by Kevin Cain
The Bible is the final authority on all spiritual matters.
I was always taught that God controls the weather. The biblical examples together with the awesome process involving evaporation, condensation, and the whole cycle have pointed me to a Creator who instigated the whole system. After hearing several missionaries attribute weather conditions to Satan and his spiritual warfare, I wondered about the validity of their claims.
Though strange things had happened concerning the weather, their attempt to tie these experiences to demonic causes is where I started to see theological leaps. Making these leaps based on circumstances and their experience seemed to demonstrate a cavalier attitude toward the authority of Scripture.
All of us are susceptible to letting our experience interpret Scripture, rather than using Scripture to interpret our experience. Missionaries especially must not supplement God’s Word with their "impressions" but develop their theology strictly from God’s authoritative Word. Theology developed from feelings, circumstances, or experiences is dangerous because it leans heavily on our subjective interpretation of the events. When we interpret God’s Word by experience, we add to God’s Word, a practice God detests. I am surprised and saddened at the cavalier attitude that is taken concerning the warnings in Scripture about teaching false doctrine and being a false prophet (Acts 20:30, Titus 1:9, Phil. 3:3, Jude 4ff). Missionaries must carefully evaluate their assumptions and approach to the interpretation of Scripture to avoid the danger of basing theology and practice on experience.
As missionaries begin to understand the culture in which they find themselves working, it is common to feel inadequate. To beginners, everything is new. The missionary must approach culture as a learner, realizing that the nationals have much to teach us about language, culture, and lifestyle. But missionaries must never lose sight of the fact that the ideas of the target culture concerning the spirit world are not to be taken as authoritative. Unbelievers have nothing to teach us about the spirit world. If anything, what they say will be confused, misguided, and distracting. The Bible is the final authority on all spiritual matters.
One must not give in to the fears or feelings of the host culture regarding the spirit world and spiritual warfare. Since Satan is a liar and deceiver, any "wisdom" that they might have concerning spirits, demons, or the spirit world cannot be deemed as true. Their perceptions and fears, though seemingly true to them, must be scrutinized in light of Scripture. We must remain cognizant that importing their beliefs into the communication of the gospel is syncretism.
THE MISSIONARY WARFARE
The discussion of "spiritual warfare" within the evangelical missionary community has been plagued by "experiential theology." Successions of unverified anecdotes have been routinely used to validate deliverance prayers, prayer-walks, power encounters, and miracle claims. These strategies have the trappings of spirituality, yet many are without biblical grounding. Scripture warns us all:
"For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths" (2 Tim. 4:3-4).
These strategies lead not to theology (truth) but to speculation based on stories (myths). We should shake in our boots when we read statements like this from John Wimber: "I have talked with many evangelical theologians who have undergone significant changes in their theology because of an experience."1
THE SOURCE OF OUR KNOWLEDGE
Our authoritative knowledge of Satan comes from Scripture alone. Scripture tells us who he is, what he is doing, and how we can defeat him. But we seem to want to know more than God in his wisdom has revealed to us about Satan. The Bible describes his character and his activities in general. We speculate when we claim to know what Satan is doing in a specific situation. Where he is, who he is controlling, and by what techniques we will dominate him are just the kind of questions that will keep us from our main task of spreading the gospel.
Scripture informs us of Satan’s power. But Scripture does not tell us precisely what he can do, how he is able to influence us with his lies, the extent of his power, and how he blinds the minds of unbelievers. So where should we look for answers? Unfortunately, instead of being content that God has not told us everything in His Word about Satan but has told us enough to deal with him successfully, some turn nevertheless to "experiential theology." Ministry principles derived from "experiential theology" are improperly grounded. I want to contribute to a broad-based return of mission theology to the authority of Scripture. To that end, I will examine one area of interest among missionaries: namely, Can Satan control (or affect) the weather?
Epistemologically, evangelicals begin by affirming that Scripture is complete and correct in areas of doctrine and practice. Questions concerning if and how spiritual beings have anything to do with the weather can be answered only from Scripture. Ways to explain and forecast the weather from the natural world (i.e., from general revelation) are well documented. Ways to detect the part that the spirit world may play are beyond us. Scripture, therefore, must tell us of the relationship between the spirit world and the weather. We must refrain from basing theology and practice on our experience and feelings. This will often lead to faulty conclusions.2
Who causes it to rain and flood? Can the natural laws established by God be altered by spiritual beings? Is there any scriptural evidence that Satan can affect the weather? What does Scripture mean when it says that Satan is the "ruler of this world?" Answers to these questions must be derived from Scripture. Scripture does not disappoint. The answers, regardless of how disturbing they may be to our understanding of our personal experience, must form the basis of how we interpret life.
"In the beginning, God created the heaven and the earth" (Gen. 1:1). God established the natural laws governing his universe when he created it. Natural laws were designed to show his hand as the or-chestrator of the process so that everyone would be without excuse (Roman 1:20). Miracles are the suspension of natural laws in order to give certain evidence that God is at work. The one who made the laws of nature alone has the power to override them.3 R.C. Sproul affirms that, "Since God alone controls the natural he alone can act above it."3
Genesis tells us that before he created man, "the Lord God had not sent rain upon the earth" (Gen. 2:5). God had created the earth, and there is no question that God has, from the beginning, controlled the weather. It had not rained because God had not sent rain. God told Noah to build an ark. Where would the water come from to float it? God said, "I will send rain on die earth forty days and forty nights" (Gen. 7:4). Clearly, God controlled the rain. As God continued to work with people, it is clear that he chose to use rain and other forms of weather to communicate his displeasure with his chosen people. In 2 Sam. 12:18, the Lord sent thunder and rain to demonstrate his power so that his people would fear him. If other beings (e.g., Satan, demons, "Mother Nature") could also control the rain and thunder, a violent storm such as this would only have caused confusion concerning the cause of the storm. The Israelites would have asked each other, "Who sent this thunderstorm? How should we respond?" But their response appears to be immediate, and their response was directed to God (1 Sam. 12:19). There was no doubt that God had caused this rain, and that the appropriate response was to fear God.
Another example is found in Elijah’s words to King Ahab, "As the God of Israel lives, before whom I stand, surely there shall be neither dew nor rain these years, except by my word" (1 Kings 17:1). When God was ready, he proclaimed through his prophet, "I will send rain on the face of the earth" (1 Kings 18:1). The only conclusion possible from this incident is that God controlled the weather. Elijah put his life on the line to show not only that God sends rain to the earth, but that he can also send fire (1 Kings 18:38)! Elijah did not fear that anyone else could make anything happen that would affect the weather.
According to the scriptural evidence, God alone can cause it to rain and not to rain. He made it clear that it was his power alone that brought rain or held back the rain. He alone is to be looked to as the controller of the weather.
SPECULATIONS ON SATAN’S POWER
How interesting it is to hear the claim among those professing to believe the Bible that Satan can "manipulate the weather." I have listened to several stories from missionaries who give Satan credit for controlling the weather! Often it is because of a rainstorm. Satan, they speculated, must have caused a rainstorm to ruin an outdoor event that the missionary believed was in God’s will to run smoothly. The following story, told to me by a missionary friend, is a typical example.
"One afternoon in Kalimantan, Indonesia (Borneo), I got on my motorcycle to go to visit a village. The villagers seemed ready to listen to the gospel, so I had scheduled the whole afternoon to share with them. On my way to the village, a horrible storm arose. The rain fell in buckets and the road became like a stream. Strikes of lightning were bigger than anyone had seen before. Several trees fell as the winds increased, and one of these trees fell right across the road. After a time, I was able to work my way around this problem, intent on reaching this village and sharing. I was a determined man on a mission. I finally did arrive at the village. The weather calmed down, and I was able to share with the leaders of the village concerning the death of Jesus for their sins. Many Dayaks came to the Lord that day, including the widow of the shaman. From that day on, I was convinced that the storm was from the enemy, trying to deter me from taking the gospel to those villagers."5
Another example of speculation about Satan’s power to control the weather comes from Africa. In African tribal religions, rainmakers are popular. Evangelical missionaries hesitate to question the rainmakers’ ability to control the weather for fear of being culturally insensitive, imposing western rationalistic views into a culture that is "open" to spiritual things. Dr. Richard Gehman, an expert on religion in Africa, never questions a rainmaker’s ability to command the coming of rain. He assumes that this is in their power.6
Some evangelical writers have referenced biblical stories to illustrate Satan’s power over the weather. Just who was responsible for the storm on the lake in Mark 4 involving Jesus and the disciples? One author states that "the devil blows up a storm on the lake…" 7 while another refers to "… the spirit who caused the storm…"8 In Satan’s Devices, Robert Morey states:
"Both God and Satan can manipulate the weather. In Mark 4:37, I believe with many commentators that Satan sent a violent storm to kill Jesus while He was asleep on the boat. It was rebuked because Satan was trying to kill Him. Satan also caused a great wind to come and knock down the house and kill Job’s children (Job 1:18,19).9
Morey boldly states, "Satan can manipulate the weather," without any exegetical evidence. Nothing in the text infers this. Has he been unduly influenced by the stories and the teaching of others on this subject? Morey informs us that, indeed, he is speculating. When he states, "I believe…," he is signaling to us that he is looking between the lines. Morey adds speculation to speculation, furthermore, by making an even bolder claim, namely, that Satan was trying to kill Jesus with the storm. He began his departure from Scripture with an assumption about Satan’s power. Then he drifted further by attempting to discern Satan’s mindset in causing this storm.
Morey justifies his perspective by pointing to Job’s problems. Didn’t Satan cause a great wind to come down? Well, what about Job’s situation? This is one weather event where Satan’s words and "fingerprints" are evident.. or are they?
In Job 1, Satan asks God to reach out and "touch" Job’s surroundings (Job 1:11). First, Satan asked God to do this. God then told Satan, "All that he (Job) has is in your power, only do not put forth your hand on him" (Job 1:12). Now it appears that God gave Satan permission to "touch" Job’s surroundings. Subsequently, Job was hit by one calamity after another-two raids from neighboring people, a mighty wind, and what was most likely a lightning strike.
Scripture records that Satan comes before God again in Job 2. God pointed approvingly to his servant Job while judging Satan, saying "you (Satan) incited me against him (Job), to ruin him without cause" (2:3). God takes responsibility for doing these things to Job. Questions, then, should not be directed to Satan and what he did, but toward God and what He did.
Agreed, this passage in Job is ambiguous concerning who actually caused these events. First, Satan asked God to afflict Job. Then, God told Satan to do it. After the events occurred, God said, in effect, "Look what you made me do!" What is clear is that God is in control and his purposes can not be affected. Job’s understanding of the origin of calamitous events is accurate when he asks, "Shall we indeed accept good from God and not accept adversity?" (Job 2:10). One lesson of Job is that God is in control and he is to be praised in all circumstances. Though God may use secondary causes, our responsibility is to look to God and to lean on His strength. The book of Job does not prove that Satan can control the weather. Morey and all those who assert that Job establishes their case concerning Satan and weather read far more into the text than what is there and fail to see the evidence that contradicts their assertions.
This is not only a recent issue. Early church fathers such as St. Jerome believed that Satan caused weather problems. One secular author writes that "It was, indeed, no great step, for those whose simple faith accepted rain or sunshine as an answer to their prayers, to suspect that the untimely storms or droughts, which baffled their most earnest petitions, were the work of the arch-enemy, ‘the prince of the power of the air.’" Protestants and Catholics alike held this view, even going so far as to baptize church bells so that their ringing might scare aware the demons that cause storms.10
Does Satan have his hand on the cosmic thermostat? Can Satan manipulate the temperature? We should not make leaps in our belief. Truth about spiritual realities must never be based on fallibly interpreted circumstances or possible coincidences. Any explanation of phenomena "must concur with the Bible’s teaching, particularly since a key weapon of the devil is deception."11 The fact is that we can all be deceived by what we see.12 Again, I argue that all truth concerning spiritual matters not known through general revelation must be based on special revelation alone.
EXPERIENCE AS ENEMY
"Experiential theology" is incredibly dangerous.13 It threatens to move us from the only ground upon which truth is found-the Bible-to the bog into which a life and ministry can sink- Satan’s lies. Evangelical missionaries, of all people, must be grounded upon God’s divinely-given Scriptures. Not only should our theology be based on God’s Word, but we must maintain a fearful reverence of his special revelation as recorded in the Bible by not adding anything to it. Missionaries battle against syncretism in spreading the gospel message. We can ill-afford to dilute the message by adding opinions, impressions, or feelings. Though many espouse new revelations from God,14 those who hold that the canon is closed should be hesitant to add such untested and unverifiable claims to their theology.
Experience can be indispensable in helping one to develop his or her theology. Our experience helps us to ask the right questions and make sure our theology is connected meaningfully to life. Experience alone, however, should never control our understanding of God’s Word. God has given us His Word in order to change our perceptions of our experiences. Our life is the context into which God speaks. The language, culture, history, and environment all provide a backdrop in which we understand Scripture. Our understanding and exposition of Scripture must remain, as much as possible, free from our cultural wrappings15 as well as our personal interpretations and feelings.
Our task is to interpret the Bible correctly and by so doing interpret our experience through Scripture. Proper interpretation requires a proper hermeneutic to avoid the influence of extra-biblical perspectives. Theologian John J. Davis has stated the standard evangelical position: "It is axiomatic that theological positions are developed and authenticated not by mere human experience, but by the revelation of God in his Word."16 Not only should our theology be completely developed by Scripture, but Davis correctly states that our positions must be authenticated (tested and verified) by Scripture.
Satan is indeed "the ruler of this world" (John 12:31; 14:30, 16:11) which consists of evil spirits and fallen human beings.17 He apparently has power in influencing those spirits and the minds that he blinds. He does not, according to Scripture, have the power to affect the weather. Only God does. We must never give Satan credit for something that only God can do. But the issue is bigger than that. We must be ministers of the true understanding that God’s truth comes from God’s Word. Scripture offers the correction we need to interpret what merely seems true but is only culturally convenient or psychologically appealing. The Bible is sufficient for life (2 Tim. 4:13-17) and ministry (2 Tim. 4:1-5). Interpreting it in the way and for the reason God gave it will spare us from falling into the error of "experiential theology."
Evangelical missionaries need to interpret the Bible according to its context and its teachings. Concepts not dealt with in Scripture involving the spirit world, if not dismissed entirely, must be set minimally at the periphery of the missionary’s primary task-preaching the gospel.18 If Scripture does not speak to a subject, then no circumstances, coincidences, or experiences will help us in developing our biblical understanding of sin, salvation, and sanctification.19
Pastor David Kirkwood said it well: "….as we study Scripture closely, that which may be classed by some as extrabiblical is often exposed as being very unbiblical."20 The search for an extrabiblical key must stop. The gospel must remain the key, for it is the power of salvation for all who believe (Rom. 1:16).
Missionaries must continue to look to Scripture to test the stories that they hear. We can never afford to develop theology from experiences or anecdotes. Scripture must maintain its rightful place as the basis of our theology. As R.C. Sproul states, "Experience cannot offer higher evidence than the testimony of the written Word of God."21
1. John Wimber and Keving Springer, Power Evangelism (San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1996).
2. Clinton Arnold, 3 Crucial Questions About Spiritual Warfare (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Books, 1997), p. 18.
3. Herbert Lockyer, All the Miracles in the Bible (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan Publishing House, 1961), p. 14.
4. R. C. Sproul, John Gerstner, and ARthur Lindsey, Classical Apologetics (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan Publishing House, 1984), p. 152.
5. From an interview with a missionary retiree on September 1, 2000. More specific documentation is held by the author.
6. Dr. Richard J. Gehman, African Traditional Religion in Biblical Perspective (Kijabe, Kenya: Kesho Publications, 1989), pp. 70, 77.
7. R. Arthur Matthews, Born for Battle (Wheaton, Ill.: Harold Shaw Publishers, 1993), p. 17.
8. Wagner, p. 135.
9. Robert Morey, Satan’s Devices (Eugene, Ore.: Harvest House Publishers, 1993), p. 76.
10. Andrew Dickson White, A History of the Warfare of Science and Theology in Christendom, Vol. 1 (New York, NY: Dover Publications, 1896), pp. 336-350.
11. David Greenlee, "Territorial Spirits Reconsidered," in Missiology: An International Review, October, 1994, p. 513.
12. Andre Kole and Jerry MacGregor, Mind Games (Eugene, Ore.: Harvest House, 1998), p. 9.
13. Ed Rommen, ed., Spiritual Power and Missions (Pasadena, Calif.: William Carey LIbrary, 1995), p. 10.
14. Jack Deere, Surprised by the Spirit (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan Publishing House, 1993), p. 23.
15. Paul Thompson, "The Problem of Wrappings," in World Team Institute of Church Planting 2000 Reader, Winter, Issue 4, 1999.
16. John J. Davis, Contemporary Counterfeits (Winona Lake, Ind.: BMH Books, 1973), p. 22.
17. David Kirkwood, Modern Myths About Satan and Spiritual Warfare (Library, Pa.: Ethos Press, 1994), p. 52.
18. Chuck Lowe, Territorial Spirits and World Evangelization (Ross-shire, Great Britain: Christian Focus Publications, Geanies House, 1998), p. 144.
19. Gil Rugh "Demonization of the Believer: An Unbiblical Teaching Exposed" an audiotape from a sermon from Indian Hills Community Church, Lincoln, Neb., April 26, 1992.
20. Kirkwood, p. 81.
21. Sproul, p. 168.
Kevin Cain and his wife, Pam, served with World Team for five years in Irian Jaya, Indonesia, where Kevin was a missionary pilot/mechanic. He is currently World Team’s Director of Recruitment in Warrington, Pa.
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