Seeing the Unseen

Seeing the Unseen

As I Was Saying is a forum for a variety of perspectives to foster faith-related conversations among our readers with the goal of mutual learning, even in disagreement. Apart from articles written by editorial staff, these perspectives do not necessarily reflect the views of The Banner.

Pokémon Go’s popularity has peaked and fallen, but augmented reality is here to stay. The game reveals how rife the market is for augmented reality. More significantly, it shows how open people are toward worlds that can only be seen with digital aid. Even as I write, a Wartortle (a lavender turtle with large pointed ears) might be sitting next to me, perhaps glaring in my direction with mischievous intent. The vision of the future is a complicated one where the digital world will be as significant as the real one.

That I have to refer to two worlds shows how far the virtual one has come. An opportunity exists for the church.

Augmented reality reminds us of a point that has been neglected, especially among intellectuals. Unseen worlds exist and make a difference. From time immemorial, people believed that an invisible register pressed into this world of stone, mortar, and metal. No one doubted it. Even great intellectuals and philosophers, like Socrates, believed in and connected with this world. For example, in Plato’s Phaedrus, Socrates’ tutelary daemon (a spirit of sorts) convicts him of speaking poorly about the goddess Love, and so he retracts his words and composes another speech in honor of her. For Socrates and those he was in dialogue with, the gods and even abstract qualities such as love and justice in divinized forms interact with them. The Greco-Roman world during the time of the church fathers (a group of early church leaders and thinkers) was no different.

Ramsey MacMullen, the great scholar of Rome, reminds us that the church grew because it took the unseen realm seriously and drove out demons and performed miracles. According to MacMullen, the early church made a spectacle of evil spirits—demons howling, begging, and departing in humiliation. The upshot: the church demonstrated the power of Christ. When audiences saw these power encounters, the church gained enormous traction and members. Jesus of the Christians was stronger than the other gods. Who wouldn’t believe?

More recently, Andrew Delbanco, an American Studies professor at Columbia University, published a book on a related topic, The Death of Satan (1996). Though he does not elaborate on an invisible world, he believes that evil exists and that we need to take the discourse of Satan seriously. He pleads with his intellectual colleagues to reconsider the reality of evil, for to forget that evil exists in our world will allow evil to triumph. If Delbanco is right, and I believe he is, then the expulsion of an invisible realm from our imaginations will destroy the moral fabric of society. Evil will win because people cannot defeat an enemy that is not only invisible but also non-existent.

As our society dives deeper into a digital world, the church has an opportunity to directly address what is unseen. If my analysis is correct, then there is an opening, even a hunger to experience something that cannot be touched or handled. The church has the necessary resources to navigate through this realm in a systematic and educated way through the New Testament and the writings of the church.

Paul reminds us that the greatest problem is spiritual. The god of this age blinds people from seeing the worth of Christ (2 Cor. 4:4). No wonder ministry is difficult at times; there is a spiritual struggle. In other words, intellectual conundrums, economic hardships, and social injustice, though deep, only scratch the surface.

We have to ask the right questions. What causes these evils? Why are we so blind to our sins, even systems of sin? The root is found in an unseen realm, a foe who only seeks to steal, kill, and destroy. Ephesians 6 sheds further light by saying we do not fight against flesh and blood but against the rulers, authorities, and powers of this dark world and against spiritual forces of evil.

The solution is also writ large. Paul writes to the Corinthians that we have divine power to demolish strongholds, arguments, and pretension that set itself up against the knowledge of God (2 Cor. 10:4-5). If anyone can have victory, believers can. So what can we do?

We can start with the New Testament. The unseen realm permeates every page. Discuss such passages in community. In addition, regain the importance of prayer, which is the main way we wage warfare in the spiritual realm. And sing. The power of praise and worship cannot be underestimated. Music itself is a powerful force. We all know this and, more importantly, have felt it. When our praises rise to God, it becomes a trumpet blast that overcomes foes.

Most of all, exercise faith, which by definition is something we cannot see. If anyone can swim in the sea of the unseen, it is the believer who perceives through the eyes of faith.

About the Author

John Lee is the head of the Upper School at The Geneva School of Manhattan, a Christian classical school. He also serves with Ben Spalink at City Grace Church in the East Village of New York City.

See comments (1)

Comments

Thanks, John, for attempting to give us a different way to consider the Christian faith, at least different from the traditional Reformed perspective.  Quite frankly, what you suggest sounds more like it belongs to an abstract make believe world view.  What you call an augmented reality (Pokemon Go) has nothing to do with reality, but rather is the product of a vivid imagination.  The digital Wartortle creature, sitting next to you, on your computer screen, again, has nothing to do with reality.  It’s part of a fantasy game world.  The imaginations of people have come up with a huge variety of heros and anti-heros such as the Marvel comic book characters (Superman or the Dark Knight).  But they are all fictional characters.  Frank Peretti has written several fictional books (such as This Present Darkness) that describe good and evil angels that exist in a pseudo reality that impacts our reality.  But like your Pokemon world, this is a work of fiction.  It seems to me that you are using Scripture to paint an unreal picture of reality, an imaginary world which you would render as reality.  I’m not buying it.  Thanks, though, for attempting to spark our imaginations.

X