggled vainly for what seemed several minutes to make my vocal cords and lips obey me. Finally, I was able to croak out the word Jesus. Despite the effort it had cost me, it sounded little more than a whisper to my own ears. Nevertheless, it was enough to wake Lani and Doug.

They both came in full of concern and wondering what had happened. I told them what I had experienced, and we spent the next several minutes praying together and casting out the demons. After a while we were once more at peace and everyone went back to sleep. I have not had any similar experience since that time. Once before, I had had the sensation of paralysis on waking, but it had not been accompanied by snarling dogs or such fear, though I did have a fear that I was dying and did wake myself by calling out to Jesus.

I have since learned that about 40% of people have had similar experiences. The condition is called sleep paralysis and occurs either while falling asleep or while waking. It is believed that paralysis is a normal and necessary part of REM sleep (that stage of sleep accompanied by rapid eye movements and vivid dreams). It keeps the dreamer from physically reacting to the dreams. Occasionally, however, the person’s conscious mind awakens without leaving the dream state or the sleep paralysis. Lucid and compelling as this explanation is, it does nothing to shake my belief that we were visited by demons that night. Why not?

To answer, let me go back to Jesus. The gospels tell many stories of Jesus healing people by casting out demons. Whether this should be understood in modern terms as dealing with psychological problems I do not know. However it might appear to us, Jesus and those who wrote about him clearly understood demons—evil spiritual beings—as directly responsible for certain maladies. There were demons that caused blindness, deafness, muteness, epileptic seizures and other illnesses. Jesus healed them by commanding the evil spirit to come out. In every case the demon obeyed (often with startling shrieks or other demonstrations), and the afflicted person was fully cured.

These stories, which surely can’t all be dismissed without seriously undermining the credibility of the writers, point to real spiritual beings that intend harm to people. These beings have no bodies and are not subject to the laws of physics as far as we know. They are apparently unable to directly affect the material world. Instead, they produce their evil effects by taking up residence inside a person or other physical being. In this manner, they are able to influence the mind of a victim and enslave him or her through deception and fear.

Fear, in fact, appears to be one of their chief weapons. Demons appear to revel in the eerie. Nearly everyone who experiences sleep paralysis reports feeling fear. Also very common is the sense of a malevolent presence. Am I saying that sleep paralysis is always a demonic visitation? Perhaps I am. I do not know. However, the idea cannot be ruled out. For spiritual beings capable only of influencing the mind, how else can they make their presence known? How can one subject an immaterial being to scientific inquiry? All we have to go on is the experiences themselves. But I have to ask: why is fear so common? why do victims often tell of being pinned down by a malevolent being? why not a sense of euphoria and wonderful lightness? why not a benevolent or childish or elated or disconsolate presence? I do not know, but I am willing to listen to stories others might tell.

One final note. I have often also experienced the felt presence of God, and never have I been afraid in his presence (at least not in the sense of some nameless dread). I have felt fear that he would reject me followed by wonder at his acceptance and love. I have felt shame and guilt and wept till I could weep no more, but I have never felt that God’s presence or any of his works were eerie. Eerie happenings appear to belong to the darkness. God is light. In him is no darkness at all.