Wednesday, July 30, 2014

The Messenger and Message Seem Correct, But Are They?

Among several podcasts heard and blogs read, I come across many telling of men and women claiming to receive direct revelation from God for revelation to a person or group.  These messages have characteristics deemed necessary to qualify as a Spirit-delivered utterance: vision or dream state, sensed or seemingly-audible voice, physical sensation, unidentifiable messenger, and an audacious, generic message.  The “prophet” delivers a questionable message bolstered by a mixture of Bible proof texts and theological-sounding phrases recognizable to the hearer.  If the message comes from a spiritual messenger, credence and authority are automatically assigned by both “prophet” and audience, completing the deception.  Hucksters have long used their gift of rhetoric to fool crowds, but when a message is received from a spiritual source, how can it be properly evaluated, especially when the content closely aligns with scripture?  The book of Job gives a helpful example.

Job has just completed his great lamentation against the day he was born, after which Eliphaz the Temanite responds with what he considers to be an iron-clad argument that Job must have great, hidden sins for which repentance is required.  Part of his argument involves a spiritual visitor and the message received:
Now a word was brought to me stealthily;
        my ear received the whisper of it.
Amid thoughts from visions of the night,
        when deep sleep falls on men,
dread came upon me, and trembling,
        which made all my bones shake.
A spirit glided past my face;
        the hair of my flesh stood up.
It stood still,
        but I could not discern its appearance.
A form was before my eyes;
        there was silence, then I heard a voice:
“Can mortal man be in the right before God?
        Can a man be pure before his Maker?
Even in his servants he puts no trust,
        and his angels he charges with error;
how much more those who dwell in houses of clay,
        whose foundation is in the dust,
        who are crushed like the moth.
Between morning and evening they are beaten to pieces;
        they perish forever without anyone regarding it.
Is not their tent-cord plucked up within them,
        do they not die, and that without wisdom?”  (Job 4:12-21)
Assuming Eliphaz was actually confronted by this apparition and not inventing a tale, was the messenger sent from God or another source?  We know from other biblical texts that the appearance of an angel causes fear and awe (Luke 1:12, 29; Rev 19:10), so the sensation experienced would not be uncommon for such an occasion.  Similarly, the message is consonant with a scriptural view of man in his sinful condition: before a holy and righteous God, man has no standing within himself and can do no more than cry out to the Almighty in repentance, which Eliphaz counsels afterward (Job 5:8-16).

Even with these marks of divine authenticity, there are two particular elements that should cause the reader to reconsider.  First, the spiritual messenger does not identify himself, nor does Eliphaz offer one.  A quick check of similar appearances shows that the heavenly visitor was known by all involved, and though the initial meeting caused turmoil to the recipient, reassurance and respect were offered to help the person receive what was given.  Eliphaz’ account of the visit tells us nothing was offered but fear and dread.

Second, though the message is correct in what is delivered, the messenger does not offer the hope of remedy: there is no hope of falling on the Lord’s mercy and grace.  Eliphaz offers the solution himself outside the context of the visit, but the entity had no such words.  This is not how the Most High works.  Throughout redemption history, God has offered the hope of the gospel (see Gen 3:15; Rev 21:6) and has been patient with his creation that they might come to repentance.

From what Eliphaz described, we can conclude that the messenger was from Satan.  It came to tear down Job, cause him to look inward for rescue without turning to the Lord for peace and restoration.  This tactic is used today by the enemy to lead well-intentioned preachers and teachers to deliver misguided, even damnable, messages to His sheep.  We are told to clean up our messes, when in fact the Lord would forgive them freely through the completed work of Jesus for that sin on the cross.  We are told that not enough is being done, when in fact, there is nothing more to do but live in the light of the gospel.

Be wary of correct-sounding but error-ridden teaching.  Evaluate the content with an open Bible, not an open mind.

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