The Supreme Parable

Quote of Lesslie Newbigin.  “The Open Secret,” chapter 4:

The supreme parable, the supreme deed by2009-01-019-newbigin which the reign of God is both revealed and hidden, is the cross. When Israel rejected Jesus’ call to repent and believe the good news of the reign of God, there were two roads which (humanly speaking) he might have taken. One would have been to withdraw with his disciples to the desert and there, like the contemporary communities of which we know from the Qumran documents, pray and wait for God’s action to establish his reign. The other would have been to take the way of the contemporary “freedom fighters” and seek to establish the messianic order by force. Jesus did neither. He led his disciples right into the Holy City at the season dedicated to the memory of national liberation. He chose a mount, however, that suggested a humble royalty, a kingly meekness. He challenged the leaders of the nation at the very center of their power, and he accepted in his self the full onslaught of the powers that refuse the reign of God. Here is the supreme parable: the reign of God hidden and manifest in the dying of a condemned and excommunicated man; the fullness of God’s blessing bestowed in the accursed death of the cross. 

I believe this parable applies to Christians today as well.

1.  Some love the HAWK form of Christianity. Triumphalistic, “Onward Christian soldiers, marching as to war.” Spiritual warfare and Power Encounter as primary tools of ministry. The zealots/sicarii of the 1st century are alive and well, in words certainly… and occasionally in deeds. Some appreciate real weapons of war. Others may not use weapons but maintain the attitude of war.

2.  Some choose the DOVE approach of Christianity. For me, this is the radical separatism of some. The focus is on purity and perfection. The “Benedicting Option.” The Essenes of the 1st century are also alive and well with groups today that fear the surrounding culture and pull back to a defensive position.

Both of these are “anti-culture.”One could add two more groups… groups that are perhaps a bit too “pro-culture.”

3. One might suggest that the Herodians of the 1st century are alive and well. Although we don’t know much about them, we may assume that they were cultural accommodationists…letting politicians and political movements greatly influence their own form of faith.

4. Some might argue the Sadducees as being a bit similar in practice… pragmatists first, people of faith second.

Generally, I think most Christians in the countries I have spent time in are accommodationists and pragmatists… although Hawk and Doves have their place (especially in the US).

Jesus should be a challenge to all four groups. Challenging culture, but not anti-cultural. Subversive but non-violent. Pure but culturally interacting.

Later in the same chapter of the Open Secret:

‘In what way has Jesus brought the reign of God near?’ Negatively I have said it has not been done by the introduction into history of a power which is manifest to the natural perception of men and women and which will therefore progressively overcome and eliminate the powers which oppose it. Positively I have said that the coming of Jesus has introduced into history an event in which the reign of God is made known under the form of weakness and foolishness to those to whom God has chosen to make it known, and that it is made known to them so it may be proclaimed to all.

Christian Missions and Ministry would do well to follow Jesus not these other popular models.



Giving the Devil his due… sort of.

A couple of things have come up here that bring up issues regarding demon possession. One was some discussions on-line that point out that a large percentage of Evangelicals in US do not believe in “mental illnesses” but believe that such phenomena are demon possession or demon oppression or such. The other was a training at seminary here about the relation of psychology and theology, and demon possession came up as an issue.

I suppose I should care about the issue, being involved in a counseling center. I should care … both as a question of reality, and a question of perception. After all, I live in the Philippines where paganism, as well as folk Catholicism, and American-made Christo-paganism, are pretty big.

Being honest here, howeve, I don’t really care. Maybe I should. A few indidents soured me to the topic. I read a Christian book on demonism when I was in college decades ago only to learn later that the writer was a fraud. Then I read a book by the most popular Protestant exorcist (at the time at least) in America. His poor scholarship really bothered me. Later, I was forced to attend a “deliverance service” (I was an employee at the place). People were barking like dogs, twitching, and screaming and such. It seemed strange to me that people connected the weirdness with God and worship as revealed in the New Testament. Studying theology in seminary, it became pretty obvious that much of the commonly revered beliefs in the area of demonology are based on tradition and theories that have gained credibility by verbal repetition, not by sound exegesis. A few months ago, I was asked here if I wanted to attend an exorcism. Truthfully, I have no more interest in that than I would have in attending an interpretive dance workshop. So my comments here are based more on analysis than experience.

But I do have some concerns or issues even in my ignorant state.

1. Symptomology.  A concern I have with the “diagnosis” of demon possession is that it seems to base symptoms on Biblical descriptions from 2000 years ago. Why is that a problem? Because the two defining features of demon possession (if it is a literal, rather than metaphoric condition) is: (a) the “disease” is a sentient being, and (b) it is a “disease” with the possibility of having an individualized agenda.

Why does this matter? Because if demon possession is a literal condition of a non-corporeal sentient being with an agenda inhabiting or oppressing an individual… there is no reason to assume symptoms would be consistent. In fact, one would have to assume that symptoms can and do vary (in fact there is considerable variation even in the New Testament). Today, in first world countries, the manic state sometimes described as demon possession as seen in the New Testament would be of no use. A wild person would simply be packed away in a mental institution and kept drugged passive (“doesn’t matter who is sitting in the driver’s seat when you remove the spark plugs”). Any purpose of the demon beyond residency would be wasted. Here in the Philippines where the manic often still share the streets with the rest of us, it is possible that such classic possession might be witnessed because it could have some affect in the culture. In first world nations… one might see a “Columbine”-type incident as closer to what one could suspect as being a more effective demonic activity, and so a more likely symptomology.

2. Externalization. A problem I have with those who are quick to identify demon possession (or more commonly oppression) is that it often comes off as an excuse… and opportunity NOT to grow and learn. Generally in counseling situations it is useful to determine what things one has responsibility over and what things one does not. With demon oppression, one is not really responsible for one’s feelings or actions, but one is not even responsible to confront an offending party (beyond paying an “expert” to confront in one’s place). My fear is such externalization perpetuates a sickly spiral. I have seen those interviewed on tv who keep going back to be “freed” again and again from demons. I feel like they have grabbed hold of a diagnosis that allows them not to change (because they have no responsibility in the matter) and are receiving a treatment based on a probable misdiagnosis. I have also known people who seem to always be “hit up” by demons. One I know seems to have regular problems with the “demon of despair” or the “demon of procrastination.” Not only is this Frank Perretti-ish view of the world not well-founded Biblically, but (again) it seemed to be a way for him not to deal with some easily identified issues in his life.

3. Mental Illness Diagnosis. Some Evangelical Christians like to make the argument that there is no such thing as mental illnesses. Rather they are issues of sin (in some cases… it certainly could be, or at least triggered by personal sins, being sinned against, or living in a generally sin-damaged world) or of demons (who knows?). The first problem is that mental illness do absolutely exist– they actually have to. Why? Because mental illness are not things of substance but are simply labels of loci of symptoms. They exist as a definition, by definition. In this sense, you can “create” a mental illness as well. Simply take a collection of symptoms and give it a name.

The question is not whether mental illnesses exist. The question is whether they are useful. The usefulness points in two directions… causation and treatment. If a mental illness has a cause, it can be prevented, or at least minimized. If it has a treatment, it can be cured or at least managed. The question is not whether a mental illness exists but whether it is useful. If it does not point to a reliable causation or treatment, it is not a useful label. To simply gainsay a mental illness label without reviewing its effectivity in determining causation or treatment is… well, it’s pretty lazy and potentially damaging.

The same is true on the religious side. Jobs friends sought to label Job’s condition (boils and other crises) as having sin as its causation. Others in the New Testament sought to label a blind man’s condition as from personal sin or that of his parents. Both misdiagnosed. And in misdiagnosing they had the additional failing of providing a flawed treatment plan. The same concerns exist in demon possession. If it is misdiagnosed, there would be an error in causation (thus potentially leading to recurrences) and error in treatment (leading to perpetuation or even exacerbation of the problem).

<Of course, there is a subtle twist to this. If demon possession is caused by a sentient being with an agenda, it is possible it could mimic the symptoms of a recognized mental illness with a different causation and treatment. That could be a challenge. However, in pastoral care, we combine psychological care and historical pastoral treatments, with prayer and religious symbols and rites. In the end, if the problem is treated and goes away, it may not matter its causation.>

4. Ambivalence: I see a lot of what I might call… ambivalence… regarding the demons in the Bible. Take for example the relationship between demons and idols. In the Bible, there are references that demons are associated with idols. Deuteronomy 32:16-17, Psalm 106:35-38, and I Corinthians 10:20 are the most direct (although the hebrew term for demon, sedim, in Deuteronomy and Psalms may not have much to do with our present image of demon). But the majority of Biblical texts point to idols as being nothing more than human construct… having no power whatsoever. Jeremiah 10, Isaiah 40, and Habakkuk 2:18-19 are among many to focus on the powerlessness of idols, rather than some connection to demonic powers. Paul’s theological construction on meat sacrificed to idols starts from the premise that there is no power associated with idols… except the power people give them to affect their own minds and consciences.

So how does one reconcile demons and powerless idols? Perhaps the answer is that demons are powerless. Or perhaps the connection to idols is a rhetorical device rather than a statement of reality. This sort of thing is found elsewhere in the Bible such as in Isaiah 46:1-2 where the Babylonian gods Bel and Nebo are looking down from the heavens unable to protect their own idols from harm. The rhetorical device contrasts useless, powerless gods (and demons?) of pagan idolatry with the one true God, Yahweh. Or perhaps something else.

There is also a bit of ambivalence between illness and demons. Some problems in the Bible are clearly identified as demonic (such as the demoniac of the Gadarenes). Some seem to clearly have nothing to do with demons (the injured man in the parable of the Good Samaritan, or at least 9 of 10 Egyptian plagues). Some illness are not identified as to their basic cause (the woman with years of bleeding, Lazarus’ illness). Healing in the Bible varies wildly as well, from public health and quarantine practices to medical first aid, to a wide variety of different miraculous practices. One is left with the realization that IF all illnesses are demonic in origin, there there is simply no consistency of treatment for demonic oppression. One can use medicine, public policy, or miraculous activities to get rid of demons.

I am reminded of the story of Capo de Vaca (“Cow Head”), a man who was supposed to have been stranded with some shipmates in precolonial Florida. They travelled across what is now the southern United States to get back to “civilization.” To survive they were forced (“do it or die”) to act as exorcist healers by the native peoples. Perhaps their strange appearance and language made them seem good candidates for this role. Capo de Vaca noted with surprise how effective they were. These were not necessarily pious men. They were sailors and as a former sailor myself, I can vouch for their probable impiety. One, in fact, was a Muslim conscript. They used the religious symbols and prayers they knew. Many were healed this way. Was this God empowering them? Was this demonstration of the power of the faith of the recipients? I don’t know… ambiguity again. Clearly it was not the faith or piety or methodology that gave them success.

5. Charlatans. Let’s be fairly obvious right now. Much alternative medicines have aspects that are beneficial. The problem is that one does not always know which ones are useful, on what occasions they are useful, and who is trustworthy in carrying out the diagnosis and treatment. Since exorcism, especially in Protestantism, is a rather self-appointed role… it lends towards charlatanism. So even if there are legitimate exorcists and legitimate uses of exorcisms… the question is whether one could wade through the cesspool of frauds, and the less unpleasant, but still dangerous, kind-hearted but self-deluded practitioners.

Conclusion: So what do I suggest (in my own way based on limited experience)? I would suggest the recognition that God, others, and the internal assets of the client are always potential aids in dealing with mental problems. As such, presuming a treatment that takes one or more out of the picture is unhealthy. If the physiological and psychoemotional symptoms suggest a diagnosis with a treatment regimen… it is most often wise to test the process. However, that should not be done in exclusion to the person’s faith, effectively including religious rituals and symbols in the life of the client, and the role of God as healer.

What to do with Idols

I come from an area where idols (as a physical representation of a god, or a material focus of worship) are rare at best, but we find them more here in the Philippines in different forms. As Christians, what do we do with them?

Some suggest they should be destroyed, noting I Corinthians 10:20 (and Deuteronomy 32:16-17, and more) that at least implies that there are demons associated with physical idols. However, there are a lot of verses that emphasize that physical idols have no power at all (outside of the faith placed in them). Perhaps the truth is that any act that rejects God’s supremacy and worthiness for worship is demonic… rather than that idols themselves are demonic.

Some retain them as cultural works of art. If idols have no power of themselves, then they are simply the physical form of a symbol… and symbols have no intrinsic meaning, only what meaning is given to them. When the symbol of the material idol is divested of its religious meaning, it can be reinterpreted with its cultural meaning. I will leave that for others to decide… however in general if Christians reject everything that has ever had a historical link with paganism or other false religions, there would be little left (even within Christianity) that could be acceptable.

Even if one believes there are demons associated with material idols, that does not mean they are forever tainted any more than a person oppressed by demons is irredeemable.

BUT LET’S TAKE A BIGGER VIEW OF IDOLS, understanding that any activity, concept, or object that takes the place of God is, functionally, an idol… or functionally our god. Christopher J.H. Wright speaks of four.

1.  That which inspires awe.  The sun, moon, and stars, are common objects of idolization… but not alone. Aspects of the cycle of seasons or fertility have also become objects of worship. Or perhaps “science” or “beauty.”

2.  That which entices. We are enticed by wealth. We are enticed by power. Money. Popularity. Drugs. Sex. They draw and seduce us. That can easily become idols.

3.  That which we fear. Much of paganism seeks to fight dangerous spirits, or hold off natural disasters. In fact, all of us have that tendency to worship what endangers us. Personality cults (whether religious or secular/governmental) often lead to a form of worship— sometime based on their personal charm, but as often by the power they have over the people.

4.  That which we trust. This is an obvious response to what we fear. If we worship (or respond with religious fervor) to what we fear, we equally and similarly respond to what may protect us from that fear.

So what do we do about these idols? Do we destroy what we have awe for, what we fear, or what we trust? Doesn’t seem like a good idea. Do we make them cultural artifacts? Again, in many cases, this is not practical. In missions classes many talk about power encounter… sending in God to battle the “gods.” That may have some relevance in paganism where power projection is a major component of the belief system(s). But again, that seems pretty limited and does not take into account the different types of idols. So lets consider the options:

1.  That which leaves us in awe. Commonly, this is nature. But it can include concepts or human constructs as well. What do we do with such idols? We redirect to the ultimate source. The heavens declare the glory of God.

We don’t destroy nature or that which inspires awe… we direct people to the ultimate source of that awe.

2.  That which entices. The lust of the eyes and the lust of the flesh. For many, these idols (money, popularity, power, and so forth) are the most dangerous. These are the one’s that need to be dealt the most unambiguously. They may not need to be destroyed. If beauty entices, the solution would not be to make things ugly. But the things that entice must be revalued—  and replaced with God as the highest.

3.  That which inspires fear. God declares Himself at times with expressions of fear… but typically in terms of fear as it comes to issues of obedience (like “fearing” one’s parents and so obeying them over one’s buddies). For these idols, I believe they should push us towards that which inspires trust. Because of who we trust, we don’t need to idolize fear.

4.  That which inspires trust. God chooses to express Himself to us in terms of trust:  A good shepherd, a loving father, a righteous king. Often what entices becomes what we trust. Again, what inspires trust, other than God, needs to be recognized as heavily limited.

But let’s take this further. I believe that all need to move towards number 4. God as a center of awe is great. As such He may be transcendent, but also objective and abstract. God must be relational and loving and personal. As such, God must be the center of our trust, not merely center of our awe (or fear or desire).

“The Customs of Heaven” Quote of James Martineau

“The universe, open to the eye to-day, looks as it did a

James Martineau, 1805-1900

thousand years ago: and the morning hymn of Milton does but tell the beauty with which our own familiar sun dressed the earliest fields and gardens of the world. We see what all our fathers saw. And if we cannot find God in your house or in mine, upon the roadside or the margin of the sea; in the bursting seed or opening flower; in the day duty or the night musing; in the general laugh and the secret grief; in the procession of life, ever entering afresh, and solemnly passing by and dropping off; I do not think we should discern him any more on the grass of Eden, or beneath the moonlight of Gethsemane. Depend upon it, it is not the want of greater miracles, but of the soul to perceive such as are allowed us still, that makes us push all the sanctities into the far spaces we cannot reach. The devout feel that wherever God’s hand is, there is miracle: and it is simply an indevoutness which imagines that only where miracle is, can there be the real hand of God. The customs of Heaven ought surely to be more sacred in our eyes than its anomalies; the dear old ways, of which the Most High is never tired, than the strange things which he does not love well enough ever to repeat. And he who will but discern beneath the sun, as he rises any morning, the supporting finger of the Almighty, may recover the sweet and reverent surprise with which Adam gazed on the first dawn in Paradise. It is no outward change, no shifting in time or place; but only the loving meditation of the pure in heart, that can reawaken the Eternal from the sleep within our souls: that can render him a reality again, and reassert for him once more his ancient name of ‘the Living God.'”

<From his sermon “Help Thou My Unbelief. ” Quoted by William James in “The Varieties of Religious Experience.”>

Dale Carnegie and the Gospel

My dad used to like to say “A man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still.” This bit of wisdom is something lost on Christians often. It seems to me that many of us

Dale Carnegie, 1888-1955

have been seduced by the false promises of argument. My son, Joel, was on the debate team at his University, and was quite good at it. Debate gave him quite a bit of confidence in speaking in front of people. It also helped him research and understand issues. It further helped him to gain an understanding of the art of logical persuasion. However, it did not teach him, really, how to change people’s minds. Issues are emotionally laden and argument/apologetics tends to be cognitively laden (or at least verbally laden).

The quote from my dad is from a longer quote by Dale Carnegie:

Why prove to a man he is wrong? Is that going to make him like you? Why not let him save face? He didn’t ask for your opinion. He didn’t want it. Why argue with him? You can’t win an argument, because if you lose, you lose it; and if you win it, you lose it. Why? You will feel fine. But what about him? You have made him feel inferior, you hurt his pride, insult his intelligence, his judgment, and his self-respect, and he’ll resent your triumph. That will make him strike back, but it will never make him want to change his mind. “A man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still.”  -Dale Carnegie

Christianity is not about arguing people into heaven. First, of course, salvation is the act of the Holy Spirit not an act of our will. Second, to the extent that it is us and not God, it is an act of the will, not an act of cognition. As such, it is heavily tied to emotion, culture, and personal paradigm.

Consider another quote by Dale Carnegie:

In talking with people, don’t begin by discussing the things on which you differ, but emphasize the things which we agree. Keep emphasizing that you are both striving for the same end and our only difference is one of method and not of purpose. Remember the other man may be totally wrong, but he doesn’t think so. Don’t condemn him, any fool can do that. Try to understand him.   -Dale Carnegie

Emphasizing differences tends to tell the other person why they SHOULD NOT agree with you or change their own mind.

Rather, demonstrating kindness and God’s love is more likely to inspire change. After all, Proclamation of the Gospel is likely to be given little attention unless there is first Demonstration of the Gospel. Taking a third quote:

Here’s a fable about the sun and the wind. They quarreled about which was the stronger, and the wind said, “I’ll prove I am. See that old man down there with a coat? I bet I can make him take his coat off faster than you can.” So the sun went behind a cloud and the wind blew until it was almost a tornado, but the harder it blew the tighter the old man wrapped his coat about him. Finally, the wind calmed down and gave up. The sun came out from behind the cloud and smiled kindly on the old man. He mopped his brow and pulled off his coat. The sun then told the wind, “gentleness and friendliness were always stronger than fury and force.” Friendliness and appreciation can make people change their minds more readily than storming at them can. -Dale Carnegie

NOTE: All of these quotes are from the book “How to Win Friends and Influence People.” I actually enjoy the book despite it coming from the (often odious) self-help section of bookstores. But if you don’t want to read it yourself, look at the collection of quotes and lists compiled in THIS WEBSITE. Try reading them from the standpoint of an evangelizer.


Spiritual Abuse Parts 1-5

Below are the 5 presentations I have done so far on Spiritual Abuse. They are (intentionally) a bit redundant at times. Some things need to be resaid. A much more detailed article is added written by a different person (submitted to Slideshare by “arulmraj” but I am not sure if M.A. Pragasam is the author or not). It is much more detailed and I think some might find it fascinating.

Getting our Priorities Straight

I’ve been doing some more research on authoritarian religions, both classic “cults” and Christian groups that utilize “cultic” practices. While there are notable, and welcome, exceptions, so many of the resources available are from people (some as part of organizations and some as not) who have left these authoritarian groups and have decided to reject (sometimes quite angrily) all religion (or at least theistic, organized religion).

One would assume (naively?) that religious people would be deeply concerned about groups that harm their membership, and have at least as much concern, if not more, for members of such groups. That doesn’t seem to be the case.

Why might this be. I don’t know. Let me suggest a few possible reasons:

1.  It may be easy for churches and church members to oppose some of the classically weird cults… but it is awkward to challenge churches or denominations that are doctrinely closer to home, while still utilizing authoritarian (cultic) methodologies. It is often easier to ignore, denigrate from a distance, or (and I have seen this remarkably) act as if such groups don’t exist.

2.  Christians/Christian groups that do challenge such groups tend to be more focused on apologetics then people. (At least it seems so to me).

3. There is a greater focus among many Christians on conversion (sudden change) rather than nurture, reconciliation, healing, sustaining, and liberation (typically much slower processes).

4.  Related to #3, Christians like to focus on “low hanging fruits.” We want people for whom we can evangelize and then (perhaps) disciple. But people from authoritarian cults, as well as Christian-based authoritarian groups, are difficult to convert since they are taught not to listen to “deceivers.” And those who leave cults are often turned off to religion and God in general.

5.  Christians (like most people) have trouble applying the Great Commandment. We are to love all people (including enemies). Members of groups that are hostile are easy to label as “the enemy.” Those that leave these groups often connect to groups that are (not surprisingly) anti-religious. As such they still seem like enemies. It is easier to hate or ignore enemies.

But what a shame! Those who are abused spiritually (religious abuse or other spiritual abuse) are certainly those in great need of help… of liberation. When we fail to do this, it is hardly surprising that such people (and the broader public) tend to label Christians with the same brush applied to authoritarian groups.

Of course, we need to be careful with labels anyway. Using the term “cult” for every group that we have issues with, can build barriers with both groups and their members. Additionally, I was raised in a church that described itself as “Fundamentalist” but wasn’t authoritarian (despite the fact that Fundamentalism is often described as being, by definition, authoritarian). There is a danger with being too quick to label, and an equal danger of applying characteristics carelessly to labels.

Demonstrating genuine love and care for all people regardless of the group they are with (whether that group is “for us” or “against us”) is a good start in helping people in need.

Prophecies and Typhoons and Plagues (in no particular order), Part II

The Sadhu Sundar Selvaraj “prophecy” regarding the Philippines (where he described shocking curses that God would rain down on the Philippines) keeps morphing. Given in April 2013 at the 24th National Prayer Gathering at Cuneta Astrodome, the predictions have become viral as being fulfilled by Typhoon Yolanda (aka Haiyan) and some blogger posts alleging diseases in the Philippines. I posted a review of a previous version of the “prophecy.” Since this is a longer version, I will give a more detailed review. I am hoping the one I am using for this blogpost comes closer to the original. The following is the list of predictions based on the blog

I will give a letter grade for each “prophetic” utterance based on the best of my knowledge in December 2013. I will use the following criteria:

Grade “A”: Prediction appears to have been fulfilled in an accurate way.

Grade “B”: Prediction appears to have been fulfilled in a general way.

Grade “C”: Prediction has not been fulfilled partly but in a far lesser way.

Grade “D”: Prediction has not been fulfilled yet as far as can be reasonablly ascertained.

Grade “N”: Prediction is not really predictive. For example, predicting that it will rain in 2014 may prove true, but it demonstrates no special ability to predict/prophecy.

1.  Compostela and Tagum. Typhoon, foundations shaken, people scattered. big lesson to the rest of the world. Grade “D”. Hasn’t happened yet. Flooding happened a couple of years ago in this area, but presumably, the prophecy wasn’t for the past.

English: A map of Visayas color-coded by regio...
English: A map of Visayas color-coded by regions. The Palawan Islands on the west part are not part of Region 6 nor part of the Visayas Island Group. Palawan is part of Region 4-B also known as MIMAROPA (Mindoro,Marinduque, Romblon, and Palawan) and is part of the Luzon Island Group. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

2.  Samar and Leyte:  Big typhoon against “6 lands.” Disasters through floods. Grade B. This one comes the closest to having been fulfilled. There was a big typhoon. However, very little of the damage (and very little of Samar and Leyte) came from flooding. Even if one views storm surge as flooding (perhaps a reasonable assumption), storm surge was fairly limited. Some might feel that Grade B is low. Perhaps one could justify a B+, but since most of Samar and Leyte was damaged by winds not flooding (except in Tacloban and a bit elsewhere), the prediction was a bit weak. You decide.

3.  Palawan:  Great flood and great typhoon. Many will die. Great grievous death. Grade C. Typhoon did hit the northern end of Palawan, especially the islands at the north end of Palawan province. Flooding and greivous death did not happen… yet. Since the prophecy did not really happen as described, perhaps a Grade D would be more appropriate… but I will allow for considerable hyperbole here. Again, you decide.

4.  Pangasinan and Cebu:  Grievous disease (flesh eating) will become an epidemic and spread to Cebu from there. It will become pandemic (spread all over the world and create much fear). Grade D. Hasn’t happened. Lots of diseases of all types in Pangasinan and elsewhere (I remember quite a few cases of leptospirosis sprang up after Typhoon Pepeng in 2009) but nothing as here described. At least not yet.

5.  Bohol and Cebu: A different disease (apparently) will spring from Bohol and Cebu. Turns people’s skin black and make their bodies burst open. Will spread wildly and spread to many other countries. People will be afraid to bury the dead. Grade D. Hasn’t happened.

6.  Luzon and Cebu:  Floods and winds like never seen before will hit Luzon and Cebu. Loss of all irrigable lands. Massive begging and starving. Grade D.  I could have given this a Grade N as not being predictive. After all floods and winds are normal to most of the Philippines including Luzon and Cebu Islands. Begging is fairly common and starving does happen on occasion. Irrigable lands do at times cease to produce crops. But the phrase “like never seen before” clearly limits this prediction greatly. Loss of all irrigable lands limits it far further. Neither Luzon nor Cebu have suffered anything like what is here described… at least not yet

7.  70 Islands. 70 islands will cease to be, overwhelmed by the ocean. Grade N. Unfortunately, this statement has no predictive value. The number of islands in the Philippines does change as some rise up and some go underwater by erosion or other means. Since there is no timeframe, there is no way to call this a prediction. Presumably if one tracks things long enough, 70 islands could be identified that lose their status as islands.

8.  Coastal Cities. Coastal Cities will be flooded. Many people will lose property. “Many people will fade away in sunlight and land” (what does that mean?). Grade B. In a few limited spots damage as described here could be said to have happened. Obviously, in Tacloban. Hard to come up with another place that has the designation “city.”

9.  Miscellany

a. “Earthquakes will come in your land.” Grade N. Pacific Ring of Fire… the Philippines always has earthquakes. No timeframe, frequency, or magnitude given. It is not predictive.

b. “Volcanoes will erupt in many places.” Grade N. Ring of Fire again. The Philippines has regular eruptions. No timeframe, frequency or magnitude given. It is not predictive.

c.  “There will be cries and troubles in the land.” Grade N. Not enough information to have any predictive value.

d. “Your young people will become captive. The hunters and the captors will increase in your land.” Grade N. Not at all clear what is meant here. Human traffickers perhaps? If so, too late. They have been here as long as the Philippines has been around. The wording is too vague to provide a metric.

e. “Wicked people will walk on the streets in your land. They will kill many people in broad daylight and throw their bodies in the streets.” Overall, I would give this a Grade D. Certainly there are wicked people walking the streets, but that is true everywhere on earth. As far as killing and throwing bodies in the streets. Generally, this is not the case. Occasional troubles in Mindanao approach this… rarely, but doesn’t seem to be more so since the prophecy was made. Just have to wait on that one.

f.  “There will even come a dangerous time when people will kill each other for food.” Grade N. Killing for food is no new thing. Perhaps this is describing some systematic increase in this behavior… but not enough information is given.

g.  “The Lord says many buildings will catch fire. God will set many buildings with fire and shakenings.” I guess I would have to give this a Grade D. Some village burnings around Zamboanga… but these were human caused while the prophecy says that God will set the buildings ablaze. Guess we will have to wait on this one.

h. “God will cause dangers to come through lightnings and thunders.” Grade D. No major increase in lightning-caused damage that I know of. Not even sure what dangers are being suggested here by thunders.

i. “Many people will be drowned. Maybe you have faced many times such dangers, but these coming dangers will be great in the eyes of the world.” Hmmm…. this one is a tough one. Major flooding is common in the Philippines and often does get world attention. In the 10 years I have been here, this has happened several times. I am tempted to say this has no predictive value, but maybe I should be generous. I will give it a Grade A. Many did drown, after all.

j. “Hundreds and thousands of people will be scattered.” Again, not very predictive, but I will seek to be consistent and give it a Grade A.

k. “Many houses will be ravaged.” Like i and j… not very predictive, but I will still give it a Grade A.

l. “Many people will be refugees in their own land.” Since I have been generous on the last three, I will give this a Grade B. Putting people into evacuation centers for a few days to a few weeks does not really reach the designation of “refugee.” The number of long-term evacuees looks like will be rather small. I think “B” is more than fair.

m. “A very pitiful state will come upon you when you will have to depend on other people to help you.” I am feeling generous again. I will give this a Grade A. The pitiful state is more due to governmental incompetence than national capacity… but the prophecy is too vague to attack it for that reason.

n.  “Children will die of hunger, of pain and of waters. Many children’s bodies will be thrown in the streets.” Hmmm… what should I do with this one. Really vague… children dying. Some have. Thrown in the streets? Not really. Unless something changes, I probably can give no better than a Grade C.

o. “Many areas will become muddy and swampy.” Come on, this is the Philippines. Of course places will become muddy and swampy. Like saying it will rain sometimes and sometimes be sunny. Grade N.

p. “The Lord says your rivers will come upon the land.” Not since the prophecy, but of course, rivers overlowing their banks are common (in places like Pampanga… expected). This has no predictive value. Grade N.

So I counted 24 predictions. Let’s see how they add up.

Grade A. Occurrences fit the prediction.                         4

Grade B. Occurrences fit in general way.                         3

Grade C.  Occurrences fit in a limited fashion.              2

Grade D. Occurences don’t fit predictions so far.         7

Grade N. No predictive value.                                             8

So what are the conclusions? Not much. The strongest arguments for fulfilment are actually the Grade B predictions. The Grade A predictions may have been relatively accurate but they have low predictive value. Major devastation from typhoons comes every few years. Our group has dealt with Tropical Storm Ondoy, Typhoon Pepeng, and Typhoon Sendong, all 2009 and beyond. The Grade A predictions would almost have to become fulfilled if one waited long enough. Grade C predictions are just too weak to take particularly seriously.

So what about an overall grade? For the Grade B predictions I will give 100% weighting. Sounds odd, but they were the best ones even if they weren’t detailed enough to be particularly compelling. I will give 50% weighting to Grade A predictions. Their predictive value is low, but could be viewed as essentially accurate. Grade C predictions? I will give 33% weighting. I guess I am feeling generous. I will give 0% weighting to Grade D predictions. Haven’t happened… don’t know if they will ever happen. I will throw out all Grade N predictions. They have no value to anyone.

What do we get when we do this? 5-2/3 out of 16. That is 35%. I realize I am being generous… but it is less than a year from the predictions. Ten years from now, one should be able to make a much better judgment. The longer range view should help. If the prophecies are true, the percentage should increase dramatically. If they are false, and the self-described prophet proves false, the number should range between perhaps 20% and 50%.

Certainly way to early to take seriously now. I still say, we need to go back to the Bible… not to people who tickle and terrorize the ears.

NOTE: Why am I reviewing alleged prophecies on a blogsite about missions? Because people are using these prophecies “missiologically.” They are trying to argue that events verify the prophecy, that the prophecy verifies the prophet, and that the prophet verifies the message of the prophet. I am not in a position to judge the “prophet” but I think we all are in a position judge the alleged prophecy. The Bible makes it very clear that we should expect numerous (not just one) anti-Christs. We should “test the spirits.” We should have the ability to study the words of ministers in the light of Scripture. We should challenge self-described prophets and root out what is false. I would assume that any true servant of God would value and welcome such Spirit-led caution on our parts.

Quote of William James, and the Search for the Divine

“‘Love your enemies!’ Mark you, not simply those who happen not to be your friends, but your enemies, your positive and active enemies. Either this is a mere Oriental hyperbole, a bit of verbal extravagance meaning only that we should, as far as we can, abate our animosities, or else it is sincere and literal. Outside of certain cases of intimate individual relation, it seldom has been taken literally. Yet it makes one ask the question: Can there in general be a level of emotion so unifying, so obliterative of differences between man and man, that even enmity may come to an irrelevant circumstance and fail to inhibit the friendlier interests aroused?  …

Psychologically and in principle, the precept ‘Love your enemies’ is not self-contradictory. It is merely the extreme limit of a kind of magnanimity with which, in the shape of pitying tolerance of our oppressors, we are fairly familiar. Yet, if radically followed, it would involve such a breach with our instinctive springs of action as a whole, and with the present world’s arrangements, that a critical point would practically be passed, and we should be born into another kingdom of being. Religious emotion makes us feel that other kingdom to be close at hand, within our reach.”                   

  –William James, “The Varieties of Religious Experience“, under “Saintliness”

Cover of "The Varieties of Religious Expe...
Cover of The Varieties of Religious Experience

I put an blogpost on a couple of days ago about some prophecies regarding the Philippines… prophecies that allegedly predicted Typhoon Yolanda (although the predictions vary wildly from the actual calamity) and allegedly predicted flesh-eating bacteria plague from Pangasinan (although nothing like a plague (yet?) exists).

I was surprised at how many read this blogpost. Looking at the search terms, it was clear that this was no accident. So many wanted to read about these alleged prophecies.

It led me to wonder why. Why would people be desperately searching these alleged prophecies… many apparently in hopes that they are true? Do we really want God to be cursing a country with floods and plagues because they did not accept a blessing (another alleged thing that they apparently haven’t even been given yet)?

I suppose some people were curious but do not want to believe… but looking at some of the other blogposts, there definitely are a large number of people that have unwarranted (and uncritical) exuberance with regards to the prophecies. They want them to be true it appears.

Maybe I have a guess why. People want to feel… to touch… to experience the Divine. They go to practitioners of “divine magic” (some clearly charlatans… some, who knows?) in hopes of a visceral experience of God. The desperation is so great that people will even seek out a fairly hateful prophecy. After all, if it can be said to have come true, perhaps that is a bit of divinity that one can build one’s faith upon.

I guess I would go back to the quote from William James. Love, as Jesus directed, is a bit of the Divine worth seeking out and living out. Better than trying to make some “prophecies” seem real. Divine love is certainly truer evidence of God than predicting bad weather in the typhoon belt, or diseases in a  tropical country.

Instead of looking for the evidence of the divine… why don’t we seek to BE the evidence of the Divine.

A Tiny Refuge in a Big Storm

<I expressed in my last blogpost a LOT of skepticism regarding some so called prophecies that are marketed here in the Philippines, especially as it relates to the the recent typhoon here. Just so I don’t sound completely like a grumpy cynic, here is a very different tale.> Baliguian IslandBaliguian Island(After the Typhoon)

Last week, our group trained and sent off a disaster response team. We called it the Iloklan Team— short for Iloilo and Aklan, two provinces in the Philippine Island of Panay. My wife and I did not join the trip, but we helped train, fund (through supporters), and organize the disaster response trip. The Iloklan team (six members: Angie, Ptr. Ysrael, Fhey, Joylene, Lea, and Raymark) worked at two sites. One was in Kalibo, Aklan. The other was Concepcion, Iloilo. In both places they gave relief goods, and provided crisis stress defusing, and child art therapy. Additionally, they provided dozens of galvanized iron roofing sheets for church repair in Kalibo, and they did a Rapid Community Assessment in Concepcion. This is normal stuff in disaster response. But the site in Concepcion was quite exceptional.

Concecion is a part of the province of Iloilo, on the large island of Panay and some outlying islands. One of those islands is the tiny island of Baliguian. It is hard to find. You can find it on Google Earth if you know where to look. There is even a picture available of the beach… it is a beautiful place. Some other characteristics:

  • It is tiny. Only about 50 acres of land. A one mile stroll will take one all the way around the circumference of the island.
  • It is remote. It is pretty much in the middle of the Visayan Sea. Small outrigger boats go back and forth from Panay to Baliguian, taking about 2.5 hours each way.
  • It is flat. The island is a flat bit of land just poking up above the surface of a coral atoll.
  • It is populated. Approximately 800 people live on this tiny island.
  • It was directly in the path of possibly the strongest storm ever to hit dry land– Typhoon Haiyan (aka Yolanda) in November of 2013.

Frankly, it seemed doomed. One would be hard pressed to think of a worse place to be on that day than on a tiny flat atoll island directly in the path of Typhoon Yolanda. And, in fact, they did suffer physical damage, and many of their boats were destroyed. But it would hardly be surprising to have discovered that the island was completely washed out with the residents drowned in the Visayan Sea. That sort of thing has certainly happened before. Apparently, the mayor of Concepcion rode a helicopter soon after typhoon had passed. He was pleasantly surprised, perhaps even shocked, to find the island’s population doing relatively well.

This is their story (this is what I was told by our teammembers who spoke to the residents of the island… filtered from Illongo, to Tagalog, to English). The residents of the island saw the dire situation at the height of the storm, the waves were increasing and a giant wave reared up appearing able to wash over the tiny island destroying everything. They prayed to God (the residents are Catholic or Baptist– the two groups peacefully sharing this tiny island). They said that at that time a bright light shone (they did not know the source) and the wave subsided. They said that people in the distant hilly islands of Concepcion related they also saw a distant light in the direction of Baliguian Island. The island and the residents were saved.

So what was this really that happened? If the story was on the National Geographic Channel here in the Philippines, I suppose it would have been explained as ball lightning and a coincidental cancelling of amplitude by out-of-phase waves. If it was reported on the History Channel, perhaps the explanation would be aliens in a flying saucer that saved the day. If it was reported on Biography here, I suppose it would be viewed in terms of paranormal phenomena. It it was reported on 700 Club Asia, I suppose it would be reported uncritically as a miraculous event.

For me… I don’t know. I wasn’t there. And it doesn’t matter what I believe. What matters is what it means to the people on this tiny island. To them, they would say that they prayed to God and God calmed the storm, saving them and their tiny island. Some now say they live on “Miracle Island.”

This story does not negate the huge tragedies suffered by so many in the Visayas of the Philippines in the recent weeks. It doesn’t even negate the damage sustained physically and economically to the community on Baliguian Island. But it must be a great comfort to the people of this tiny island so removed from the rest of the world, when they were so utterably vulnerable, to be convinced that God remembered them, loved them, listened to them, and protected them. They focus on God’s mercy, rather than temporal losses.

How might we be different if we (not just mouthing such sentiments) had such a deep down certainty of these truths?

Iloklan Team Members With Some Young Residents of the Island After the Storm
Iloklan Team Members With Some Young Residents of the Island After the Storm