Think before you follow the latest, greatest cultural trend.
A couple months ago, I was on my way out of a hotel, when I heard another guest having an urgent, hushed conversation with the desk clerk. I picked up enough of the exchange to realize there had been a bedbug outbreak in his room.
Later, with skin crawling, I checked my own mattress.
Still, I was out the next morning. Bedbugs have a penchant for appearing and enduring with almost supernatural power. “They can come from other infested areas or from used furniture. They can hitch a ride in luggage, purses, backpacks, or other items placed on soft or upholstered surfaces. They can travel between rooms in multi-unit buildings, such as apartment complexes and hotels.” 1
From our vantage point, a great many ungodly ideas seem to emerge the same way. They appear out of nowhere and then spread everywhere, complete with total by-ins from the humans they infect.
It’s as though a huge majority of people have subscribed to some sort of “Latest Foolishness” activation email. As soon as they open it, they’re getting surgeries, filing their teeth, adopting catch-phrases, and covering the rear of their cars with angry bumper stickers.
Where do these influences come from? Last week I breezed past the phrase “teachings of demons” in 1 Timothy chapter 4, and this should provide us some indication of their place of origin.
Granted, I realize how quickly preachers can label anything they don’t like (sadly, sometimes including each other) as “demonic,” satanic,” “heretical,” “commie,” “left-leaning,” etc., etc. But there’s no doubt some convoluted beliefs appear so egregious, and with such support that they couldn’t merely be products of human error.
I’m reminded of the scene from Revelation chapter 9:
1 And the fifth angel blew his trumpet, and I saw a star fallen from heaven to earth, and he was given the key to the shaft of the bottomless pit. 2 He opened the shaft of the bottomless pit, and from the shaft rose smoke like the smoke of a great furnace, and the sun and the air were darkened with the smoke from the shaft. 3 Then from the smoke came locusts on the earth, and they were given power like the power of scorpions of the earth. 4 They were told not to harm the grass of the earth or any green plant or any tree, but only those people who do not have the seal of God on their foreheads. 5 They were allowed to torment them for five months, but not to kill them, and their torment was like the torment of a scorpion when it stings someone. 6 And in those days people will seek death and will not find it. They will long to die, but death will flee from them.
These locusts are a pastiche of elements meant to communicate something that does not occur in nature. Neither is their target physical—grass, trees, etc.—but the interior state of human beings. They eviscerate the very joy of life itself.
Commentators have variously interpreted this passage. For instance, centuries ago, they saw the locusts as the advance of Muslim hoards at the time of the crusades. During the 70’s Hal Lindsay suggested they were John’s prophetic vision of combat helicopters. The assumption in all such cases was that the writer of Revelation saw something physical in the future and desperately tried to describe it using the available imagery of his time.
Another category of interpretation has John seeing something intangible, and then using the imagery of earlier prophets to portray it (i.e. the locusts of the book of Joel). Given this approach, a commentator might observe the proliferation of hostile non-theistic philosophies such as those during the 19th century that came through the agencies of Marx, Freud, Darwin, (to name a few) wreaking havoc on the spiritual sensitivities of humanity.
We could add to this roster the maturity of twentieth century anti-semitism that led to the holocaust, the birth of the recreational drug culture in the 60’s, and the sexual revolution of the ’70s that dismantled moral restraints.
In addition, this century’s social progressivism challenges the nature of reality itself, denying even the most blatantly true fact. It has also sired theological variants. These raze unsuspecting churches, as well as good-hearted, but naive ministries. They psychologically and spiritually damage whoever adopts them–tormenting, but not killing, John would say. People who are stung the most severely seem to feel pain all the time, flailing with rage at the air as if hoping to vanquish invisible foes.
Okay, I don’t want to insist on a proposed interpretation about the locusts of Revelation chapter 9 here. People have done so in the past, defining them as whatever was emerging and spreading during their time. Some of their points fit. On the other hand, none of them ever do so completely, sort of like puzzle pieces whose shapes almost match one another…but not quite. I’ve watched kids working on puzzles who literally hammer ill-fitted pieces in place, insisting they belong together.
I don’t want to act that way with theology.
At any rate, the torment inflicted by the demonic onslaught of Revelation 9 is “only for those people who do not have the seal of God on their foreheads” (v. 6). It is important to remember that for us, there is a refuge, a measure of protection in bearing the seal of God. Remember the verse from Ephesians 4:30 where we were sealed with the Holy Spirit of God? The very presence of The Spirit of Reality within guards your thoughts, affecting your well-being, peace, security, joy.
Indeed, this interior, living knowledge of God repels a great cloud of lies, even if it is “smoke like the smoke of a great furnace.” Even if “the sun and the air were darkened with the smoke.”
1 New York State Department of Health, www.Health.ny.gov