When we read stories or see art from the ancient world or the middle ages, it often looks fantastical. Mythical beasts, demons, and angels are everywhere. Our tendency when seeing such representations of the world is to smile and think to ourselves, “How far we’ve come since then!” Yes, those people who lived long ago saw goblins in the woods and fairies in the lake, but now we know better. They saw the supernatural around every corner, but we have science and cold hard facts to help us understand the world.
Yes, those people who lived long ago saw goblins in the woods and fairies in the lake, but now we know better.
And there is a sense in which this is certainly the case. I, for one, do not long for the days when medicine had an equal chance of killing me as curing me. I enjoy all the conveniences and advances of the modern world and happily admit that we are far better off than people who lived 500, 1000 years ago. But there is one thing I think we have lost, something that those people who lived then understood better than we do. It has to do with the supernatural, the ghost stories they told.
For people who lived long ago, the world was a mysterious place, bursting at the seams with the supernatural. Spirits, both good and bad, abounded. The possibility of the miraculous, of God intervening in the world in supernatural ways, was not only accepted, but expected.
Now, here’s what I am NOT saying: I am not saying that these people were right every time they thought they encountered the supernatural. They weren’t. We have greater understanding about many things in the world that they attributed to the mystical. But I do think that they better perceived the reality of the supernatural than we do. I wonder whether our ability to perceive the same has atrophied. I wonder whether we are able to see the supernatural at all, whether our pride in science and reason has blinded us to what is happening all around us, simply because we assume it is not there.
To believe in God is to acknowledge the existence of the supernatural. The Bible is full of stories about God, his angelic servants, and his demonic enemies, interacting with the world and the people in it. I think we are wrong to assume that the supernatural is less prevalent than it was long ago. And I think we make a huge mistake by assuming that God and his Holy Spirit are less active than they were two thousand years ago.
Have you ever had a time in your life that was defined by intense, long-term exercise? Maybe you played sports in high school or college, or maybe you spent a year training for a marathon or triathlon. You got into great shape, and (let’s be honest) probably lingered in front of the mirror a bit. What happened when that season ended? What happened to your muscles that had for so long been subjected to regular work?
I think we make a huge mistake by assuming that God and his Holy Spirit are less active than they were two thousand years ago.
They atrophied. After a while, the body that had been able to run a marathon struggled with a 5K. That’s what happens when we don’t use muscles. And I think that in our advanced, technological civilization, our spiritual muscles have atrophied. It isn’t that God isn’t working, and it isn’t that the supernatural isn’t there; we’ve just lost our ability to perceive those things. Technology, reason, and science have transformed our world for the better in countless ways. Yet, I do wonder if those things have come at a cost of being able to perceive the supernatural and how it interacts with our world.
Like any muscle, though, we can regain what we have lost. By studying the Bible and the ways God’s Spirit has worked in the lives of people throughout history, by spending time in prayer, by asking God to open our eyes to see. We can begin to regain our ability to perceive the supernatural.
Ghost stories are amusing and, yes, most of them aren’t real. But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t Holy Ghost stories waiting to be seen, waiting to be written. If only we have eyes to see them.