I just left the house of a wonderful Christian family who is experiencing some very odd stuff at their house. I would not necessarily call this “paranormal” and I don’t know if I am comfortable calling it “demonic.” They don’t know what to do with it either. There are too many details for me to share, but most of the “activity” centers around a nine-year-old boy. If I were to summarize this in modern evangelical or charismatic language and use assumptions from the same, I would say that this family is being harassed by a demon. If I were to put it in modern American language, I would say this house has a “spiritual entity” or a ghost. If I were to put it in modern liberal language, I would say that some people in this family need to be on medication. But these are all dangerous places to start.
Let me say first of all that the family does not read this blog. Regardless, I am going to keep most details somewhat obscure so as to create some opportunity for discussion without risking their privacy. Second, let me say this: I don’t know what is going on. There is some odd stuff such as shadows appearing out of the wall, footsteps when no one is home, angels appearing in times of trouble, and little men with black painted faces running into and through people (which is, believe it or not, a very common testimony). However, considering my recent blog post about my dream and the subject of prophecy, I do want to talk about a couple of specific things somewhat unrelated to the “entity” about which I was called. I want to talk about some of the prophetic things involved with this family.
Here is essentially what I believe about prophecy. A prophecy is the act of speaking on behalf of God. So far so good? Prophecy is not a prediction about the future. It is simply a claim to transcendent knowledge that could not be acquired by any means other than a connection to God. Any time someone claims to have a prophecy (whether encouraging or discouraging, through direct contact or through dreams, whether it is someone else or myself) I require two things:
1. Mark of Transcendence: Is it absolutely evident that this “prophecy” came from God?
In other words, does the person claiming to speak on behalf of God bring a sign or wonder with him? Does he or she do something that is miraculous? This could be raising the dead, parting the sea, or healing the blind. It could even be embedded in the prophecy itself. Though we have to be careful with this, due to the reality of obscurity, does the person predict something that comes true or does he or she know things about me that would require transcendent knowledge? Of course I have seen so much obscurity here that we have to be careful. To put this another way, telling me, “You are going through financial difficulty!” does not qualify, as with our country’s current economy, the “prophet” has a pretty good chance of getting this right! Neither does, “God wants you to take that new job,” or, “God knows your depression and he loves you.” These are not precise enough. It has to be something really specific. . . Think the David and Uriah situation here. And it cannot be a predictive prophecy like, “It is going to rain tomorrow.” Neither can it be, “In five years, you are going to have a child.” There is no reason for you to hang your hat on hope which cannot be verified for a long period of time. This is not God’s M.O. If there is going to be a far-in-the-future predictive prophecy, there will be a near predictive prophecy which will establish the testimony of the far one (Isaiah 9 is an awesome example).
Why such requirements? Deut 18:21-22 says as much. The prophet will always have an attesting sign. God cares too much about his word to allow people to be flippant, casual, or vain about it (as was the case with the nations that Israel was disposing). He has a pretty big reputation to protect.
2. Mark of Orthodoxy: Does this contradict any truth already revealed in the Scripture?
I primarily get this from Deut 13:1-2:
“Suppose a prophet or one who foretells by dreams should appear among you and show you a sign or wonder, 2 and the sign or wonder should come to pass concerning what he said to you, namely, “Let us follow other gods”– gods whom you have not previously known– ‘and let us serve them.'”
Notice the assumption of an attesting sign or wonder. However, here God allows the mark of transcendence to give the false prophet the appearance of legitimacy (i.e., there was a miracle present). However, these guys were calling on Israel to worship other gods. There may be times when someone does something extraordinary, like the magicians in Egypt at the time of Moses. But they are not qualified by this alone. They must speak in concert with already revealed truth. In this case, they are calling on people to believe and be devoted to the idea that there are many gods that we need to call upon.
Those are the two tests to which I subject any prophetic claim. Now, back to my experience today.
First, there was the mother who was experiencing visions and feelings that one of her children was going to die in a car accident in three years’ time. These visions have been continual and clear. The tragedy is terrible. In this case, the mother was having a possible prophetic vision. Now, I don’t think this fails with regard to the orthodoxy test, as I don’t think there is a requirement for all prophecy to be positively encouraging. I think we have a standard of there being a point to the prophecy and I would wonder what the point of this prophecy is. Was it that she spend more quality time with the child? Maybe. Hezekiah was told to get his house in order as he was about to die (Isa. 38:1). And I don’t think we can set a requirement that all prophecy has to be positively encouraging. After all, wasn’t God’s primary complaint in Jeremiah 23 that all the false prophets were only giving good news, when death and judgment were on the horizon?
Jer 23:17-19 17
“They [the false prophets] keep saying to those who despise Me, ‘The LORD has said, “You will have peace “‘; and as for everyone who walks in the stubbornness of his own heart, they say, ‘Calamity will not come upon you.’ 18 But who has stood in the council of the LORD, that he should see and hear His word? Who has given heed to His word and listened? 19 Behold, the storm of the LORD has gone forth in wrath, Even a whirling tempest; It will swirl down on the head of the wicked.
Often, false prophets will couch their prophecies in good news because they want us to believe it. We like good news from God, not bad. It is just easier to accept.
However, I told her that she has no obligation to consider or believe this vision, impression, or dream, as it does not have any mark of transcendence. In fact, I told her just the opposite. If she let her life be guided by such things, good news or bad, she would find herself departing from the Lord as she would be allowing his name (reputation) to be taking in vain (empty; in need of no substantiation). So then and there, we prayed that if this “vision” were true, God would provide a substantiating sign or wonder right now. Not later…now (after all, he had already given the vision). Nothing happened as we sat there and prayed. We waited about 30 seconds. Still nothing. I gave her the best pastoral advice that I could: “You cannot believe this any more. Let it go.”
Second, the son, according to his testimony, had been taken up to heaven in a vision. There he saw many things, including the throne of God, Jesus, and Michael the Archangel. Some details in his description of heaven caused me to raise my eyebrows about what heaven looked like, but none of them were overtly unorthodox. As well, for him, this was a very encouraging dream. It made him feel good and loved by God. It also helped him feel protected in spite of his fear of this “entity” in their house (which I am not going to talk about).
But as good as this may have made him feel, I discouraged a belief in what the vision communicated. “How could you?” some of you may say. Forgive me, but I don’t think we have the right to believe something just because it makes us feel good or because it can be squeezed into a grid of orthodoxy. Simply put, I don’t believe these visions passed the test of transcendence either. Some may say that the vision itself was of a miraculous nature. I don’t think so. It would be like saying an impression or dream is miraculous in nature. The boy says he passed out and saw this vision.
I told the boy to get with his parents and ask that God would confirm the reality of this vision to all three of them at once through some evident sign. If he did, then he could take encouragement from it. But until then I told him to take prophetic encouragement from the Bible. I also told him that if he builds a habit of allowing unsubstantiated dreams and visions to bring him encouragement, this would create a “second canon” in his worldview. Since it is experience based, it could (and would) eventually take the place of Scripture (the first canon) completely. I even told him and his parents that if this happened, their visions could be better attributed to an evil source.
It was a very hard visit. It involved so much more than what I have just told you. The worlds of demons and spirits, dreams and prophecy, experience and emotion are real, but you had better have a game plan before you enter or they will quickly take over and redirect your entire life. This is the way experience is. Left in neutral, experience will hop in the driver’s seat. It is important, but it must be harnessed.
Set your standards high for God’s word and prophetic message, no matter how encouraging, discouraging, or personal it may be. God expects nothing less. And he does test us.
With such high standards, you may ask whether I have ever personally experienced a legitimate prophecy before. My answer is no. Have I ever heard of a legitimate prophecy in the history of the church? Yes. I have heard some here and there that, if true (and for some, they come from an incredibly reliable source), would pass both tests.
C. Michael Patton is the primary contributor to the Parchment and Pen/Credo House Blog. He has been in ministry for nearly twenty years as a pastor, author, speaker, and blogger.
Th.M. Dallas Theological Seminar (2001), president of Credo House Ministries and Credo Courses, author of Now that I’m a Christian (Crossway, 2014) Increase My Faith (Credo House, 2011), and The Theology Program (Reclaiming the Mind Ministries, 2001-2006), host of Theology Unplugged, and primary blogger here at Parchment and Pen. But, most importantly, husband to a beautiful wife and father to four awesome children. Michael is available for speaking engagements. He can be contacted at [email protected]