Friday, July 22, 2005

Not Your Run-of-the-Mill Evening

Last night, a woman phoned Bryn, the elder at Derwent Free Church, about a problem she had. She was worried because she and her family had been experiencing some strange happenings in her house - seeing figures, faces, lights, feeling things on their skin. These had mostly happened to the teenage children. She said she had taken a video on her phone of one of the phenomena. Could he come round and help? Bryn phoned me and we went together.

What would you do in a situation like that?

When we arrived there was nothing odd or spooky about the situation. A single parent family, a nice working mum, well ordered home.

There was a lot of superstition, though. Part of the reason for phoning a church leader was I think she was hoping we could perform some kind of blessing that would give protection. It turned out that some years before a similar thing had happened and that a vicar or priest had come with holy water, he had blessed the house and copies of the New Testament. There were other things which she thought might have been helpful in the past: a necklace with a cross, a video tape of the 'blessing' of one of the children after birth, where the vicar says, " the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit".

After a while she showed me the phone-video. To my eye it looked unconvincing, though the woman was sure it was clear evidence of some supernatural event. But we did not dismiss her testimony, since she was there at the time.

Our response? We said that we did not believe that there was protective power in things or mere forms of words. But we said that there was one who had all power, and that he asked his people to pray for what they needed. We had no power other than this. All we could offer to do was pray for them. So we did there and then, for the situation, and that God would give them grace to trust in Christ.

Some brief reflections. When Jesus was in the world, there was an upsurge in demonic activity. The redemptive-historical significance of the coming of Jesus was not lost on the devil. The beginning of Jesus' ministry was marked by an onslaught on the Son of God. See, for example, the temptation of Jesus in Luke 4 straight after his baptism in the Holy Spirit. The ministry of Jesus is marked by confrontation with demons and the evil one.

We must remember that victory has been won on the cross (John 12:31). This does not mean that there is no demonic activity. Acts records several incidents. But there is much less than in the gospels. I expect therefore that in the modern day there is much less to be expected. We must not be quick to accept such claims, though we should not doubt strange experiences. The experiences may be real, though the explanation may not be valid.

This brings me to the next thing. For all the apparent rationalism and modernity of the day, this case adds to my belief that there is a great deal of superstition around. People do have a sense of powers greater than themselves and this is to be expected. It is part of the way we are 'wired' to have a sense of the presence of God from creation and conscience (Rom 1:19,20; 2:14,15). The truth may be suppressed, even repressed (Rom 1:18) but people cannot deny the sense of 'something out there'. Our corrupt nature distorts what we may perceive it to be, and it is not helped by uncritical consumption of fantasy TV, movies and games. Nor is it helped by quack religion that believes that things can be blessed and provide protection from spirits. There is plenty to feed the mind and imagination to create superstition.

The last reflection is a practical one. It did not go unnoticed that most of the happenings occurred at around the same time: 11pm to midnight. Also, this was a house where the teenage children have TV in their rooms and are allowed to watch it as late as they like. As the father of a 12-year old, I know how grouchy and irrational such charges can become if allowed to stay up as late as they want and get tired. Left to herself, my daughter would stay up too if there was something worth watching. She would be willing to wobble along the line between consciousness and unconsciousness in order to keep watching. What tricks does the mind play when one is in that state?

I was reminded that it is hard for a lone mum to have the will to guide teenagers, especially in a society that places a higher value on individual freedom over true parenting. It reminds me how blessed Christians are to live together in unity and to be a source of love, care and encouragement in all things, including parenting. Of course, the church doesn't get it all right, doesn't always know what the answers are. But with Christ in our midst, there is no better place to be.

I hope our contact with this woman conveyed something of that.

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