Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Test the Spirits

This is a repost of an article I wrote. It contains many underdeveloped ideas. Contributions and commentaries are welcome.


I was dumbstruck by an insight that came through Slavoj Zizek’s Pervert’s Guide to Cinema (it’s not what it sounds like). He gives a scenario (and forgive me the crassness): there are times where someone, in the midst of sex, will be disenchanted and be perplexed. Why am I doing this? Why am I engaged in these repetitive motions, acting almost machine like? There a sense of stupidity pervades, as we become aware of what we’re doing and its emptiness.

Out of my own sexual insanity, I can testify to this feeling and experience. It’s also the same pervading sense that drove me away from my pornographic addiction in High School. There is an overwhelming sense of emptiness and foolishness. As I put it above, the enchantment is gone and we’re left with barebones physicality.

Zizek has an explanation for this. What drives sex, for both a man and a woman, is what he calls the ‘phantasmal’ element. There’s a fantasy at work that colors the context of everything that’s happening. There’s a dream or idea that motivates the on-going story. There’s a psychological projection that maintains the romantic relation.

It’s perhaps why lingerie and the ‘act’ of disrobing is more attractive than sheer nudity. The former leave a mystery to be explored, a lacuna to be filled in with the imagination. These objects and acts encourage desire. They excite the imagination, Mankind’s creative reason, to compose and make sense of things. More on that another time.

Now for Zizek, these are abstractions and artificial constructions. Humans create these feelings, moods, stories, and symbologies. It’s what they need to give meaning. But Zizek is a materialist and an atheist. What if, instead, these are not mere Human projections but part of the outworking of another dimension of reality? What if the spiritual dimension is indeed present, the folded fabric of the world we already indwell?

Now I’ve always had to take, at some value, the Biblical reality of spirits, demons, angels, and pervading darkness. In our modern world, it’s a bizarre and alien conception. Some have banished it to the text, a world away from us where, for some reason, these kinds of things no longer occur. Perhaps it’s on account of a new dispensation. Or perhaps it’s a part of a mythologizing that we no longer believe in or need. Whether you take a more biblicist approach or a liberal one, both are attempts to disconnect.

But I’m convicted otherwise. We are not in a world come of age. We live in an age that is as superstitious as the days of the Apostles. We live in a world full of religious rites, sacred symbolism, and cultic celebration. Our age of science is a new highly religious age, full of the demoniac and spiritual. I still believe in the ongoing work of the Holy Spirit to combat the Darkness, and give His people weapons to topple strongholds. Of course part of that work is to see Scripture rightly, which is cannon. But I digress.

In the Trinity, the role of the Spirit is the purveyance of love between the Lover (Father) and the Beloved (Son). Whether this is a helpful description of the Unity of the Godhead, there’s something there perhaps to glean. What if we do not have or participate in relationships or groupings without the presence of a spirit? This is present in off-hand sayings like esprit d’corps , but what if this means that all of relations are mediated through the presence of a ‘third’?

What I’m offering is something distinctly Human, distinctly 3rd dimensional, that is a part of relationships. Unlike mere animals, Mankind possesses a breath from On High. We are an enspirited creature, which does not mean we are mere hybrids between beast and angel. However, this touches on something that we may otherwise miss. C.S. Lewis believed mankind was amphibian, able to indwell both a world of water and land, a foot on both Earth and Heaven. This may be too much as well.

Paul commands us to keep in step with the Spirit, to be ‘in the Spirit’, which is equivalent, but not merely collapsed, with being ‘in Christ’. Being in the Spirit is the means for producing life-giving fruit (c.f. Galatians 5) and being in the Light. All of these fruit are not mere individual traits, but have consequence for group harmony and as group dynamics. Church communities are to be kind, self-disciplined, patient, loving, etc. To obey the Law of the Christ means to be indwelled by the Holy Spirit.

Now I don’t want to make much of it, but even the titular name ‘Angel’ has connotations of messenger, a medium, a go-between two parties. If our actions, like Zizek’s example, become merely mechanical and meaningless, perhaps this is a moment of absence. Perhaps our relationships are not uninhabited. Whether good or bad relationships, there’s a spirit at work and one that needs to be discerned.

In the life of the Church, we can see the difference in either the presence of a ‘Candlestick’ (the angel of the Church), or what the Christ refers to as a ‘synagogue of Satan’. That is, a community that has betrayed the brethren and now turned against the grace of God. A Church Community that is laden in gossip, in abuse, in manipulation, in deep seated and commended conflict (I could go on), perhaps is one that is under spiritual attack. Then, of course, there is the possibility is has ceased to be a Church of Christ, and now belongs to the demonic.

We can all think of examples of this. Mega-Church pastors that act as dictators. Legalistic enclaves practice shunning and shaming and are hostile to the outside. Quiet communities exist, where abuse, sexual immorality, viciousness, goes on unabated and unspoken. There are Communities that have openly sold their soul (candlestick?) for a particular set of cultural mores, national allegiance, or practice. This includes everything from churches bedecked in American flags and full of patriotic fervor, open-and-affirming bedecked in rainbow flags.

Perhaps 1 Corinthians 10, about headship and head-covering, needs re-examining. Maybe Paul’s argument ‘because of the angels’ has more punch. But this is for another time.
Then maybe there are spirits working in personal relations. Perhaps abusive, fear-driven, controlling, cold relationships are the haunt of the demonic and under another influence than the stubbornness or cruelty of one of the two parties. Maybe loving and thriving relationships have an angel over them.

Relationships are not mere anything, we are never just with another person. There is a third-dimension to it, and perhaps this is where we are called to ‘test the spirits’. This is for both communities and for individual relationships. This is the charisma of discernment, reading whether the voice of a community is preaching the Lamb or speaking like the Dragon. This is where we see if a particular relationship is health or unhealthy.

This topic needs further investigation and thought. But we need not fear. The Holy Spirit is the Lord of the Spirits, and it is He who raised the Christ from the dead. He indwells us, protects us, and teaches us. He will continue to do so.

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