I have once again finished reading the Bible. I continue to experience it as moving, helpful, confusing, at times mind-numbingly boring. I looked forward to some of the stories and characters I find inspiring. I heave a deep sigh when it’s time to read Jeremiah.
There are several themes that can seem antiquated — relevent to a time and culture long gone. Such themes include idol worship, demon possession, and prophecy. Yet as I reflect I find relevance even there.
I for one am guilty of idol worship. No, I don’t worship at an altar to Baal but for a time I did make alcohol my god and continue to be in danger of making money and success a god. Others worship at the altar of power and conquest.
Regarding demon possession, there is a trend to view demon-possessed persons in the Bible to have been mentally ill or suffering from some form of epilepsy. What we miss in these stories, though, is that these people were healed and, in one case, the healing was so dramatic that the townspeople became so frightened of Jesus and his power that they asked him to leave the town. Something was cast out of that man and into a herd of swine.
Yes, I believe that depression and addiction and schizophrenia and any number of other psychiatric conditions are just that and not some instance of demon possession. Yet I also remember a man I saw in a psychiatric hospital. He believed he was possessed by demons. I could dismiss that except that during the interview his teeth would chatter as if he were freezing. This he said was the demon hissing. It made my hair stand on end. I suggested to the psychiatric staff that they consider an exorcism, an idea that was dismissed. He was given a regimen of medication and discharged at which point he went down the street, checked into a hotel, and shot himself dead. I wonder…..
And then there are the prophets. Most of these folks were not prophets in the sense of Jean Dixon or any number of folks whose predictions of the future used to appear in the Weekly World News. Rather they were guided to point out self-destructive trends of the time. Jesus himself was viewed as a prophet and he did indeed try to help people find a new way. Clearly, too, in Biblical times, there were false prophets — people who presumably made things up for their own gain or prestige. (Interestingly, when I was spell-checking this piece, the spell checker flagged the word “prophets” and suggested instead the word “profits”!)
I suspect that God’s prophets are indeed still with us. In this modern age, though, their voices get drowned out amidst the din of left- and right-wing political rhetoric. The few genuine prophets are indeed voices crying in the wilderness.
Is idol worship going on? Absolutely! Is demon possession real? Most likely, although not anywhere near to the extent fundamentalists would have us believe. Are prophets real? I am sure they are. I just find myself struggling to find the true prophets amidst the many false ones.
1. What are your thoughts and experiences with idol worship, demon possession, and prophets?