Perhaps it’s due to the fact that I wasn’t born and raised within Evangelical/Charismatic Christianity. Maybe it’s because I have a tough time turning off the skeptical filter through which I tend to view the world. Regardless, I think there is a real problem within Christianity today – specifically the North American flavor – and that issue is is that we’ve magicalized Christianity. Yes, I realize that I literally just invented a word, but allow me to explain what I mean by this.
How many times have you walked into an Evangelical church or been around a group of Evangelical/Charismatic Christians and heard something to this effect, “I was praying and just got a word from the Lord that I need to share with you” or “I got a vision from the Lord that I wanted to share” or We prayed for so and so and they suddenly were healed.” Don’t get me wrong I’m not saying that prayer isn’t effective. I believe that He created a world filled with unique and beautiful creations, that He gave each of us particular gifts to share with the rest of that creation in order to bring peace and harmony. My issue is with the tendency to over-spiritualize or talk about these gifts in a way that sounds more like we possess some sort of magical, super hero quality, or some sort of psychic power. I think there is a real danger in treating these gifts as something we have that others are lacking for whatever reason. This sort of thinking creates an issue when it comes to discerning whether your “vision” is an actual sign from God that he’d like you to communicate, or just your inner consciousness confirming your existing assumptions. It also creates an “us” versus “them” mentality. This idea that we as Christians have some sort of miraculous superpower that nobody else has serves to create more distance between us and the people we wish to invite in.
As human beings we already have a proclivity for perceiving familiar patterns in things we see or hear. This proclivity even has a name: pareidolia or apophenia. This is where the brain has a tendency to make a connection or pattern where none exists. Think of the face on Mars. When NASA released photos of Mars, a lot of people thought they saw what looked a face carved in the rocks on the planet’s surface. Once more clearly defined images were released, it was obvious that there was no such face at all. Our mind simply works to make connections within unfamiliar patterns. So are we dong the same within our spiritual lives? Think of all the cases where someone finds a supposed image of the Virgin Mary in their toast. Sure, we can laugh at the idea, but I believe we do the same when we analyze our own lives. When something happens in our lives that is positive, we look for a sign from God. When something negative happens, we blame it on the Devil. This is far easier than to admit that much of the universe is ruled by chaos and randomness. We want to know that God is in control of the chaos. We want to know that there is some rhyme and reason for all of the disorder that we see. But is that really putting our faith in God? Can we really then, call this faith?
I know there may be some folks who read this whose first instinct will be to bombard me with all of the scriptural evidence that proves that spiritual gifts exist and that it’s not just some sort of psychological phenomenon. Again, I believe that God truly does bless his children with different gifts. However, when it comes to specific spiritual gifts, we should be especially careful that when our gifting impacts another person that it truly is God’s will and not our own. Sometimes life is just hard. Can we all agree on that? Sometime’s life is unfair and difficult and just doesn’t make sense. Over-spiritualizing the difficulty of life can take away from our personal responsibility in it, and our ability to heal from the damage it inflicts. Was it the Devil? Or was it a bad decision that caused a massive chain reaction? Every decision we make, right or wrong, will impact someone other than ourselves. So next time someone blames “the evil one” for the rough day they’ve had, they may be right, but gently remind them that there may be very human factors at play as well. Sometimes that’s admitting when we are the ones who caused that pain. And every time we claim a victory over illness by way of prayer, remember there are also many others out there who received prayer who weren’t so lucky. Does that mean that prayer didn’t work or that those who prayed didn’t do so with enough faith and vigor? Perhaps sometimes we just have to be ok with living in the mystery. In the meanwhile, we can do as the bible says so clearly and love to the best of our ability in both times of happiness an sadness – in both ties of joy and pain.
I think that’s a good place to start.