The Misuse of Spiritual Power

This is going to sound a bit odd, but I believe we’re capable of misusing spiritual power. Greg Boyd, a theologian and pastor, proposes the idea.

when God gives someone divine power, he genuinely gives it to them. To one degree or another, he places his divine power under the control of their own power. I refer to this as semiautonomous power because, while the power itself does not exist independently of God, the way it is used is, to one degree or another, up to the agent it is given to, not God. (“Boyd, Gregory A. The Crucifixion of the Warrior God: Interpreting the Old Testament’s Violent Portraits of God in Light of the Cross. Vol. 2, Minneapolis, Fortress Press, 2017, p. 1196.)

There are several stories in the Bible that cause us to wonder if this is possible, one of the most startling being that of the newly empowered Elisha.

He went up from there to Bethel, and while he was going up on the way, some small boys came out of the city and jeered at him, saying, “Go up, you baldhead! Go up, you baldhead!” And he turned around, and when he saw them, he cursed them in the name of the Lord. And two she-bears came out of the woods and tore forty-two of the boys. From there he went on to Mount Carmel, and from there he returned to Samaria. (2 Ki 2:23-25)

This is Elisha’s first prophetic act since Elijah was taken up to Heaven. He had just asked Elijah for a double portion of his spirit, was granted it by God, and now he has used that power to make bears kill some boys that made fun of him. Trying to attribute this act to God, especially in the light of Jesus’ revelation of God, feels almost reprehensible. Is this really what the enemy-loving God of the all-inclusive cross looks like?

We can note that Jesus did not want spiritual power to be used in this way, because He rebuked His disciples for wanting to call down fire from Heaven when a city wouldn’t make space for them to stay there (Lk 9:51-55). Rebuke is a strong word that is commonly used to describe what Jesus does to demons in His deliverance ministry. It’s almost as though Jesus is casting Satan out of the disciple’s perception of how they can use supernatural power. In fact, some manuscripts add to this story by having Jesus say, “You do not know what manner of spirit you are of; for the Son of Man came not to destroy people’s lives but to save them” (Lk 9:55-56).

Some manuscripts also thought that the disciples wanted to call down fire from Heaven because they wanted to recreate what Elijah had once done. This old story about Elijah is quite interesting. The “Angel of the Lord” told Elijah to go deliver a prophetic word to the messengers of the King of Samaria. When the king received the news, he wanted to talk to Elijah directly, so he sent a captain with fifty soldiers to make the request. Elijah saw the soldiers and freaked out and called fire down from Heaven on them. So the king sent another captain with fifty soldiers and Elijah freaked out and did it again. When the king sent a third group, the Angel of the Lord showed up and said, “Go down with him; do not be afraid of him” (2 Ki 1:15). Elijah then went with the soldiers to the king and delivered the word himself and that was the end of the story. There was no need for mass murder that day. Elijah had the power to call down fire from Heaven and would have continued to do so had not a messenger from God shown up to coach him otherwise. And in the same way, some manuscripts of Luke 9:54 portray Jesus as coaching His disciples to not use supernatural power oppressively “as Elijah did.”

I find myself convicted as I consider these stories. Twice I have had spiritual leaders come up to me and mention that they’ve seen people get sick through their prayers. They weren’t vengeful prayers or anything like that—more that God would urgently open the eyes of those they were praying for. The first time someone told me such a story I gave them a high five and said, “Alright! You cursed a person!” It was partially sarcastic, but partially serious as well. I felt immediate conviction from the Holy Spirit the moment the sound of the high five hit my ears. This wasn’t a joke—this was real—and I had just turned it into a gag. Jesus was rebuking me just as He had rebuked His disciples. He had the complete ability to call legions of angels down from Heaven (Mt 26:53) and storm the world, but instead He chose the cross.

Our words and authority as Christians carry tremendous weight in this world and it would do us good to have our eyes open to that.


This is an excerpt of my book, The Rush and the Rest.

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