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Theological, Doctrinal, and Spiritual Musing - and whatever other else is on my mind when I notice that I haven't posted in a while.
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Daniel of Doulogos Name:Daniel
Home: Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada
About Me: I used to believe that evolution was reasonable, that homosexuality was genetic, and that people became Christians because they couldn't deal with the 'reality' that this life was all there was. I used to believe, that if there was a heaven - I could get there by being good - and I used to think I was more or less a good person. I was wrong on all counts. One day I finally had my eyes opened and I saw that I was not going to go to heaven, but that I was certainly going to suffer the wrath of God for all my sin. I saw myself as a treasonous rebel at heart - I hated God for creating me just to send me to Hell - and I was wretched beyond my own comprehension. Into this spiritual vacuum Jesus Christ came and he opened my understanding - delivering me from God's wrath into God's grace. I was "saved" as an adult, and now my life is hid in Christ. I am by no means sinless, but by God's grace I am a repenting believer - a born again Christian.
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Daniel's posts are almost always pastoral and God centered. I appreciate and am challenged by them frequently. He has a great sense of humor as well.
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[He has] good posts, both the serious like this one, and the humorous like yesterday. [He is] the reason that I have restrained myself from making Canadian jokes in my posts.
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Daniel, nicely done and much more original than Frank the Turk.
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Monday, February 22, 2010
Did Saul See Samuel's Ghost or Not? Part -VI-

We noted in our last post, which was a bit of a tangent, that David was reluctant to kill Saul because David trusted that the Lord who anointed him through Samuel would bring him to the throne according to His own design - a design that David refused to usurp regardless of whether opportunity to do so presented itself to him.

Prior to the tangent we noted that Saul, in seeking to speak to the ghost of Samuel, was really seeking an intercessor between himself and God. That is where we pick up the thread today.

Literal Schmiteral?

As we begin to focus on the passage at hand we want to lay out the rules we plan to follow in attempting to come to the most correct interpretation of the passage. Without getting too bogged down in semantics, I plan to read the passage literally, and interpret it rationally.

Having said that, a literal reading doesn't mean that we interpret metaphors or figures of speech in a way that the author never intended. Each of us intuitively knows (or ought to know) how to understand an obvious linguistic tool such as an hyperbole or a metaphor. All that is required of a literal reading is that we recognize these forms when we see them, so as to avoid corrupting the original authorial intent for the sake of maintaining an exagerated literal rigidity.

I think most of us accept that much intuitively. We certainly read every other book we have according to that sort of rule. But let a man read the bible with a settled opinion in his heart, and find something in it that if interpreted literally would strike and shatter some cherished doctrine that is already settled in his or her heart, and you would be surprised how easy it is use alternate (and sometimes downright wacky) interpretational schemes.

When I say that we interpret a literal passage rationally, I mean that once we have ascertained the literal reading, or said another way, once we know with some certainty what the author is really describing, we are ready to interpret what the author has described rationally.

Witch? Medium? What?
So, what exactly is a "witch" or as many translations render it, a medium? We ask this because we have examined the first character, Saul, and now we want to examine the second, the medium. We don't know much about the medium herself, and while we could probably infer this or that from the text and the situation, it wouldn't make a difference to our discussion one way or another. What we do require however is a sound understanding of what exactly a medium was, and what a medium did.

To begin with, a medium was a person who could (or professed to be able to) communicate with a spirit who was familiar to them - what we would call a familiar spirit. The stereotypical "television" medium talks directly to the spirits of the departed, but the medium of scripture is not like that. The medium communicates with a spirit who is familiar to her, and the spirit informs her of what it sees, or what it claims to see.

At no time is the medium aware of any other presence other than the spirit she is already familiar with. She simply has to trust that her familiar spirit is on the up and up when it communicates to her, and is really conversing with the dead and passing along the conversation to the her etc.

Powers and Principalities?

Rather than arbitrarily assume that mediums actually did speak to familiar spirits, let's first ask if there even are such things as familiar spirits.

Those of us who accept the reality of God, typically accept also that there are powers and principalities (c.f. Romans 8:38) and angels and authorities (c.f. 1 Peter 3:22) and even that Michael was an archangel (c.f. Jude 1:9), etc. The image we get is that there is some hierarchy amongst these beings, but frankly scripture doesn't lay out that hierarchy for us. Some go so far as to speculate on the granularity of the spiritual ranking system: authorities, they muse, are more significant than others, powers they say, are distinct in this way or that; archangels have this thing and principalities have another, etc. I think speculating on such things is, at best, foolish, and at worse adding to God's word.

It is enough to say that while most of us use the blanket term "angel" to refer to any and all spiritual powers, principalities, or authorities, we do so recognizing that this is by no means suggests an homogenous equality in authority or power. Notwithstanding, when we use the term "angel" (which properly means "messenger") we typically mean a spiritual being that is either aligned with God, or against Him.

So the fact that there are "spirits" should come as no surprise to anyone who is familiar with scripture. The fact that some spirits are obedient to God, and other spirits are in rebellion against God, is likewise no revelation.

Scripture shows that God Himself has passed along messages to humans through the agency of obedient spirits. That is, we see from scripture that at least some spirits (though it could just as easily be all spirits) have the ability to communicate with humans.

So if we accept that there are spirits, and that at least some spirits are disobedient, and again, that at least some spirits can communicate with humans, we have no reason to doubt that at least some mediums are in fact speaking with familiar spiritual beings. Perhaps some are charlatans, maybe even many - but our concern here is to ask and answer whether scripture allows for the possibility of this sort of communication, and the evidence we find in scripture says that it is not only possible, but very, very likely, given the commandments against a human pursuing such a thing.

Note: One of the way spiritual beings in scripture have passed along information to humans has been in the form of "visions". That is significant because later on when we speak of the medium "seeing" we want to be sure we do not rule out or ignore certain avenues that may be implied, or are not as obvious.

First the Matter of Perspective

Given the nature of our discussion, we should identify how many scenarios are possible, and then examine the validity of each, and in doing so hopefully narrow down the number of plausible interpretations.

In order to even present the number of possible scenarios correctly, we need to visit again the notion of what is literal.

Have you ever read one of those books where the narrative leaves the main plot behind to focus on some sub-plot? You're reading about the main character, and then in the next chapter you are reading about something else that is going on alongside the main plot, etc. Perhaps you are reading the narrative first from the perspective of the protagonist, then from the perspective of the antagonist. Both views describe the same scene, but their perspective is radically different?

I am sure you have read something like that, and if not, I am sure you can picture it. In scripture, the narrative can change perspective too. Take for example the narrative in 1 Samuel 4. The narrative follows the actions of the Israelites who go up to battle, and are defeated soundly by, the Philistines. They return to Shiloh, and fetch the Ark of the Covenant, taking it with them into battle, as though the reason God hadn't helped them the first time was because, [1] God's awareness was limited to the locality of the Ark of the Covenant, and [2] the Ark (and therefore God's awareness) was too far away from the battle for God to help.

They bring the ark into the Israelite camp, and a great shout goes up, which causes the narrative to swing from following the Israelites to following the Philistines who were suddenly afraid crying out, "Woe to us! Who shall deliver us from the hand of these mighty gods? These are the gods who smote the Egyptians with all kinds of plagues in the wilderness!" (c.f. verse 8).

Note: the text records what was literally said - we have no reason to doubt that they said it that way. But it records the events from the Philistine perspective. The Philistines believed there were many gods. They had several gods, and the Israelites had several gods. Everyone had a bunch of gods. The fact that they speak according to their flawed understanding, and that scripture faithfully records their flawed understanding, does not mean that we must accept their understanding as accurate.

Do you see what I am saying here? We are by no means straying from a literal interpretation when we reject the flawed Philistine presumption, even though we accept that it describes what they actually believed to be true of God. How do we know, or why are we convinced that the Philistines were speaking according to their own understanding, and not according to knowledge? Because they describe God in a way that scripture elsewhere denies.

That is, because the truth is stated clearly elsewhere, we use truth gleaned elsewhere to illumine the flaw in the Philistine narrative. We don't demand that the bible be updated to reflect the truth that God is one (though latter day zealots certainly did just that sort of thing all over the place), instead we understand the affirmations made by the Philistines to be an accurate recording of what they said, even if what they said was flawed.

Narrowing Down the Field.

We spoke of the matter of the narrative perspective because as we try to narrow the number of plausible scenarios, we don't want to dismiss some on the grounds that a "literal reading" of the text disqualifies them.

So here, as I see it, are the various plausible ways we can understand what happened:

First, the medium is either making up the whole thing, or is speaking to an actual familiar spirit.

I think we can safely assume that the medium was not a charlatan, but was in fact communicating with a real, familiar spirit. Thus we have two (main) possibilities:

[1] The medium was being given a vision by her familiar spirit, or
[2] The medium was receiving a vision apart from her familiar spirit.

Here is the first cut, as it were. We have no reason to imagine, from scripture or otherwise, that individuals possess power, in and of themselves to see into the spirit realm. While television mediums are portrayed thus, biblical mediums are not. They receive information through fallen (disobedient) spirits who, having rebelled against God, arbitrarily intervene in the lives of people.

So I think it is a question, not of interpretation, at this point, but of definition - if the medium was a "TV" medium, we might allow the second notion, but given our biblical framework, we are going to proceed on the assumption that the familiar spirit communicated with the medium in the form of a vision that only she was made privy to.

That leaves us with a couple of options:

[1] the spirit gave the medium a faithful vision, or
[2] the spirit gave the medium a deceitful vision.

One of these scenarios presents some very serious and deep doctrinal questions, the other does not. We will examine them both in the next installment.

Thoughts to take away

Meditate on just what exactly we mean by literal.
posted by Daniel @ 11:22 AM  
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