I knew a man, above 14 years ago, who claimed that God had talked to him. He told a group of us on the graveyard shift, that he had been experiencing chronic indigestion, so he began making his coffee weaker and weaker, yet the indigestion became worse and worse. One night, he thought, “I wonder if my indigestion is caused by my smoking, and not my coffee.”
To his surprise, a voice answered him, “Yes.” He froze, and then looked around. There was no one there. It wasn’t an audible voice, but he heard it nonetheless. So he thought, “Yes?” The voice said, “Yes.” So he thought, “Should I stop?” The voice said, “Yes.” The man said, “OK.” At that point the dialog, the smoking, and the indigestion stopped. He claimed that he experienced no withdrawal, gained no weight, and that it was the Holy Spirit talking to him.
One who had been listening intently, asked, “How did you know it was God – was it an especially strong thought?” The man got a perplexed look, paused, and said, “No.”
“Then how did you know?”
“Imagine that you were going about your daily routine, and as you did, you were talking to yourself – nothing deep or philosophical, just thinking out loud – and another voice joined in; not an especially loud voice, or powerful voice. It just wasn’t your voice.” So it was with him – it wasn’t a strong thought, he just knew for certain that it wasn’t a thought that he had generated.
Many (if you gain their confidence) will tell you what validates their belief in the supernatural: having seen a ghost, an angel, a UFO, or experienced clairvoyance, or the creeps. However, since some criminals have testified that voices told them to commit gruesome acts – some claiming the voice belonged to God – it’s dangerous to assume that anyone who hears a spectral voice has heard from God.
The litmus test for such a claim is this: If the Holy Spirit inspired the Bible, and a spirit says something that contradicts the Bible, it’s not God. First John 4 says to test the spirits by whether or not they affirm that Jesus Christ came in the flesh. This voice only said one word: “Yes,” neither professing, nor denying Christ, affirming or refuting scripture.
If “a tree is known by its fruit”, what was the fruit produced by the man’s encounter? An addiction had been broken with no ill effects. He gave no credit to will power, medication or diet fads, but gave God the glory. Bible stories abound with oppressed people who, unable to defeat their enemies of their own power, were delivered by the power of God. But the Bible also predicts that the enemies of God shall be able to counterfeit the miraculous, deceiving many.
So could it be the devil that delivered the man from his addiction? When some accused Jesus of casting out devils by the power of the devil, Jesus said that if it worked that way, the devil’s kingdom could not stand. By all outward appearances, it stands pretty firm. So, by that standard of measure, the man’s story agrees with scripture, and so did his conclusion.
That’s the rule of thumb: ask, “Does it agree with scripture?” If you can’t tell, then “How is God glorified by it?” Or if it’s not God, “How is the devil advantaged by it?” Sometimes it’s difficult to tell – even when the story is in the Bible.
For example, the story of the man possessed by the demon “Legion,” so named because there were many of them (Mt 8:28-34, Mk 5:1-17, Lu 8:26-37). They begged Jesus not to cast them into the abyss, but rather, into a nearby herd of pigs. He consented. The demons entered the pigs; the pigs went berserk, charged into the Sea of Galilee and drowned – thousands of them. The pig herders told everyone in town what happened. The townspeople came out, saw for themselves, and promptly asked Jesus to leave them at once, which He did.
I came away from that story the first time wondering, “Why would Jesus grant the prayer of demons? Is he merciful toward intrinsic evil?” And “How was God glorified in terrifying the pigs, the needless waste of pork, and the destruction of the local economy?” Apart from the one happy guy who had the demons cast out of him, this is a tragic account.
From a practical standpoint, greater good dictates that its better for one guy to suffer, than for an entire community to experience tragedy. Jesus delivered some people by forgiving their sins. This implies that their guilt authorized the devil to torture them. If so, this guy deserved his lot in life. Why was the fruit of his evil unleashed on an undeserving, unsuspecting populace?
In order to appreciate the dynamics involved, you have to understand the context. Jesus and his Disciples got in a boat on the Israel side of the Sea of Galilee, and sailed across to the other side, where the people were not Jewish, but pagan. This is where the “demoniac” met Him. The locals worshipped a demon-god named Baal by sacrificing pigs to him. No families were left hungry by their drowning. The pigs were raised for ritual devil worship. The demons that possessed the man in the story tormented him at their demented whim. Baal was their king.
Enter Jesus, stage left. He crosses the sea to come to His enemy’s stronghold, strolls in, releases his captive, and tricks his minions into sacrificing the swine that were reserved for their king to Himself. This demonstrated His supremacy over all that the enemy had to offer. It took a while for it to sink in with the locals. Their knee-jerk reaction to seeing all that they held sacred being desecrated was to ask Him to leave.
But in later chapters, He returns, and the same locals flock to Him with their sick in hopes that He would heal them. What inspired their change of heart? Well, before Jesus departed, the man in whom the demons were, asked if he could come along. Jesus said no, but told him to go home and tell everyone what God had done for him. He did. And news of Jesus’ mercy and grace turned their hearts toward God.
The man, who was held in bondage by the demons, was very much like the man who was held in bondage to smoking. After Jesus released him from his captors, he felt compelled to tell those around him the story. It still has the same effect.
Here’s another puzzling story. A woman named Mary washed Jesus’ feet, and applied perfumed ointment to them. Washing feet was something servants commonly did for guests in that day. Only they didn’t commonly do it with ointment made with spices imported from India that were worth a year’s wages in the unopened bottle. She opened it for Jesus.
The others sitting around the table became angry and protested that the ointment should have been sold, and the money given to the poor. A year’s wages – let’s say $35,000: How many poor people would that feed? How about in a 3rd world country, where the average annual income is less than $1000? Now visualize all those hungry people, against a picture of an average woman pouring it on someone’s feet. Do you see how wasteful this appears to be?
So all of the people who became indignant seem justified. Yet when they did, Jesus scolded them. He said that they could give money to the poor any time, because the poor would always be around. But He would not: this woman had done something special for Him, and would be remembered for it forever. History bears both these statements out.
Nevertheless, doesn’t it still seem wasteful to you? From a practical standpoint, this story leaves you hungry. It appears in Matthew 26 and in Mark 14. But it’s not until you get to John 12, that we learn that it was Judas Iscariot who got angry initially. The money could have been given to the poor, but that wasn’t what really irked him. John tells us that Judas carried the cash for the crew, and he was given to dipping into the bag occasionally. He wanted to waste the money on things he worshipped, not see Mary (whose it was) waste it on Whom she worshipped.
Mary was also the center of controversy in another passage of scripture. Her sister’s name was Martha. According to Luke 10:38-42, Jesus visited them. While Martha was busy making everyone comfy, fixing supper, or whatever busy women do, Mary was sitting at Jesus’ feet, clinging to His every word. So Martha complained that she had been left alone to do all the work. Jesus told Martha that she worried about too many things, and that Mary was doing right.
So in the first story, the disciples criticized Mary for being wasteful. In the second, her sister criticized her for being lazy. A friend of mine, Jeff Munson, points out that all her critics were people who loved and served Jesus. They were all wrong. It’s entirely possible then that today, you may be snubbed by all of the noteworthy people who love and serve Jesus for being wasteful or lazy or whatever, yet in His eyes, you’re doing more to glorify Him than them all.
Comparing Mark 14:3 to Luke 7, 36-50, it appears that Mary had a reputation as a sinner. Perhaps that’s why the righteous people around her found it so easy to look down upon her. So, if she had been a sinner, which can be defined as one who serves the devil rather than God (for everyone serves one or the other whether they know it or not), then it’s safe to assume that her ointment was earned by serving the devil. Put that one on the back burner.
Now suppose you had a year’s wages at your disposal; during idle times (aka devil’s workshop), where the mind churns over options, temptation sets in. The devil tempts different people different ways, but whatever indulgence he waves before them is an attempt to manipulate them to serve his purposes. This constitutes erecting an idol in their heart (false god), so that whatever sacrifice they have to make to acquire it constitutes idol worship, which is an offense to God. There’s no reason to suspect that he hadn’t been working on Mary like that.
Enter Jesus, stage left. Whatever Jesus said to Mary that caused her to repent and worship Him; consider it from the devil’s perspective: Bring that business about Mary’s wealth being the wage for serving the devil off the back burner. He had been working on her, paying her, using her to serve his purposes. When he tempted her with how to spend the money, he had plans to further serve his purposes. He had a lot of time and effort invested in this girl. Jesus ruined it all. Mary was so grateful that the burden of sin had been lifted from her shoulders that her natural response was to take the most valuable possession she had, and sacrifice it to Jesus in an effusive demonstration of worship. It glorified Him with action, rather than lip service.
Once again, Jesus walked onto the devil’s turf, rescued his captives, and took his possessions. The evidence that this perturbed the devil, is that he had another servant at the table – Judas Iscariot. Judas was influenced by the devil’s spirit. The indignation Judas displayed at the scene was an expression of the indignation his master, the devil, felt.
The Bible only gives a few glimpses of the activity that surrounds us in the spirit realm, but it’s enough to help us understand how it operates. One of the most spectacular is found in 2 Kings, Chapter 6. God’s man, Elisha, and his servant got up one morning to find their city surrounded by enemy horses and chariots. As the servant cried out in dismay, Elisha told him, “Relax, we’ve got them outnumbered.” God opened the young man’s eyes to see that the mountain was filled with horses and chariots of fire – angels sent from God to protect them, which they did.
Another glimpse is found in the opening chapters of the book of Job (pronounced rhyming with robe). The angels did pass-and-review before the throne of God. They’re referred to as the “sons of God,” but that means they are spirit beings, as opposed to the “sons of men.” The devil (a fallen angel) stood among them. God asked the devil what he’d been up to lately, and the devil said he’d been roaming around the earth. God asked him if he’d checked out His servant Job, who was blameless: “There is none like him in the earth, a perfect and upright man.”
The devil complained that Job was only so wonderful because God was so good to him. But if God would let the devil mess with him, Job would curse God to His face. God could have argued with him, but He didn’t. Instead, He basically said, “Prove it – just don’t touch him.” So the devil killed all of Job’s kids, and destroyed all of his stuff. Previously Job had been rich.
But Job didn’t curse God. God sort of gloated about it the next time He talked to the devil. So the devil complained because he wasn’t allowed to touch Job. Had he been, he claimed, Job would have cursed God to His face. God basically said, “Prove it – just don’t kill him.” So the devil struck Job with a horrible disease, covering his body with painful boils. To add to Job’s misery, all of his friends – the ones who didn’t abandon him – assumed that his misery was brought about because of his sins. So rather than comfort him, they lectured him on his sinful ways.
I know it sounds horrendous, and makes God seem merciless, but He’s not. In the event that you’re unfamiliar with the story, I don’t want to give away the ending. Suffice to say, that it has a happy ending. It’s still disturbing, and like the other stories mentioned, the happiness isn’t as apparent on the surface as it is in depth. I’ve only included what serves the purpose of this treatise. Consider this: after the first trial, God was bragging on Job’s performance. Sure, it was an unimaginable trial, but trials are temporary. Can you imagine the glory in having God brag about how well you performed under pressure, and have it recorded for eternity? Top that.
But the purpose of Job’s story being included in this thesis is to demonstrate the dialog that transpires between God and His adversary, regarding the affairs of individual people. Because now I’m going to launch into some sheer conjecture, based on what we’ve seen so far.
One day, the devil was sitting on his throne, as the sons of men passed by, and God stood among them – Jesus. The devil asked Him what He’d been up to lately, and He said that He’d been roaming around the earth. The devil said, “Have you checked-out my servant who lives across the Sea of Galilee from your hometown? There’s none like him on earth – pure evil.” Jesus said, “He’s only so evil because you’ve filled him with demons, and control his actions. But if you let me mess with him, he’ll turn into a regular ol’ sweetie-pie.”
“No way,” the devil responded, “Don’t mess with my stuff, Man.”
“Way,” Jesus replied, “It’s my stuff.”
“He’s mine,” the devil protested, holding up a scroll, “A man is servant to whom he obeys, and he is obedient to me. Look at this list of sins he’s committed!”
“Here, let me fix that,” Jesus said, “Sins forgiven.” And the scroll went blank.
“No fair! You have no right to meddle in my affairs!”
“I have every right: I created you. I created him. I created Job. Remember when you wanted to mess with Job? I let you. I even let you touch him. Turnabout is fair play. My turn.”
With that, Jesus crossed the Sea of Galilee, tricked the demons, touched the man’s heart, and the rest is history. Repeat the scene. Jesus stands before the devil and lets him know that He’s going to touch Mary. He’s going to touch a man on the graveyard shift who’s addicted to smoking. The dialog in the story of Job is like a snapshot of what goes on in the spirit realm. When Jesus interacts in peoples’ lives, it’s like a photo negative of the devil interacting in Job’s life. There’s nothing the devil can do to stand in His way. And when all is said and done, they’ll curse the devil to his face.
Maybe Jesus will touch you. Maybe He has.
When the stories in the Bible don’t seem to make sense from a practical standpoint, maybe it’s because that’s the wrong standpoint. His ways make sense from a spiritual standpoint. God said in Isaiah 55:
“8 For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the LORD.
9 For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts higher than your thoughts.”
“Relax, we’ve got them outnumbered.”