My postmodern brain wasn’t ready for all the weirdness I encountered when I began reading the Bible six years ago. Speaking serpents? Burning bushes? Parting seas? Sorcerers? Water-walking? Resurrection? All these things and more widened my skeptical eyes. I didn’t have categories of thinking into which the supernatural events described in the Scriptures could fit. I grew up believing that what could be visibly observed or proven was the measure of what was real and true. I thought there was a natural order that could not, under any circumstances, be interrupted or manipulated. I viewed science as the ultimate authority concerning reality. But God was straight up obliterating my secular worldview with his Book of weird things. The Bible painted a picture of reality that was so different from the one I had always known, and I struggled to embrace it. I questioned. I researched. I googled—a lot! But even as my mind ran wild with questions and hesitations about all the weird-to-me stuff in the Bible, something inside of me quietly yet powerfully testified to its truthfulness. I doubted—but I also believed.
My skepticism simmered down over the next couple of years. As I grew in my understanding of God, I grew more comfortable with the idea of a supernatural world. If I believed in an all-powerful God who created and sustains the material world (and I did), why would I consider it far fetched that he could interrupt and manipulate that material world? If I believed God is the one who originates, sustains, and takes away life (and I did), why would I consider it unrealistic that he could raise someone from the dead? If the starting point of my worldview was the existence of an omnipotent God who created all things and is in control of all things (and it was), believing he sometimes acts supernaturally actually seems logical, not crazy.
Okay, so that issue was settled. As the Creator, God can do whatever he pleases with the things he creates. He is not bound by the rules of the natural order he established. If he wants to split a sea open or raise someone from the dead, that’s his prerogative. Science is fantastic and can teach us the ordinary nature and processes of the world, but if God wants to do something extraordinary, he can—either directly (himself) or indirectly (through someone he chooses). Science is subservient to the supernatural God.
But just when I thought my Bible-weirdness issues were a thing of the past, those stupid Egyptian magicians pop up on my radar. Last week I was reading Exodus in preparation for a group Bible study I am helping out with. God performs all sorts of incredible, supernatural feats in this book—feats that no longer stir up skepticism in my heart, but worship. However, I was reminded in chapters seven and eight about the Egyptian magicians who transformed staffs into serpents, turned water into blood, and summoned a multitude of frogs—the same signs Moses did by the power of God. Yet these men acted supernaturally by a power that was not from God. Sure, there was a limit to these guys’ abilities. When it came time to summon the gnats, they couldn’t perform. Whatever power source they were drawing from was inferior to the source from which Moses drew. But nevertheless, they really turned staffs into snakes. They really turned water into blood. They really summoned a multitude of frogs.
I’m okay with a world in which God acts supernaturally—but a world in which evil created beings act supernaturally? I don’t know about all that. These magicians were obviously drawing from some kind of demonic spiritual power to perform their “dark arts.” I know the Bible teaches demons are real, but I struggle to believe they can possess the kind of power that is demonstrated in the book of Exodus, or even in the book of Job, when Satan, by his own power, sends a tornado to kill Job’s family and then afflicts Job with diseases. I can understand God granting good angels some level of his power, but an evil entity possessing dark power—and then sharing that power with evil men—is a hard pill for me to swallow. It just sounds so unrealistic to me.
In moments like these, though, I have to step back and ask myself: What do I trust most to shape and inform my perspective of reality? Should I lean on what Matt Moore thinks is reasonable, based on his personal experiences to-date? I think this would be unwise. I once heard a pastor (can’t remember who) say it’s mighty arrogant to assume that in our very short twenty or thirty or seventy or eighty years of very limited experience in this world, we have an exhaustive knowledge of all reality. Our individual lives are just a blip on the historical radar. We are simply too inexperienced to let our personal experience be the primary measure of what we believe is or isn’t possible. And neither can I let the opinions of other mere blips on the radar inform me about what is or isn’t real. The majority of Western intellectuals don’t believe in supernatural reality or the existence of invisible spiritual beings, but there are non-Western cultures in which the majority of people do believe in supernatural reality and in the existence of invisible spiritual beings. Who’s to say we’re right and they’re not? Throughout history, different cultures have believed different things. I just happen to have grown up in a culture that doesn’t put any stock in unseen reality. Maybe if I had grown up in an African village uninfluenced by contemporary Western thought, all of this ‘weird stuff’ wouldn’t be so weird.
At the end of the day, I can’t rely on myself or any human society to tell me what true reality looks like. Man’s perspective is just too limited. I can only rely on the God who has a full and accurate perspective of the reality he created. If I believe the written Scriptures to be divine revelation from that God (and I do), I must let the written Scriptures shape the way I view the world. I must let the Bible define what is and isn’t real. I must let the Bible tell me what is and isn’t possible. And if the Bible says mere men can access power from demons in the spiritual realm to perform supernatural wonders, then they can—even if the concept, at first, seems a little loony to my postmodern brain.