Christian Over-Spiritualizing Defined



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  • Christian Over-Spiritualizing Defined

    I sometimes use the term "over-spiritualize" to define scriptural interpretation that exceeds its intended meaning, or when an event or action is over-compensated with implications that God had orchestrated it. Much Christian "over-spiritualizing" comes from a lack of experience in regard to the interpretation of Scripture coupled with our position in God through Christ Jesus. Below, I start with quotes from several authors to get a few thoughts stirring.

    "Sometimes it seems harmless, but I’ve seen many folks who "over-spiritualize" things and reflexively say that God told them this or that, or gave them such and such. The way they phrase it makes it sound like if you disagree with them then you are opposing God, but of course the burden of proof should be on them." — 4Simpsons, "God told you what?!"

    "The danger in over-spiritualizing something is that we put too much value on one thing and in so doing take away truth or value of something else. It seems to me some Christians put so much emphasis on supposedly spiritual matters that they separate completely the reality of the world they live in from its spiritual significance. Over-spiritualizing, as I have experienced it, seems to create religious or spiritual fanatics; religious hypocrites; or spiritually confused people. Trying to find grand spiritual significance in all of life's circumstances only puffs us up to make us seem more 'spiritual' as though to justify our own existence because we're ashamed, maybe, of our lives before Christ." Tim Larson, Gray Clad Mystery.

    "If I can over-spiritualize or ignore the condition of my private life or marriage or the people around me, I will never see my or their "broken down" condition. If I refuse to see the true condition, it will never get any better!" Pastor John Brown, Commentary on Nehemiah 2:11-20.

    Please do not mistake my thoughts as a devaluing things spiritual or truth revealed in Scripture. I find that as I mature in the faith, I discover more just how important the spiritual aspects of life are as they relate to the physical aspects of living. In fact, I have found that in the smallest of life's details, God is at work to produce in me His character and teaching me who He is. It might also be good to remember that there is little that a Christian does that is 'unspiritual' because everything we do affects who we are and we are ultimately spiritual beings.

    However, it is a subtle error in thought, to make every experience a work of God when some things simply are not--such is the flaw of over-spiritualization. As Christian entrepreneurs, it is tempting sometimes to find a profound, spiritual meaning in everything that we do. While there is certainly a spiritual nature to everything, sometimes taking out the garbage is just taking out the garbage. Christ used everyday activities in many of His parables to teach profound truths, therefore there are definitely lessons that can be learned in our mundane tasks. Even so, I doubt that He expressed how profoundly spiritual these tasks were on a daily basis.

    Many Christians "over-spiritualizing" the provisions of God and His involvement. They wait in their proverbial hammock, waiting for the clouds to part and the ideas and solutions to fall from the heavens. Not only is the not rationale, it is not practical either. True innovation and realization depends on our being actively engaged. God provides the doors and resources with unction of direction, we have to implement them. The farmer for one, knows that he must till the soil, plant the seed, and cover with earth to yield a crop. The balance of the work depends on God's created natural laws and resources. Despite all God’s provisions, I have watched my father grieve over a whole field of corn lost to blight. Did God cause the blight? Was God angry at my Father by destroying acres of corn? No, his land was unfortunately in the blights path, as it swept across the state upon the wind. Someone may read more into it than that, but that is exactly what a person would be doing.

    Another example of "over-spiritualizing" is incorrect application of God's work in a given situation. While an old covenant student might interpret a natural disaster as the wrath of God striking at humanity. The Christian fully schooled in both covenants will view reality through the words of Christ. Christ spoke saying in Luke 21:11 "There will be great earthquakes, famines and pestilences in various places, and fearful events and great signs from heaven." Please note, never in any Synoptic Gospel did He say the wrath of God will be poured out upon the wickedness of mankind through these catastrophes. No, rather He pointed out that these natural calamities will be signs or time markers as the end draws to an end. It isn't until the Second Covenant is past, that the great bowls of wrath shall be poured out. This is where confusion sometimes arise. Revelation 16:1-2 states that the first bowl of judgment is poured upon the people who take the mark of the beast. The rapture has already occurred and the true church has been removed. A correct and balanced understanding of Eschatology is imperative when interpreting Christ’s words.

    Additionally, Christ went to great effort to point out reality verses an act of God. In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus mentioned the tragedy when he was told about some Galilean insurgents who were killed by the Romans. Those who told Jesus this may have expected him to say that their deaths were punishment for their rebellious and belligerent behavior. Yet, in mentioning the collapse of the tower of Siloam, Jesus taught that death can come upon anyone, regardless of how sinful they are. He went on to teach that the need for all people to repent is the true lesson from such tragedies (Luke 13:1-5). Many of today's Christians would interpret such a situation as an act of God when it is actually a result of living in a precarious dimension.

    I deeply cherish David Wilkerson and Times Square Church, they are one of the few truly spirit-filled churches left in the land. But they sometimes slip into theological "over-spiritualizing" when they start warning about the wrath of God, as if the Twin Towers was the preamble to the doom of America. If America is doomed, it is because of the people in America, God isn't in the tower smiting business under the New Covenant. God may indeed lift the veil of His protection to allow evil to repremind or test as he did Job, but this is not the same as the Wrath of God yet to come.

    Let me explain briefly. Under the Old Covenant (Old Testament), God's spirit only resided in anointed men, or via His Shekinah Glory (pillar of fire). The Spirit was not available to all who sought God, and therefore God acted in works external of mankind, to keep the Hebrew people pure. When Christ ascended and the promised Holy Spirit came upon those waiting in the upper room at Antioch, that event was the final fulfillment of the New Covenant (New Testament). God no longer dwelt in buildings made by hands, but in the hearts of men. All correction and rebuke was now from within as the Spirit so dwelled. And yes, Ananias and Saphira was a unique Holy Spirit smiting, as an example to the church. The Old Testament gives account of God the Creator killing a tallied 2,301,417 people for impurity, but under the New Covenant, this act of God's outward work of purification ceased. He now abides within those who are called by Christ's name.

    In the parable told in Matthew 5:25-26, Christ again attempts to teach his listeners the difference between reality and the spiritual experience. "Settle matters quickly with your adversary who is taking you to court. Do it while you are still with him on the way, or he may hand you over to the judge, and the judge may hand you over to the officer, and you may be thrown into prison. I tell you the truth, you will not get out until you have paid the last penny." Christ was impressing upon His listeners that just because you may inherit the Kingdom of God as becoming a follower of righteousness, you will not be able to circumvent the natural laws or laws of the governments. By the choice of becoming a Christian does not mean we can circumvent cancer, but the Holy Spirit could heal us! Because you are a Christian does not assure your child might not perish in an accident, but rather the indwelling Holy Spirit will take ALL things and work them for good. To "over-spiritualizing" would be to somehow think we are supernaturally exempt from the conflicts and traumas of life. In truth, becoming a Christian often turns up the heat in our life, but always for the best in the end.

    There are so many examples of "over-spiritualizing" which is essentially incorrectly applying a spiritual wrapper around the laws and events that govern our fallen universe. I am certain, everyone knows of people who get angry with God for a loss or a misfortune, as if God had planned or allowed it. In the book of Ruth, Naomi turned sour against God and told Ruth "The Lord has turned against me..." (Ruth 1:13) and "Don't call me Naomi" she answered "call me Marah, because the Almighty God has made my life bitter." (Ruth 1:20). There are many other examples of men and women in scripture negatively "over-spiritualizing" an event as God's lack of support or provision. When in truth, God never abandons his creation, but it might feel like it when all seems to be going wrong.

    In some of today's less than "organized" Charismatic bodies, there are those who claim "the Lord spoke to me and said" when in fact, they are just wanting recognition for being important and make it up. This type of "over-spiritualizing" could be better described as a false prophet. Of course, this type of revelation is difficult to prove, whereas the proclamation is claimed from a divine source, therefore not subject to any methods of examination, due to lacking empirical evidence. Meaning, we basically have to take a person's word for it, praying our discernment is sharp and accurate. To avoid causing offense, becoming a conflict or being labeled a trouble maker, a large number of Christians are willing to close their spiritual eyes and partake without discussion. The more popular the prophet, the more eagerly received the word without consideration. I am not suggesting all prophecies and words of knowledge are false. Many are genuinely God's counsel and should be heeded, but unfortunately, among the wheat are tares.

    The more divergent and malevolent of "over-spiritualizing" should be fairly obvious to most Christians, but sad to say, it is often not. The multitude of New Age and mystical spiritual components from Satan's lair has swept across the books and pulpits of today's church at large. No denomination or country is exempt from the tentacles of this beast. Few are the churches I have attended who do not allow some induction of counterfeit spirituality. From the abuse of tongues and false words of knowledge to angel feathers and occult trances, as to "over-spiritualizing" certain things as from God when they are clearly not. When numerous authors and teachers take pagan techniques and rebrand them for Christianity, we can be certain we are be seduced by the evil one from within. Christ warned this would happen, but who would have expected a grand delusion at this scale? That even the very elect, with discernment and the Holy Spirit, could be so easily seduced.

    I would guess there will be numerous comments on this topic, or at least thoughts unspoken. Some in agreement, others maybe who challenge certain thoughts presented. This would be expected of such a subject. Your comments are welcome! I thought the attached cartoon was somewhat humorous
    Attached Files

  • #2
    I believe that God does warn people about His wrath to come. God is not mocked, The good and evil we sow is what we shall reap. The wrath spoken of below is past, present and future:

    Rom 1:18 "For the wrath of God is revealed from Heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness."
    Rom 9:22 "What if God, willing to show His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much long-suffering the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction."
    Rom 13:4 "For it is a servant of God to you for good. For if you practice evil, be afraid, for it does not bear the sword in vain; for it is a servant of God, a revenger for wrath on him who does evil."
    Col 3:6 "On account of which things' sake the wrath of God is coming on the sons of disobedience."
    Eph 5:6 "Let no man deceive you with vain words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the children of disobedience."
    1 Th 2:16 "Forbidding us to speak to the nations that they might be saved, to fill up their sins always; but the wrath has come upon them to the uttermost."
    Rev 6:16 "And they said to the mountains and rocks, Fall on us and hide us from the face of Him sitting on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb."
    Rev 6:17 "For the great day of His wrath has come, and who will be able to stand?"
    Rev 16:19 "And the great city came to be into three parts, and the cities of the nations fell. And great Babylon was remembered before God, to give to her the cup of the wine of the anger of His wrath."
    Rev 19:15 "And out of His mouth goes a sharp sword, so that with it He should strike the nations. And He will shepherd them with a rod of iron. And He treads the winepress of the wine of the anger and of the wrath of Almighty God."

    See what the Lord does to Jezenel's children and her followers..

    Rev 2:22 "Behold, I am throwing her into a bed ( some versions say sick bed), and those who commit adultery with her into great affliction, unless they repent of their deeds."
    Rev 2:23 "And I will kill her children with death. And all the churches (not the unsaved) will know that I am He who searches the reins and hearts, and I will give to every one of you according to your works."

    I know some people use the ''God told me'' to get attention, position, tickle ears and even manipulate obedience (finance's) from the flock. A man or woman of integrity would not mind being tested according to the scriptures. If they object then something is wrong. We just have to check everything with the Lord especially since the Church is becoming more un-Godly every passing day. Rust on my car is not necceserily an attack of the enemy or the wrath of God but could be down to my neglegence, manufacturers neglegence, acid rain from a fallen world, etc.

    Ezekiel (minority) was what we would call very negative and the false prophets (majority) were very encourageing. When the children of Israel walked right with God, the false Prophets were stoned and true Prophets were heeded. They were not considered murderer's for stoning false Prophets but obedient. When they went against God then the false Prophets were extolled and the true prophets were killed in most case's. How we treat the true and false Prophets today is an indication of whether we walk with or against God ( I am not condoning stoneing false Prophets today).

    God bless.


    • #3
      Expounding on the Wrath of God

      Thanks for the overview of scriptures Watchman. This thread is primarily about "Over-Spiritualization", but since you have encapsulated notes on the "Wrath of God", I shall expound a bit. If it becomes too lengthy, I may have to split and move the comments to a new thread.

      The scriptures you have pasted in are a mix of time lines in Eschatology. Some of the quotes are referring to the future wrath of God in judgment, not in reference to the current church age. I think I may have failed to properly convey my understanding on the Wrath of God, therefore will attempt to do so better here. I realize if a person listens to Calvinist like Jonathan Edwards and his hallmark message `Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God', they can't help but picture God standing next to the precipice of Hades, flinging souls into burning sulfur with great passion. God's wrath is real and can be expected, but under the provision of his Mercy, we are currently in the church age of Grace where His FULL wrath is subdued under the blood of Christ.

      Under the Old Covenant, obedience was motivated by the fear of God’s wrath. It was literally fear of God. Under the New Covenant, Jesus said it is about love. We obey because we love Him, because He first loved us. The Gospel of John echo's this premise repeatedly. This distinction between relationship out of fear and relationship out of love makes a huge difference in the proper declaration of the Gospel. If we attempt to relate to God out of fear of His wrath we are putting ourselves back under the Old Covenant, and walking without grace.

      "For the sake of My name I delay My wrath, And for My praise I restrain it for you, In order not to cut you off." Isaiah 48:9

      In regard to how God deals with his children, a Christian's sin may require confrontation — but God confronts in love, not anger. The Word says the anger of man does not accomplish the righteousness of God. (James 1:20). However, the New Testament does make reference to God’s wrath, but His wrath is only directed toward those who reject Christ and is reserved for the end of time, not during this epoch of time. (John 3:36)

      Second Thessalonians chapter one is perhaps the most vivid of all. It talks about God coming in flaming fire and taking vengeance on them that know not God and obey not the gospel, who will be punished with an everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord and the glory of His power. However, this is speaking of the future judgment, not during the current dispensation of grace.

      "What if God, although willing to demonstrate His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction? And {He did so} in order that He might make known the riches of His glory upon vessels of mercy, which He prepared beforehand for glory, {even} us, whom He also called, not from among Jews only, but also from among Gentiles." Romans 9:22-24.

      While God’s wrath is a part of His plan, it is withheld so that His mercy might be received. However, those who reject the provision of salvation through, Christ, upon them rests the coming judgment and equally his "curse" of separation, for rejecting life. “Whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on him” John 3:36 “The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness.” Romans 1:18 It is not well with people who do not know Christ because the wrath of God abides on them. In perspective of truth, the sentence has already been passed, the whole human race is slated for hell. We are all children of wrath under the judgment of God. However, God's full expression of wrath is destruction, therefore none could survive to recieve Christ if the Creator's full wrath was unleashed.

      Now, there are basically two ways that heaven reveals the wrath of God. The first is what could be called "moral order" and the other "personal choice." When God created the world, the physical and the moral world. He built into it certain laws. If you climb a tall building and jump off you die due to the law of gravity. There are laws in the physical world, there are laws in the spiritual world and God has built into the world moral laws, the laws of reciprocity. Under the moral order in the world, when you violate that moral law, consequences immediately take place.

      When the scriptures speak "Now the wrath is revealed from heaven" in the moral order. It refers to the things that are immoral, you pay a price in tribulations. If you live a dissolute, degenerate evil life and there will be consequences, it cannot be avoided. This is the natural consequence of violating the moral laws. But the ultimate consequences exceed the laws them self. The wrath of God is not simply confined to moral order, there is also a response on God’s part. God is not a cosmic force who made a law and lets it run its course. God is involved and the Scripture reveal a very intense personal reaction to sin within the heart of our divine Creator.

      I think Dr. Donald Grey Barnhouse best illustrates God's judgment for today and I’ll close with this. He said, “The wrath of God is like a great water impounded behind a dam. He said, I can remember the first time I ever saw Hoover Dam, one of the greatest of all dams on earth. It has been thrown across the waters of the Colorado River and these waters have backed up for miles and penetrated into every little cove and valley. And thus it has been with the wrath of God. The first time there was ever a sin committed; the wrath of God was stored up against that sin. And as men lived upon the earth and as their hearts grew more wicked and the outbreak of their sin more violent, the store of wrath grew greater and greater, held back by the patience of God which lies across the valley of His judgment like a great dam across the river. And in His eternal foreknowledge God the Father foresaw all of the sin that would be committed after the time of Christ, your sin and my sin, and He stored His wrath against it behind the dam of His patience. And the wrath of God against sin that even today has not yet been committed is also stored up waiting for the day when His patience shall burst into its holy end at the end of the present dispensation. For thousands of years that dam has held and God has held back His wrath. Occasionally throughout human history He stooped to dip His hand into the pent up flood and pour a few drops of wrath on some, especially vicious outbreak of rebellion. But for the most part God seemed to overlook the sins of man in the centuries before the cross. It looked maybe as if sin was tolerated, but it was just piling up.”

      You know, the dam broke one day, and it broke at Calvary. And it broke on Christ and drown Him in all the sea of sin. And it will break again and it will drown all those men who are not in Christ. Christ took the judgment for those who believe. For those who do not believe, they will take their own judgment. And the wrath of God awaits them. Because they hold the truth, no matter what they claim, but they hold it and suppress it because of their sin.


      • #4
        Thoughts on Over-Spiritualize

        This is interesting as it deals in many ways with God being in control and over all. Let me use the example of your father’s corn to make a point and show how I see this manifested most often. Your father’s field was blighted. God certainly allowed this to happen. He could have stopped it or allowed the blight to “pass over”. He did not. Now it is also possible that God actively willed your father’s fields blighted. Not just allowing, but really wanting those crops destroyed, for whatever reason. We see this in passages where God has “withheld” the grain and wine from His people. Now here is where I usually see the problem. Other people see the crop blighted and immediately “over-Spiritualize” the event. They are sure that this is a “portent of doom”, a “divine warning”, usually against some ungodly living, in this case, on your dad’s part. They are quick to follow in the footsteps of Job’s friends, rush to the scene and offer deep spiritual “insight” on the matter. We can see God’s displeasure with this in the final chapters of the book of Job.

        We should examine ourselves when these events take place. It may actually be a warning. After all, not a sparrow falls to the ground without the Father’s knowledge. If we look at scripture, we see that anytime God brought dire events upon the earth as judgments or “wake up calls” to His people, He plainly spoke about what was happening and why. Other times, when dire events happened, God attached no significance to them and so they are mentioned only in passing. Earthquakes – pretty dire events. Look at Matthew 28:2 – major earthquake, spiritually significant. Now look at I Kings 19:11 – earthquake, spiritually not significant to the point where scripture even states “God was not in the earthquake”. In both case the earthquake was caused by God yet only one was used to draw attention to history changing events. The other, was a byproduct of God working with a prophet. In my mind, I can see all the Israelites in the surrounding areas frantically trying to figure out what the importance of that earthquake was. Can’t you hear them, “What is God trying to tell us?” Then scripture reveals that the importance of the earthquake was that “God was not in it”.

        This is the point. God will reveal what is and is not spiritually significant. We “over-spiritualize” when we see every event as a spiritually significant one. We certainly error when we “speak” for God in interpreting these events and attaching meaning to them when He has not called us to do so. Going back to your father’s corn. If God was trying to teach/warn your father of something He is capable of making His desires understood and would do so in such a case.

        This applies to us all. If we feel an event may be spiritually significant, we should examine ourselves, seek wisdom by asking God. (James 1) If God is trying to get our attention or we need to know what is “going on” He will make it clear to us as we seek His will. There is an excellent example of this found in II Samuel 21:1. Famine – David seeks God’s understanding of it – problem revealed. It is interesting that in Acts 11:27-29 a famine is also mentioned yet no spiritual significance is attached to it. God only indicated it was coming and that provision should be made for those in Judea. Now, if God does not reveal to us any significant we need to just let it go and not delve into idle speculation. (Just ask Job’s friends) The end of all this is that we should be a people that are grounded in a relationship with the Father, through His Son, and are being led by the Holy Spirit. To me over-spiritualization has always seemed to be most prevelent when the relationship is lacking.


        • #5
          God To Do or Not to Do

          I like your insight and agree with the possibilities as you present them Daniel. I guess, theologically, I would lean a little toward the Deist arena, along with many theologians of the 17th and 18th century. But certainly not to the extent of denying miracles, prophecy nor to the extent of Unitarianism. Nor do I hold that God can only be perceived by reason. I find rather, that God is partially transcendent and not often immanent. That due to Grace, God does not exceedingly intervene with the functions of the natural world, allowing it to run according to the laws of nature and the musings of man. Not extensively, but at least partially.

          I say this to point out, in the 1970’s when the American corn blight struck my father’s field, it had cascaded across all the states. It reoccurred a couple years thereafter, until chemicals effectively curbed it. Do I think it was an act of God for some spiritual end value? No I don’t, rather it was the Bipolaris maydis fugus fully out of control from Mexico, moving up through the states. Was it man’s fault? Was he reaping a causality from error? Yes! The real culprit was monoculture: the decision by plant breeders and farmers to plant just one variety of corn. In doing that, they eliminated diversity from their fields. If there had been a diversity of corn types, some of them quite likely would have been resistant to the fungus and some of the crop would have been saved. This wasn’t sin by commission, but out of ignorance, due to the lack of data.

          As the first post mentioned, as Christ spoke regarding those who expecting him to say the Galilean massacre was a judgment of God, he implied a "no," rather that it was the results that mattered. Yes, farmers did pray more to God after the blight, and looked up for His mercy. Did God intentionally send or allow the blight to motivate Christian farmers to humble themselves and look up? Again, I would say no, it was instead a positive result of a dire situation. Would I crush my child’s beloved tricycle so that they will remember who gave it to them, as to gain their respect, love and admiration? Not at all, that would be manipulation and sure sign of an emotionally unstable parent. Such an act would yield an opposite result, resentment and distain to say the least.

          Even though God is significantly aware of all his creation at the sub-atomic level, it doesn’t mean He currently needs to manipulate the natural functions of matter to get our attention. From all my theological studies, I find God interacting with mankind significantly different than he did before the cross. This dynamic of Christian philosophy attempts to place God in the restraints of our limited understanding. I dare say, such a discussion could last for decades, and most the comments would come full circle as to be futile. But it is interesting


          • #6
            I had never heard such a thing as ‘over-spiritualizing’ in my mother tongue, Chilean Spanish. I wonder who created it and when? Anyway, thanks for clarifying the concept. I now understand that you see both a positive and a negative kind of ‘over-spiritualizing’ things… you even mention that there is some on the Bible.

            Now, after this revelation, I guess what is in order is to decide which kind is positive and negative we need to seek the purpose, right? In doing so, if I am found to be over-spiritualizing something, it all comes down to checking out whether am I showing a heart full of pride and self-righteousness or am I just lacking Scriptural knowledge and realism, right?

            This is really enlightening, as the Bible does not warn us against ‘over-spiritualizing’ things, but rather call us to live by the Spirit, and repress our sinful nature and its acts. In other words, instead of being aware of over-spiritualizing something, I should rather exercise everyday my spiritual assets of love, faith and hope, and pray to be filled by the Lord’s Holy Spirit, as well as seeking counsel from mature believers. All in all, thank you so much for shedding a light on this subject and reminding us of the great importance of ‘watching’ ourselves to actually grow in our faith.

            A final comment: Take a moment and read what Pat Robertson said regarding Haiti’s quake and what the New York Time reaction in this LINK – I guess his words could be considered a mega case of ‘over-spiritualization’

            Also, read this excerpt from the "Ten Commandments for Success", written by Robert I. Winer, M.D, which is about Realism in the Christian life HERE. The book reflects much of what has been accurately said here.

            May the Lord bless you.


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