The spiritual electromagnetic spectrum
Detecting the intersection of the seen and unseen worlds is much like considering the electromagnetic spectrum. There’re all sorts of waves surrounding us, though we can see only a portion of that spectrum. But the fact that we can’t see microwaves and gamma rays, doesn’t mean they’re not there. The problem is not with the reality. The problem is that our eyesight is limited. The biblical writers are “predisposed to supernaturalism.” We, by contrast, are usually predisposed to naturalism, and enlist the supernatural only when we’ve exhausted all natural explanations. If we want to get back to the biblical world, we’ll need to get back to more supernatural explanations. The invisible world is no more an illusion than the visible, and these worlds are not identical, but they are interpermeable.
Our problem spiritually is that the Enlightenment has shaped our worldview more than we might want to admit. The Enlightenment has produced a number of benefits for the modern world but, unfortunately, it also gradually led us to abandon the reality of the unseen world. This means in the end that there is no God, because God is spirit. Some of the early Enlightenment religionists didn’t want to go that far, so they embraced deism. This is the idea that God is the Creator but that once he created everything, he simply let it operate according to his pre-established laws. He’s like a great watchmaker who created the watch and then got out of the way to watch it tick. That’s not the God of the Bible. The God of the Bible is actively involved in this world at all points. In the same way, the fallen gods of the Bible, and the demons and unholy spirits, are actively involved in the world at all points.
The first fall wasn’t the fall in Eden. That was the second fall. We don’t know much about it, but we do know that it was the first fall that produced the second fall. The Bible (Is. 14) teaches that Lucifer, or the Star of the Morning, one of the heavenly beings, mounted an insurrection against the true God. He was the first revolutionary. He took a number of other angels or gods with him. Many of these are what we today call demons or fallen angels and even the gods, elohim.
Think about it. These fallen creatures were all there watching when God created the universe. In fact, in Daniel (4:13, 17, 23) these gods are called the “watchers.” Why? Originally they were charged with watching over God’s creation and reporting back to him. This is possibly what Satan’s initial assigned task was. The book of Job tells us he was observing the earth and reporting back to God. Of course, God doesn’t need anyone to report to him. He knows all things. But he has chosen to share his rule. Just as he shares his rule with man in the dominion mandate, so he shared his rule with angels and the elohim before creation. The fallen gods and angels failed in their insurrection against God, so they decided to disrupt his creation. They couldn’t overthrow God, so they decided to overthrow his other created beings, humanity. That’s where the fall in creation came from.
Aligned with the supernatural
All human choices in the Bible are aligned with heavenly beings. This alignment starts in earnest in Genesis 3. Spiritual warfare in history is at root the battle for this world: who will control us, what we will believe, how we will live, and what status the animals and plants and weather will have. Man was created to be God’s deputy, his vicegerent over creation, but Satan is constantly trying to enlist man for his side of the battle. He enlists not just man, but a nonhuman creation, including the weather, for his evil purposes. Since the fall, therefore, we’ve been in the midst of a cosmic war zone. The supernatural evil is pervasive, just as the supernatural righteousness is.
All evil is not human
Have you noticed that when Jesus confronted those who are possessed by demons, he never laid the blame on them? Today we talk a lot about people’s sins that invite demon possessions, and they certainly can (Mt. 12:43–45). But Jesus looked at these poor, pitiful creatures as the victims of Satan’s hatred for God and for his kingdom. They were casualties of war. This of itself shows us that there’s great evil in the world, and it’s not the results of man sin but of Satan and his insurrectionist minions.
Sovereignty and evil
People sometimes ask the perennial question, Why do bad things happen to good people? The Bible’s answer is simple. Because there is great evil in the world. We can’t say, well, God is sovereign, and he could stop it. Of course he could. But in stopping evil he would have to stop the entire universe. He chose to create both human and nonhuman beings with the capacity for choices, and those choices are sometimes evil. This doesn’t mean they can overthrow his sovereignty. God can and will still accomplish his purposes, but he will accomplish them partly by means of human and nonhuman choices. And those choices, tragically, are often evil. In this way, God got can use sin for his own purposes without being the author of sin. God’s not the author of little babies being burned and buried alive by ISIS, but he’s still working all things for his own glory. In short, there is evil in the world, great evil, and it won’t overthrow God’s plan, but he is also not the source of it.
Victory assured, but battles rage
Jesus defeated Satan on the Cross, but this doesn’t mean that Satan’s entirely finished. A helpful metaphor (first employed by Oscar Cullmann) is D-Day in World War II. After the Allies invaded Normandy and moved into interior France, the war’s victory was assured. But that didn’t mean that there weren’t battles left to fight. The war was over in principle, but the battles — some of them the bloodiest of the war — certainly were not over.
God doesn’t annihilate sin; he defeats it
God has chosen not to annihilate Satan and his forces, but to get the victory for his people through great conflict over sin. He’s decided to defeat it, not abolish it. He could have abolished sin and the bloody Cross would never have been necessary, but then salvation would have been eliminated too. Think about that fact for a moment, because it’ll help you understand many things about Christianity and the Christian life. God allows Satan and his hosts to continue their work. God refuses to give Satan the satisfaction of accomplishing his will by simply abolishing evil. God accomplishes this will by defeating evil. This means that there’re great battles that we must fight, and they’re great battles of the heavenly realm.
The great battles both individually and culturally, from addictions to politics to abortion to greed to same-sex “marriage” to pride to vindictiveness to socialism are at root battles with the “principalities and powers.” God and Satan are both battling for the control of earth. The victory is assured, but the battles still rage.
This is ordinary life in the cosmic war zone.