Wednesday, June 24, 2015

When Violence becomes a Gift of the Spirit

We love to talk about the gentleness of God in the Western world. It is a check not just to our power and influence in the world, but to our proclivity towards war. God’s Spirit is not always gentile, however, especially when it comes to dealing with oppressive world powers.

At church we are preaching through through the book of Samuel. Here we find one of my most cherished statements about what the Spirit does in our world. In chapter 10:6-9 we read that the Spirit changes Saul’s heart, and that this is synonymous with being transformed into ‘another’ person and prophesying.

But I must leave my rose colored post-modern glasses behind and begin to grapple with what this looks like in the pages before it and after it. In Samuel, the major function of the Spirit is to empower the warrior to win battles for the oppressed people of God. Saul begins to win against the Philistines. And then the Spirit leaves Saul and loses ensue. But when the Spirit ‘rushes’ (itself a violent description in Hebrew) upon David, David can overcome Philistine champions.

Let’s focus on the Spirit leaving/rejecting Saul for a moment. Before we read into this lots of theology (much more than intended) about going to heaven, let’s admit that in context this is first and foremost a statement about 1) who is the rightful king, and 2) who has the ability to win in battle. For the ancient reader these two things were essentially the same thing since the primary war chief had first claim to kingship.

In fact, this dynamic of the Spirit leaving and returning is not even new for Samuel. Within Samson’s own life (probably a contemporary of the prophet Samuel) the Spirit dwelt, left, and returned. How does this manifest itself? Strength to fight and win or the lack there of. This is consistent even with the first mention of the Spirit in Genesis 1:2. While many translate the Hebrew verb as, “hovering” or even “fluttering” the scene is written in the language of ancient war poetry, where God conquers chaos. Here the Spirit acts as a strong wind which quells the rage of the waves and subdues them in preparation for creation. It is no accident that Jesus replicated this miracle for his disciples.

What does this say for us today? One may say that since the Spirit is now freely poured out on all of God’s people that we are all kings and queens of God upon the earth. Or one may say that we should engage in violent vigilante justice. These two interpretations, one quite Narnian, and one quite Jihadist, are extreme and the New Testament has a specific answer to this question already. There is a legitimate holy war in modern times, but not against other nations or religions or even people themselves. Demons and disease and demigod rulers are the enemy of humanity (Eph 6:12).

In this Jesus is our example. After his water baptism and being full of the Holy Spirit, he encounters Satan on his home turf, the dry wilderness. Jesus resists temptations and then launches out in a campaign against the work of demons in the people who come to hear him preach. Eyes begin to see, cripples walk, the dead live again. This is true holy war, one that has not ended, even today.

I would suggest that real Christianity, Spirit filled Christianity, has both the power to resist temptation to sin and undo oppression of every kind. This is not a demand for perfection or performances. It is an argument that Spirit filled Christianity should be charismatic at some fundamental level. While the miraculous should never become a prerequisite for professional ministry, neither is it dispensable as a superfluous bonus. And I question whether those who actively teach a cessationist message are merely suffering a severe case of Saul’s envy of David.

Really, we need to get over ourselves, and have the courage of David in regards to the miraculous. No one has to call down healing upon another unless they are so moved by the Spirit to pronounce such an invasive form of restoration. But all of us can at least can verbally admit to others that God is real and might today heal anyone among us who asks.

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