Divine Empowerment to do Evil


BACKGROUND STORY

Today I have reached my 11th anniversary on this webpage. A few months ago I figured out that if I took all my my writing, removed the images from it, and then published it as a standard hard-cover book, it would be over 2000 pages long. That is a lot of writing. Today, I am breaking a record that I have had for years. I have had more views of my website in 2021 (as of October 25th) than I have had in any other year. That is not hugely impressive. I don’t get huge numbers and that is fine. But I have now passed 2016 as my formerly biggest year as well as 2013.

Those two years, my relatively high numbers came from people doing bad things. In 2016 there was a Russian ponzi scheme (apparently) that had the initials “MMM,” like my site. The 2013 stats was even a bit more disturbing. In 2012 a self-styled prophet declared all sorts of bad things happening in the Philippines. One of those predictions seemed to come true— a typhoon came through the Visaya region of the Philippines and did great damage. A moderate earthquake in Bohol seemed to reinforce his predictive skills.

Many Filipino Christians began rallying to the support of this (again, so-called) prophet of God. They began looking into his prophecies for more guidance as to the future, despite this man’s poor scorecard in other parts of the world. I wrote a couple of posts where I took his predictions and tried to come up with an overall score for him in the Philippines. I could not do a straight-up Yes or No on many of the prophecies because of their overall vagueness., The Philippines is among the most prone to natural disasters in the world, so almost any natural disaster (earthquake, typhoon, volcanic eruption and such) will come true somewhere in the Philippines. So I gave weighting to different predictions based on their level of fulfillment as well as their specificity. I came up with a score of 35%. Truthfully, I was very generous in that number.

I found it strange that many Filipino Christians wanted this man’s predictions to be true. He claimed this was God’s judgment for Filipino Christians not being on fire enough and judgmental enough. I have known some people talk of the judgments noted in Revelation with a certain glee, so I suppose it is not that strange— especially for those who embrace a war-metaphor understanding of the the Christian faith.

So here is what happened. I kept hearing about there being a flesh-eating bacteria in Pangasinan. I live less than 2 hours from Pangasinan and heard no such warnings, so I assumed it was over-enthusiastic followers of this (still so-called) prophet. That is because that man had made two predictions that were quite specific. One was a flesh-eating bacteria that would begin in Pangasinan and spread around the world. The other was a skin disease in Cebu that would cause skin to turn black, and it would spread around the world. This second prediction was not promulgated much, perhaps because it could be seen as having racist overtones (Filipinos have more than a bit of a post-colonial preference for lighter skin tones). The Pangasinan plague was pumped up on line. Then one day, a major news source in the Philippines put up a report about a flesh-eating bacteria spreading in Pangasinan. This proved not to be true. Perhaps an overzealous reporter took these rumors of the plague shared online by followers of the “prophet.” In a matter of minutes after that news piece came out, my little blog post was inundated by people trying to find out what was going on.

REFLECTION #1: Can a true prophet be a bad prophet?

My first thought on this story is the classic test of a prophet. A prophet who says something that is not consonant with Scripture or not consonant with truth is a false prophet. I rather wish that more American Christians would embrace this simple truth when it comes to so-called prophets predicting the results of the 2020 election incorrectly.

But then I got thinking— That may be the test of a false prophet, but is it an adequate test of a good prophet. Note, I am separating “true prophet” from “good prophet.” The Bible has false prophets, like Hananiah, who foretold based on what tickled the ears of his patron. However, the Bible does appear to have many true prophets who were flawed, and at least one who was downright bad. Balaam appears to have been a true prophet. Some may disagree with this, but our only interaction with him as an oracle showed him accurately giving God’s revelation to others. However, the Bible looks at him as being bad— opposing God’s work.

I have heard preachers dance around this issue in a number of ways, but I believe there is support elsewhere for recognizing Balaam as a true prophet who was not on God’s side.

REFLECTION #2: Can a true miracle worker be not on God’s side?

We, of course, see fakes in the Bible, and we see those who at least might be doing the miraculous works through demonic empowerment. The miracle workers who opposed Moses and Yahweh may be frauds or may be using demonic empowerment. Ultimately it does not matter. But if a miracle worker does do something by God’s empowerment, does it necessarily mean they are on God’s side? We know, of course, the Scripture (Matthew 7:21-23)where Jesus talks of those who have done miraculous things in God’s name (prophesying, exorcising, and doing mighty deeds) but end their life with the very clear statement, “I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.” This seems to suggest that a person who is not a follower of Christ may be able to successfully take on these roles (prophet and exorcist at least) successfully. However, there is wiggle room as far as whether these roles were divinely empowered. An example of this may be Judas Iscariot who appears to have been able to do divine healing and teaching Christ’s message, while still being identified as the “Son of Perdition.”

This suggests that some people may not be on God’s side, and yet still do miraculous works (presumably empowered by God).

REFLECTION #3: Can a good and true follower of God do something evil with divine empowerment?

An interesting tiny story is found in Luke 9:53-55. In it, Jesus and His disciples were rejected and sent packing from a Samaritan village. James and John asked if Jesus would want them to call down fire from Heaven to consume the village. Jesus rebuked them. In essence, James and John asked Jesus permission to use God’s power to destroy a village. Jesus said NO. But are there other times where a sincere follower of God “lost it” and reacted with wrath— where God did not disempower them? I have written on Elisha and the bears before. While I have heard valiant attempts to put this story in a better light, I feel the best light is that Elisha was young (newly taking on the mantle of Elijah at least) and impulsive and reacted with malevolence to some detractors. The fact that God did not stop him does not necessarily mean that what he did was good. Peter with Ananias and Sapphira could be another example. While, again, some have tried to put it in a positive light, Luke appears to respond negatively to it in noting that the church was filled with fear after this event. Moses lashed out in anger on a number of occasions. On one occasion God carried out a necessary miracle due to compassion for the people even though Moses disobeyed God. It is hard to be dogmatic whether every miraculous thing that Moses did, was God approved.

But if God would not stop someone from doing wrong by disempowering them, why would this be? I can think of at least a couple of reasons. First, it can help give maturity to the servant of God. “Be careful what you wish for” may be useful guidance for children, but it is important for us as well. I like to think that Elisha and Peter (two volatile men) were better stewards of their gifts afterwards. Second, we need maturity as well. Jesus did not simply say, “I am doing miracles so you must accept everything I say and do.” While it was clear that one of the reasons He did it was as a sign, it was clear that He actively tied His ministry to the Hebrew Scriptures, as consistent with them, in character with the God revealed in Scripture, and as fulfillment of them. Miraculous power is simply not enough.

REFLECTION #4. So what about us?

I am not a miracle worker. I don’t foretell the future. In fact I am pretty sceptical of people who do. I doubt their power and I doubt their motives. However, we are all given power. God gives us spiritual gifts and talents. He gives us passions and interests. He gives us experiences and spheres of influence. God also gives us open access to the throne of God through prayer. These are divine empowerments. Are we able to use these empowerments for evil? Certainly. People argue about why God would place “The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil” inside the Garden of Eden. The garden (paradise) was a hedged-in place. That is, it was a protected place. Yet, the tree was placed, prohibitions and all, inside the protected zone. Adam and Even were empowered by God to do evil. We can ask why this is, but we would also need to ask why God has given us empowerment that can be used for evil? Why doesn’t God stop us?

For me, as interesting a question that is, I rather take a different response…

“KNOWING THAT IT IS GOD’S WILL TO EMPOWER ME TO DO WHAT IS GOOD, WITHOUT CONSTRAINING ME, NECESSARILY, FROM DOING WHAT IS BAD, I SHOULD FOCUS MORE ON SEEKING GOD’S CHARACTER, HEART, AND WISDOM, RATHER THAN HIS EMPOWERMENT.”

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