When the “Supernatural” Is Not of God
James R. Aist
“Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.” (1 John 4:1)
I want to make it clear, right up front, that I am not among those who, in the Last Days, are content to have a form of Godliness but denying the power thereof (2 Timothy 3:1-5). After more than 25 years of affiliation with and participation in Pentecostal/Charismatic churches and denominations, as well as more than 65 years of personal encounters with God (click HERE , HERE and HERE), I have the distinct impression that, often, too little consideration is given to the possibility that a supernatural manifestation may not be of God, but of Satan. The default setting seems to be that if it is supernatural, it must be of God, but that is not a biblical approach at all. The Bible clearly instructs us to test the spirits to see if they are of God or not (click HERE), and to hold onto what is of God. So, in this article, I want to relate some unequivocal examples of when the supernatural was not of God, but of Satan, so that a more balanced and biblical approach to the supernatural might become more commonly practiced be Christians going forward.
Let’s begin by defining some relevant terms, shall we? “Natural” refers to things that are of this physical world that God created, often referred to as “nature.” “Supernatural”, on the other hand, refers to things that are above or beyond the natural, or not of this physical world. In this context, “supernatural” would refer to the spiritual realm, and, more specifically, to spirit beings or their activities. From the Bible, we know that spirit beings include God, angels (good and evil), demons and spirits (good and evil). Satan is the ruler of the evil angels, demons and evil spirits. Human beings are also spirit beings, but they have a physical body and a soul as well. God, as the Creator of everything, is ultimately sovereign over all of the physical and spirit beings. Jesus said that God is Spirit; consequently, whatever God does is supernatural. Likewise, whatever any of Satan’s spirit beings do is also supernatural.
Whenever we encounter a possible supernatural manifestation, I believe that the first thing we need to determine for ourselves is whether or not it is really a miracle at all. Many manifestations (e.g., random cloud formations appearing like Jesus or a cross, or rust dribbling down a statue) are easily explained by natural phenomena. Other manifestations (e.g., manufactured Words of Knowledge, messages from the “spirit world” or fake healing) may be nothing more than cruel hoaxes perpetrated by humans. Once such natural or manufactured phenomena have been ruled out as the cause, there are two possible sources of a supernatural manifestation: God or Satan.
Now, I assume that we are all familiar with accounts in the Bible of supernatural manifestations that were of Satan, not God. For example, the Bible says that Pharaoh’s magicians turned their rods into snakes (Exodus 7:8-12), and the Gadarene demoniac broke out of heavy chains and shackles using supernatural strength imparted by a legion of demons (Mark 5:1-13). But, to illustrate the point further, I want to give a more detailed account here of two supernatural encounters that I myself have had that were clearly not of God.
An “Angel of Light”
I was 19 years old, a college student and very naive and ignorant concerning spiritual matters and the Word of God. In my frame of reference at that time, anything supernatural was assumed to be of God.
Now, please keep in mind that I was fully conscious and aware during the entire supernatural encounter I am about to share with you. One Sunday afternoon, I was alone in my apartment praying earnestly to God for His guidance concerning a major life decision that I was about to make. While I was praying, I suddenly felt an invisible force pulling on me, weakly at first, but then stronger and stronger until my entire body fell limp and my upper torso was held upright (i.e., levitated) and literally pulled to the other end of the apartment by this force, with my lower legs and feet dragging along the floor. When I arrived at the doorway to my bedroom, the force released me, and I slumped into a full squatting position on the floor, still unable to move of my own accord. Then I saw, out of the corner of my right eye, a bright, round, white light about the size of a basketball. This light was situated at the juncture of the wall and the ceiling. Next, my gaze was turned toward the light, and a voice spoke into my mind. It told me what I wanted to believe as I had been praying to God, and the message was crystal clear and without any confusion on my part. Then my strength slowly returned and I was able to stand and walk.
In pondering what had just happened to me, I assumed that this entire and impressive spiritual encounter was a divinely inspired answer to my prayer. However, it was a frightening experience, and I have been reluctant to share it publicly until now. Believing it was of God, I acted on the message I was given.
As the years went by, it became more and more apparent to me that this “angel of light” had lied to me, because things were not working out as I was told they would. This development put me into a state of utter confusion, because I was, at first, certain that I had heard from God, who cannot lie. I was even in the midst of praying to God when this spiritual encounter occurred! “Surely God would not allow Satan to bring a false response to my prayer to Him!”, I reasoned.
More years passed, and, by now, I had become a student of the Bible and was a bit savvy concerning spiritual matters. But I was not yet fully convinced that this “angel of light” was not of God, even though what it said to me did not square with present reality. Then one day, as I was reading in 2 Corinthians 11, I came upon the verse that says “…even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light.” (verse 14). That caught my attention, but I tried to read on anyway. Each time I tried to read on, my gaze was directed back and glued to “…even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light.” Finally, I saw the connection between this verse and my earlier experience with an “angel of light”: that wasn’t God, that was Satan deceiving me and setting my life on a course that did not end well! And, there it is. This supernatural experience was not of God at all, but of Satan, no more doubt about it. (Note: It is not uncommon for the Holy Spirit to quicken, or bring alive, the written word of God to a Bible reader in this manner. In Pentecostalism, this experience is sometimes referred to as an example of the “Rhema word” of God. For a sound, biblical teaching by Watchman Nee on the Rhema word, see text pages 51-59 at this link: https://s3-us-west-1.amazonaws.com/bfa-media/ebooks/TGC-eng.pdf)
A Slithering Serpent
Early on in my experience with Pentecostalism, I was an active member of the Full Gospel Businessmen’s Fellowship International (Ithaca, NY, chapter). A much larger chapter in nearby Syracuse, NY, invited me to be their keynote speaker at their next monthly meeting, and I accepted. They wanted me to relate my experiences in researching and publishing, on the Cornell University campus and to the Ithaca area, the facts and truth about homosexuality. Of course this was an inflammatory mission I was on, and the area homosexual activists were all up in arms about it, opposing me with every hateful and devious attack they could think of. The devil hates it when someone sheds light on his nefarious deeds of darkness, doesn’t he?
When the day came for my presentation, there was a sizable crowd of about 150 people who showed up to hear what I had to say. No more than about 10 minutes into my speech, I noticed to my left a woman standing in the aisle near the back of the crowd. As I continued to speak, I saw in the corner of my eye that she had laid down on the floor and was moving through the aisle toward me. When she was about half way to the front, I could see clearly how she was moving along the floor: she was face-down, her body taking the shape of a crawling snake and slithering toward me, all the while lifting her head, wagging her tongue at me and hissing audibly – just like a snake! I knew almost immediately that we were seeing a supernatural manifestation that was demonic in nature, so I continued right along with my speech so as not to allow this demon to disrupt my message. When the serpent lady had reached the edge of the open area where I was standing, a couple of the local men of the chapter came and quietly picked her up off of the floor, escorted her out of the auditorium the same way she came in, and ministered to her out in the foyer. This demonic manifestation was very impressive and creepy, but it didn’t spoil God’s purpose for my being there!
I want to encourage us all to not be too quick to conclude that anything that is supernatural is of God. False prophets can work signs and wonders too (click HERE). While it slanders God when we are duped by “wolves in Sheep’s clothing” (Matthew 7:15), it is blasphemy of the Holy Spirit to attribute to Satan the miraculous works of God (Matthew 12:22-30). So, we must be very careful to always test any supernatural manifestation before we conclude that it is, or is not, of God (See Addendum, below). Peter and John did not believe the report that Jesus had been raised from the dead until they had direct, physical confirmation themselves, and Thomas withheld his worship of the resurrected Jesus until Jesus gave him the physical confirmation he was holding out for. Perhaps we would be wise to follow the example of these Apostles and require confirmation that supernatural manifestations are really of God, rather than being quick to just assume that they are. I have to believe that if God wants us to know what He is doing, He can and will make it clear to us, if we are willing to inquire, listen, watch and wait.
I would be remiss if I didn’t share with you, for what its worth, some of the tests I use to evaluate the authenticity and the source of claimed “supernatural” manifestations. So, here is a “short list” of my tests:
- Is there a verified, natural explanation available?
- Is there a verified fleshly motivation to fake a miracle?
- Do the human instruments of the manifestation appear to be trustworthy and reliable witnesses?
- Does it involve anything that the Bible expressly prohibits?
- Is it serving God’s purposes or Satan’s purposes?
- What are my natural and my spiritual gifts of discernment telling me about it, if anything?
(To read more of my biblically themed articles, click HERE)