The language of power pervades the whole New Testament. No New Testament book is without the language of power. The phrase archai kai exousiai (“principalities and powers”) is but one of many paired expressions for power and should not be singled out as of unique significance. Other such pairs are:
- Rulers (archontes) and great men (Matt. 20:25)
- Those who supposedly rule (hoi dokountes archein) and great men (Mark 10:42)
- Kings (basileis) and those in authority (hoi exousiazontes) (Luke 22:25)
- Chief priests (archiereis) and rulers (archontes) (Luke 24:20)
- Authorities (archonten) and Pharisees (John 7:48)
- Rulers (archontes) and elders (Acts 4:8)
- Kings and rulers (archontes) (Acts 4:26)
- Angels and principalities (archai) (Rom. 8:38)
- Power (dynamei) and name (onomati) (Acts 4:7)
- Power (dynamin) and wisdom (sophian) (1 Cor. 1:24)
- Power (dynamin) and authority (exousian) (Luke 9:1; Rev. 17:13)
- Authority (exousias) and commission (epitropes) (Acts 26:12)
- Authority (exousia) and power (dynamei) (Luke 4:36)
Half of these (7) are found in the Gospels, 4 in Acts, and only 2 in Paul.
…Not only do expressions for power tend to be paired, they also attract each other into series or strings, as if power were so diffuse and impalpable a phenomenon that words must be heaped up in clusters in order to catch a sense of its complexity. One need only scan this list of phrases to get a sense of their variety and frequency:
- Chief priests, captains, elders (Luke 22:52)
- Chief priests, rulers (archontas), people (Luke 23:13)
- Rulers (archontas), elders, scribes (Acts 4:5)
- Synagogues, rulers (archas), and authorities (exousias) (Luke 12:11)
- Death, life, angels, principalities (archai), present, future, powers (dynameis), height, depth, any other creature (Rom. 8:38)
- Rule (arches), authority (exousias), power (dynamebs), dominion (kyriotetos), iotetos), name (onomatos) (Eph. 1:21)
- Principalities (archas), powers (exousias), (dynamebs), dominion (kyriotetos), iotetos), name (onomatos) (Eph. 1:21)
- Principalities (archas), powers (exousias), world rulers (kosmokratoras), kratoras), spirits of wickedness (pneumatika tes ponerias) (Eph. 6:12)
- Thrones (thronoi), dominions (kyriotetes), principalities (archai), authorities thorities (exousial) (Col. 1:16)
- Angels, authorities (exousion), powers (dynameon) (1 Pet. 3:22)
- Power (dynamin), throne (thronon), authority (exousian) (Rev. 13:2)
- Salvation, power (dynamis), kingdom, authority (exousia) (Rev. 12:10)
- Glory, majesty, dominion (kratos), authority (exousia) (Jude 25)
Of these strings, the first four decidedly consist of human agents, the last two run more to attributes of one who has power. The remainder appear to be at least heavenly, perhaps also earthly, powers; for now that question, which will remain one of the chief preoccupations of this study, must remain open.
…Chapter 2 headings: The Powers:
- Arch and Archon
- Fallen Angels, Evil Spirits, Demons
[In “The Disputed Passages” of chapter 3 (“The New Testament Evidence”), the author also includes careful treatment of “the seven references to the stoicheia (‘elements’) in the New Testament.” Appendix 4 includes a survey of stoicheia (‘elements’) within the writings of the early church fathers.]
…For the ancients, heaven and earth were a seamless robe, a single interacting and continuous reality. To read the literature on the subject, one would never have suspected that the spiritual Powers comprised only 15 percent of the uses of the term. We are fascinated with the supranatural forces the ancients described; they seem to have taken them for granted and to have been much more preoccupied with that more amorphous, intangible, indefinable something that makes it possible for a king to command subjects to voluntary death in war or for a priest to utter words that send a king to his knees. Perhaps they lacked the systematic precision of modem sociological analyses of power, but that does not mean they lacked experience of what our modem analyses describe or a vocabulary for designating it. And they may have been in touch with dimensions of power which our more materialistic point of view scarcely glimpses.
…The plurality of thrones around a central throne suggests the “sons of God” (bone elohim) of the heavenly council, but no further reference is made to them. No surviving documents allude to these thrones again prior to the New Testament. Those that have been cited by some scholars are all late.” But some kind of speculative ferment must have existed almost from the publication of Daniel, for what crops up in the Book of Revelation is a full-blown and mature picture of God’s throne surrounded by twenty-four thrones, on which were seated twenty-four elders with golden crowns (Rev. 4:4 [twice]; so also 4:2; 11:16; 20:4). We are given little data for deciphering the identity of these heavenly “elders”; by analogy they are “advice-givers” and possibly represent the heavenly council. But in this book they give no advice, only praise.
…This connection between the angels or “princes” of the nations and the “sons of God” is also reflected by Isaiah 41-46 and 48, where Yahweh, in a “divine lawsuit” (rib) before the heavenly council, addresses the pagan nations, calling them to hear his case. The real suit, however, is not with the nations as such but with their idol-gods. Since Israelite tradition had already long since identified the “sons of God” or “sons of gods” with the heavenly council, and the heavenly council with angels, it was perfectly natural and inevitable that early on these gods of the pagan nations would be understood as the guardian angels appointed over them. What we find in Daniel 10, the Jerusalem Targum, and the Dead Sea Scrolls had thus already had a long prehistory.
The notion of angels appointed over each nation, devoted to that nation’s well-being and responsible for its fate, represents a kind of systems-view of international politics under the aspect of God’s final sovereignty.
…We must not regard these angels of the nations as necessarily evil; they merely represent the interests of their own people, which would not evidently be served by Israel’s ascendancy over them.
…It may be that an awareness of the relation between the good will of the angel and the responsiveness of a people to preaching is what later led Father Peter Faber, a colleague of Ignatius Loyola, to pray to the angel of a region before entering it.’6
Origen interpreted Acts 16:9 in a similar way. When Paul saw in a vision a “man of Macedonia” beseeching him, “Come over and help us,” Origen understood this to be the angel of Macedonia appealing to Paul for help in bringing the people under its care into alignment with the purposes of God.’
…”The heavenlies,” in short, is that dimension of reality of which the believer becomes aware as a result of being “raised up” by God with Christ. It is a heightened awareness, the consciousness of a noumenal realm in which the final contest for the lordship of all reality is being waged. The “sons of disobedience” are “dead” to this reality.”‘ It is known only by It is a gift that cannot be achieved,”‘ a mystery that cannot be plumbed apart from divine illumination,”‘ a knowledge that cannot simply be added to existing knowledge but that requires an altogether new mind, indeed, a new humanity. 115
But it is not simply a state of rapture. It is an actual, new, epistemic standpoint which surpasses gnosis (Eph. 3:19), and the believer’s comprehension pertains not just to the things of God, but also to the reality, deceptions, and delusionary snares of evil. Against this they must be armed (6:10-20); thus armed, they are able to “expose” the “unfruitful works of darkness” (5:11) and make them become “visible” (5:13).
This is of utmost importance. The true dimensions of evil, according to the writer, are known only through revelation, however bad life may have seemed before. And the consequence of revelation, conversely, is not to rescue the believers from a world of evil but to open their eyes, to bring them “light” (Eph. 5:14), and thereby to enlist them in the struggle for liberation. Just as peasants liberated from the control of a military dictatorship are not freed from conflict but freed for conflict, the Christian is recruited into the ranks of God in the grace-ful struggle to bring the world to the truth (1:13) that the crucified and risen Christ is its principle of harmony and power (1:20-23). “The heavenlies” where the believer has already been established is thus a kind of “liberated zone,” in John Pairman Brown’s phrase,120 although with this caveat: those who are in this “liberated zone” are not at all free from the possibility of collusion with the old Powers or even of apostasy. But they are provided a space of relative freedom from determination by the Powers. Ta epourania is thus very similar to the phrase “the kingdom of God” as used in the Gospels, and subject to the same ambiguities.
…The most puzzling aspect of Eph. 3:10, however, is why-and how-the church is to preach to the Powers in the heavenlies. The image is similar to Revelation 1-3, where the one like a son of man commands John to tell the angels of the churches what needs to be done in their churches. We are not told why this communication is not made directly by Christ to the angels. Apparently humans are necessary as intermediaries to the angels: angels’ angels! But how this message is to be communicated to the Powers is not said, nor do any commentators remark on it.127 Rev. 12:11 speaks of Satan being conquered by the faith and testimony of the martyrs, but not of their addressing Satan. The same is true of the passage in Ignatius which speaks of “the powers (dynameis) of Satan” being destroyed by the frequent gatherings of the church to give thanks and glory to God; “his mischief is brought to nothing, by the concord of your faith. There is nothing better than peace, by which every war in heaven and on earth is abolished” (Eph. 13). In both cases the Powers are affected by what the church does on earth, but in neither case does the church address them.
Chapter 4. Toward an Interpretation
1. The language of power pervades the whole New Testament. Surveying all the data covered, it is amazing that this has been so consistently overlooked. On every page of the New Testament one fords the terminology of power. those incumbents, offices, structures, roles, institutions, ideologies, rituals, rules, agents, and spiritual influences by which power is established and exercised. The language and reality of power pervade the New Testament because power is one of the primary ways the world is organized and run. No human activity can be described without recourse to this language. Earlier scholarly preoccupation with personified aspects of power has diverted attention from the pervasiveness of this use of the language of power. Since the Book of Revelation fails to use the stereotypical phrases of the Pauline and Paulinist literature, some scholars have declared that it lacks interest in such matters altogether-a staggering claim, since no other writing in the New Testament burns with such intense political fury. When we broaden the issue to the language of power generally, however, quite a different picture of Revelation emerges. John the Seer uses thronos 45 times, onoma 36 times, exousia 20 times, dynamic 2 times, and archon I time, a veritable thesaurus of power terms. But with the sole exception of the latter (used of Christ in 1:5), John uses these terms not as names of spiritual powers (for which he prefers more surrealistic images, such as Dragon, Beast, frogs, locusts, etc.), but as names of political rulership (2:26; 17:12-13), the dominion of angels (14:18), delegated authority (9:3; 13:4, 5, 7, 12), and so forth. The fact is that no book in the whole Bible is so thoroughly preoccupied with evil powers and their defeat.
Another surprising finding of our study is that the synoptic Gospels use the terminology of power almost as frequently as does Paul, whose name is most often associated with the Powers. This fact has been overlooked looked simply because the Gospels tend to use the language of power of human or structural, rather than spiritual, entities. Paul for his part developed a quite unique manner of dealing with the determinants of human existence, substituting such quasi-hypostatized words as sin, law, flesh, and death for the terms more frequently encountered in Jewish apocalyptic: Satan, Azazel, Beliar, evil spirits, demons. In short, when we attend not merely to the terminology but the meaning field which is being denoted, Paul’s letters, like the rest of the New Testament, can be described as a theology of power.’
2. The language of power in the New Testament is extremely imprecise, precise, liquid, interchangeable, and unsystematic, yet
3. Despite all this imprecision and interchangeability, certain clear patterns of usage emerge. We found ourselves to be dealing not with analytically precise categories used consistently from one passage to another other but with terms that cluster and swarm around the reality they describe, scribe, as if by heaping up synonymous phrases and parallel constructions an intuitive sense of the reality described might emerge. So we discovered series, strings, and pairs of terms used with a kind of consistent indiscriminateness, and within this field of language, a genuine power-reality that comes to expression. However, this very promiscuity of language meant that
4. Because these terms are to a degree interchangeable, one or a pair or a series can be made to represent them all. Furthermore, an initial sifting of data suggested that
5. These Powers are both heavenly and earthly, divine and human, spiritual and political, invisible and structural, and that
6. These Powers are also both good and evil. Evidence for these two observations should have by now proven cumulatively overwhelming and needs no further elaboration.
7. Unless the context further specifies, we are to take the terms for power in their most comprehensive sense, understanding them to mean both heavenly and earthly, divine and human, good and evil powers (see beginning of Part Two, p. 39).
…These categories are mythic. Consequently, our approach to interpretation must avoid all attempts to “modernize” insofar as this means ignoring the mythic dimension of the text and transferring it in an unmediated mediated way into modern (mythic) categories. It may be that the principalities and powers have been neglected as much as they have since the Enlightenment precisely because they were not easily reducible to modem themes.
Chapter 5. Interpreting the Myth
…Eph. 3:10 spoke of the church’s task as proclaiming now the manifold wisdom of God to the principalities and powers in the heavenly places. We were unable to find anything in the first-century background capable of making that intelligible within the limits of the modem worldview. But perhaps that point of unintelligibility was reached for some readers even earlier, when, for example, Christ was declared to have already put the Powers under his feet, or when God was said to have led them captive in Christ’s triumphal procession, or when the Powers were affirmed as having been created in and through and for Christ. For the mythic dimension—the atemporal, cosmic, supernatural aspect of the story—was not inserted in the final text we dealt with, as if we had held back the worst for last. It has accompanied us from the outset, permeating every statement made about the Powers. We found, in short, that the mythic is not the residue left over and discardable after precisely that which we may have lost sight of and need to recover.
…What I propose is viewing the spiritual Powers not as separate heavenly or ethereal entities but as the inner aspect of material or tangible manifestations of power. I suggest that the “angels of nature” are the patterning of physical things-rocks, trees, plants, the whole God-glorifying, dancing, visible universe; that the “principalities and powers” are the inner or spiritual essence, or gestalt, of an institution or state or system; that the “demons” are the psychic or spiritual power emanated by organizations or individuals or subaspects of individuals whose energies are bent on overpowering others; that “gods” are the very real archetypal or ideological structures that determine or govern reality and its mirror, the human brain; that the mysterious “elements of the universe” (stoicheia cheia tou kosmou) are the invariances (formerly called “laws”) which, though often idolized by humans, conserve the self-consistency of each level of reality in its harmonious interrelationship with every other level and the Whole; and that “Satan” is the actual power that congeals around collective idolatry, injustice, or inhumanity, a power that increases or decreases according to the degree of collective refusal to choose higher values.
…These “Powers” do not, then, on this hypothesis, have a separate, spiritual existence. We encounter them primarily in reference to the material or “earthly” reality of which they are the innermost essence. The spiritual aspect of the Powers is not simply a “personification” of institutional qualities that would exist whether they were personified or not. On the contrary, the spirituality of an institution exists as a real aspect of the institution even when it is not perceived as such.
…The very demons themselves, so long regarded as baleful spirits in the air, are pictured by the Gospels as abhorring decorporealization. When Jesus orders the “Legion” of demons out of the Gerasene demoniac, they plead to be allowed to possess a nearby herd of swine (Mark 5:12). The historicity of the conception is guaranteed regardless of the historicity of the event. The unclean spirit can find no rest without a physical body in which to reside (Luke 11:24-26). The sense is clear: demons can become manifest only through concretion in material reality. They are, in short, the name given that real but invisible spirit of destructiveness and fragmentation that rends persons, communities, and nations.
…Even to say, as Cullman did, that the Powers are both earthly and heavenly is, on this reading, still too imprecise. “Both” suggests two different sets of agents, some human or institutional, others divine or demonic. What we are arguing is that the Powers are simultaneously the outer and inner aspects of one and the same indivisible concretion of power. “Spiritual” here means the inner dimension of the material, the “within” of things, the subjectivity of objective entities in the world.2 Instead of the old dualism of matter and spirit, we can now regard matter and spirit as united in one indivisible reality, distinguishable in two discrete but interrelated manifestations.’ Nothing less than insistence on this unity makes sense of the unexplained ambiguity in the usage of the New Testament language of power. Nothing less can account for the authors’ apparent expectation that readers will understand exactly what is meant despite the great fluidity and imprecision of usage.
…It is the tendency to deify the mechanism and reduce human agents to mere things that creates the peculiar demonism of modern capitalist economics.
…We must learn to break the habit of taking a merely visible part for the whole. No one, comments Hinkelammert, has ever seen a company, a school, a state, or a system of ownership. What they have seen are the physical elements of such institutions, that is to say, the building in which the school or business functions, or the people who are its operatives. The institution, however, is the totality of its activities and as such is a mostly invisible object.’ When we confuse what the eye beholds with the totality, we commit the same reductionist fallacy as those Colossians who mistook the basic elements (stoicheia) of things for the ultimate reality (Col. 2:8, 20). The consequence of such confusion is always slavery to the unseen power behind the visible elements: the spirituality of the institution or state or stone.
…The early church understood this quite clearly. When the Roman archons (magistrates) ordered the early Christians to worship the imperial spirit or genius, they refused, kneeling instead and offering prayers on the emperor’s behalf to God. This seemingly innocuous act was far more exasperating and revolutionary than outright rebellion would have been. Rebellion simply acknowledges the absoluteness and ultimacy of the emperor’s power, and attempts to seize it. Prayer denies that ultimacy altogether by acknowledging a higher power. Rebellion would have focused solely on the physical institution and its current incumbents and attempted to displace them by an act of superior force. But prayer challenged the very spirituality of the empire itself and called the empire’s “angel,” as it were, before the judgment seat of God.
Such sedition could not go unpunished. With rebels the solution was simple. No one challenged the state’s right to execute rebels. They had bought into the power-game on the empire’s terms and lost, and the rules of the game required their liquidation. The rebels themselves knew this before they started. But what happens when a state executes those who are praying for it? When Christians knelt in the Colosseum to pray as lions bore down on them, something sullied the audience’s thirst for revenge. Even in death these Christians were not only challenging the ultimacy of the emperor and the “spirit” of empire but also demonstrating the emperor’s powerlessness to impose his will even by death. The final sanction had been publicly robbed of its power. Even as the lions lapped the blood of the saints, Caesar was stripped of his arms and led captive in Christ’s triumphal procession. His authority was shown to be only penultimate after all. And even those who wished most to deny such a thing were forced, by the very punishment they chose to inflict, to behold its truth. It was a contest of all the brute force of Rome against a small sect that merely prayed. Who could have predicted that the tiny sect would win?
…The gnostics were the earliest psychologists, comments Victor White. They explored the inner world by the indirect means of the language of myth, projecting their interior phantasms out on the screen of the heavens and dressing them out in a pretentious allegorizing philosophy. Their radical introspection led them to reject the material world and to be caught finally in the abyss of the archetypes of the collective unconscious.’ The gifts they might have brought to the world at large were vitiated by their understandable inability to make this unconscious process conscious. But they were not even drawn to do so, because their ideology had already rejected the structure of this world for a pseudoreality in the beyond.10
The orthodox church, for its part, rigidly cleaved to materiality but soon found itself the darling of Constantine. Called on to legitimate the empire, the church abandoned much of its social critique. The Powers were soon divorced from political affairs and made airy spirits who preyed only on individuals. The state was thus freed of one of the most powerful brakes against idolatry, although prophetic voices never ceased to be raised now and again anyway.
…What is the mythic point common to all these texts, with their insistence that Christ was previously unknown to the angels? How is it possible for them to be ignorant of their very own principle of systemicity (Col. 1:17, synestiken, the etymological root of our word “system”), the one in whom all things “hold together,” “cohere,” “find their harmonious unity”? How is it that they are ignorant of that in and through and for which they exist (Col. 1:16)? We must lay aside all systematic and logical objections and simply let the myth speak for itself. What it seems to claim is that the universe itself is blind to its own principle of cohesion. It operates cohesively, but without the parts perceiving that fact. Put in a more modern mode, the universe is late in arriving at awareness of itself as a unity, and this awareness has come into the world for the first time with humanity. We can actually date the moment of its dawning in the axiological period of the great prophets of Israel, the philosophers of Greece, and Buddha and Lao-tzu in the East.” It was then that the historically unprecedented sense of the unity of all things first was effectively articulated, although it was probably intuitively sensed far earlier. On the strength of that apprehension, both Israel’s conception of Yahweh’s universal sovereignty and Greek science and philosophy became possible.
With Christ Jesus a new dimension was added, however. The just man is killed. The embodiment of God’s will is executed by God’s servants. The incarnation of the orderly principles of the universe is crucified by the guardians of order. The very nucleus of spiritual power in the universe is destroyed by the spiritual powers. The parts do not or cannot know the effect of their acts on the whole, and some, less innocently, by their worship of their own selfish short-term interests, have become detrimental to the good of the whole. The angels did not know the Lord of glory, nor did the captains and jailers and chief priests and governors. The cosmic process of reconciliation could not begin until they “saw” him.
…The Powers did not know, but they know now. Even many modern secular states bear a legacy of titles that remind them, against even their own dominant ideologies, Whose they are, and why. These states continue to name the various branches of government the civil service, the military service, the ministry of justice, the ministry of education, revealing in these very titles the tacit recognition that they exist only on behalf of the Human revealed as the criterion and basis of all governmental action. When such agencies make themselves ends in themselves, or subject human needs to departmental efficiency or budgetary convenience, they do so, consciously or not, in violation of their vocation. “Are they not all ministering spirits sent forth to serve, for the sake of those who are to obtain salvation?” (Heb. 1:14). Did not Paul himself say that the person who is in authority “is God’s servant for your good” (Rom. 13:4)?
…Evil, as always, is parasitic of the good and must masquerade as good in order to remain in office.
The church’s task, then, in making known the manifold wisdom of God now to the principalities and powers in the heavenly places, does not involve the arduous and hopeless effort of bringing the Powers to a place they have never been, or to a recognition they have never shared. It involves simply reminding the Powers Whose they are, a knowledge already encoded in their charters, titles, traditions, insignia, and money.
…Popular culture has tended to regard heaven (if it has any regard for it at all) as a transcendent, otherworldly sphere qualitatively distinct from human life, to which the dead go if they have been good. What if we were instead to conceive of it as the realm of “withinness,” the metaphorical “place” in which the spirituality of everything is “located,” as it were. “Heaven,” in religions all around the world, is precisely that the place in which the spirituality of everything is “located,” as it were. “Heaven,” in religions all around the world, is precisely that the habitat of angels, spirits, cherubim, and seraphim, but also of demons and the devil and all the Powers “in the heavenly places.” Heaven is simply where they “reside.”
But heaven is a great deal more as well. It is where God is enthroned and thus is the source of the transformative possibilities that God presents to every actual entity. In the language of process theology, God envisions all possibilities and is forever presenting every created thing with the particular relevant possibilities that can maximize the total situation in which it exists, both for itself and for the larger unity of which it is a part. To paraphrase Whitehead, “Heaven” is the “home of the possibles,” not simply in the abstract sense that our potentialities have been planted in us like seeds and that it is up to us to make them sprout. Quite the contrary, our own given potentiality, like that of the acorn, is always merely to repeat the past, to go on being and doing what we have always been and done before. The heavenly possibilities are presented to us as a lure challenging us to go beyond our conditioning and habits, our collusion in oppressing or being oppressed, our inertia, fear, and neuroses. God offers the heavenly possibilities for creative novelty, and we can accept wholly, or accept in part, or reject completely and simply go on repeating our past.
When we do realize a transfonnative possibility, we quite rightly speak of the experience of ecstasy that accompanies that realization as “heavenly.” We have a sense of enhanced realness, of becoming more than we knew we could become. There is a rightness about it that resonates throughout the universe and unites us with the larger purposes of God. Thus when Jesus healed or cast out demons or preached to the poor, he could declare that in that instant the “Reign of heaven” had come on them. When justice is done, we experience a sense of heaven. When a person’s individual interests coincide with the interest of the Whole, there Is an epiphany of heaven. When we die to our egocentricity and abandon ourselves to God, what opens to receive us is heaven. “But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ … and raised us up with him, and made us sit with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus” (Eph. 2:4-6).
…”Heaven” here cannot be conceived of as “up there” in such a way that it is out of relationship with the earth, for believers are already, while alive, established in it. It was precisely this problem that created the impasse in the interpretation of Eph. 3:10. If the church now must make known God’s manifold wisdom to the principalities and powers in the heavenlies, the heavenlies must somehow be accessible to the church. Insofar as “heaven” encompasses the entire universe, it is certainly not limited to the earth, but it interpenetrates all things, is present in all things, bearing the secret of the potential and inwardness and unfolding of all things.” Thus, according to the Gospel of Thomas, when Jesus’ disciples ask him when the kingdom will come, he responds, “It will not come by waiting for it. It will not be a matter of saying ‘Here it is’ or ‘Then it is.’ Rather, the kingdom of the Father is spread out upon the earth, and men do not see it” (NHL, sec. 113). It was said just as well by a seventh-grader in a recent confirmation class: “Heaven is wherever God is acknowledged.”
The ancients sought to express the ubiquitous quality of heaven by piling up numbers in astronomical proportions to indicate the infinity of the hosts of angels (Rev. 5:11, 13; 19:1, 6). Yahweh was the Lord of the universe, but even more often and specifically, “Lord of hosts,” “Lord of Spirits,” “Lord of the Powers,” as if the real test of lordship is the capacity to control the transcendent realm of determining forces that exercise the real day-to-day governance of every aspect of life on earth. The ancients perceived that there was an angel for everything, down to the last blade of grass. This notion, laughed to scorn for the past few centuries, now appears to have been, symbolically, precisely correct: every blade of grass, every rock crystal, acorn, and ovum has its “messenger” (angelos) from God to instruct it in its growth, however we name it (DNA, the “laws” of crystalline formation, etc.).
Such a view of heaven finds it to be “nearer than breathing, closer than hand or foot,” yet still transcendent. But its transcendence is not a transcendence of matter; that is the bias of the old worldview, infected by Neoplatonic aversion to the material universe. “Heaven” in our hypothesis has a transcendence of an altogether different kind; it is the transcendence of the “worldly” way of viewing reality, of the alienated order of existence, of egocentric ways of living, of idolatry of the part in defiance of the Whole, of the unrealized present by the consummation to come. It is transcendent by virtue of inwardness, invisibility, and futurity, not by remoteness and distance. One must, in traditional terms, be “saved” in order to perceive it, not just be better informed. It cannot just be known about; it must be known.
…It is precisely the Jews’ insistence on the inseparability of soul and body that led them to affirm the resurrection of the whole person, spirit, soul, and body. Popular Christianity long since abandoned that for belief in the immortality of the soul, that is, of a bodiless continuation in the pure realm of spirit. Against this view Paul had already coined the notion of a “spiritual body” (1 Cor. 15:35-57). Just what this paradoxical formulation means is not nearly so important as that it is asserted. We cannot conceive it, but it serves to hold the myth open into eternity and prevents its collapsing into a dualism of spirit versus matter. However incomprehensible it is in literal terms, it is the necessary symbolic affirmation that life is always life in a body, that spirit cannot exist apart from its concretion in form, that the victory of life over death includes the transformed vehicle by means of which, and solely by means of which, we have known what it means to be alive. All the rest is trust.
…If the theology of the future must win its right to speak by being a continual reflection on praxis, on the actual struggle of humanity for authentic being, then we must be careful to keep the ring of that voice clear in our ears.
At the same time, however, one still must ask how the neighbor became oppressed and is kept that way. How has she internalized that spirit of oppression and granted legitimacy to the very Powers that oppress her? How can all the “flaming darts of the evil one” that have carried their poisonous secretions into her very bloodstream be pulled out, one by one, and the toxins filtered out? How can she be freed to authentic struggle, unless the very ideas and images that have been planted in her are torn out by the very roots, through the vision of a counterreality capable of improving her lot?
…The issue, then, is not social struggle versus inner change, but their orchestration together so that both occur simultaneously. The transformation of society and persons can begin at either end. The early church began from the pole of steadfastness in prayer and the refusal of idolatry, manifesting that hypomoni which the Book of Revelation regards as the highest Christian virtue. It is usually somewhat limply rendered “patient endurance,” but it is in fact closer to “absolute intransigence,” “unbending bending determination,” “an iron will,” “the capacity to endure persecution, torture, and death without yielding one’s faith.” It is one of the fundamental attributes of nonviolent resistance.
…Social involvement of that kind can do wonders for the soul-if the leadership understands the essential unity of body and spirit and addresses them both.
This unity must be kept paramount in addressing the Powers. It is easy enough to set oneself against the visible evil of a Power. But we never have control over that inner dimension of reality which we are calling the spiritual dimension of power.
…Change is possible, but only if the spirit as well as the forms of Power are touched. And that spirit can only be spiritually discerned and spiritually encountered. This is what made Martin Luther King, Jr., a figure of world-historic proportions. With only the powerless at his side, he formulated actions that would provoke and make visible the institutional violence of racism. By absorbing that violence in their own bodies, they exposed the legalized system as immoral, stripped it of legitimacy, and forced unprecedented numbers of people to choose between their racism and their Christianity. He resolutely refused to treat racism as a political issue only; he insisted that it be seen also as a moral and spiritual sickness. He did not attack the soul of America, but appealed to its most profound depths. His confrontational tactics were attempts to address that soul. He called a nation to repent, and significant numbers did. In the process the spirit of the nation itself began to change. His assassination, and the abandonment of the moral basis of the struggle for one of black power versus white power, allowed the worst elements of the ugly racist spirit to reassert themselves, this time with blacks no longer the vanguard of reconciliation and conversion, but openly espousing a counterracism of their own. Those who continued to insist on loving the enemy and working interracially were buried under the flood of poisons now unleashed from both sides. Blacks and whites not only ceased to work together, but even stopped speaking. The adoption of the methods of the oppressor had finally turned all parties into oppressors, and it was now only a matter of finding someone weak enough to oppress.
…Impatient patient with the pace of a struggle that sought not only legal equality but the conversion of the very heart of the nation from racism, black power attempted the quick fix of structural change by a frontal assault on white power. Its epitaph can be formulated as an axiom: the direct use of power against a Power will inevitably be to the advantage of The Powers That Be.
…That is why we must not engage the Powers without rigorous examination nation of our own inner evil, which we often project on our opponents. We must ask how we are like the very Power we oppose, and attempt to open these parts of ourselves to divine transformation. We must attempt to stop the spiral of violence both within ourselves and in our tactics vis-i-vis the Powers. We must discern the spirituality that we oppose and be careful not to grant it victory within ourselves. And we must settle it within ourselves, once and for all and then over and over again, that we will not celebrate any victory feast that does not include a setting for our enemy.
In short, we must develop a fine-tuned sensitivity to what the ancients called “the war in heaven.”2′ It is the unseen clash of values and ideologies, of the spirituality of institutions and the will of God, of demonic factionalism and heavenly possibilities.
…I am referring to the macrocosm/microcosm view of reality-the notion that whatever happens on earth (the “microcosm,” or small world) is a mirror image of the activities of Powers in heaven (the “macrocosm,” or large world). The idea was already hoary with age when it was chiseled on the buildings erected by the Sidonian kings Bodastart and Esmunazar in the fifth century B.C.E., where the earthly Sidon is depicted as a copy of its heavenly prototype.” The idea of heaven as the origination and prototype of all that is can be traced back among the Greeks as early as Pythagoras and finds its most famous advocate in Plato, with his realm of the Ideas or archetypes. Greek Orphism made the unity of heaven and earth the goal of the mystical initiation, in which the quester sought to recapture this deepest and lost unity that characterizes divinization.21
Israel, too, held this macrocosm/microcosm view from earliest times,’ but hedged it carefully to prevent its being used to legitimate tyranny. The prophets especially were on their guard against the divine-kingship ideology, through which the most gross injustices were perpetrated in the name of heaven. The Jews were able to appropriate the notion of evil spirits, fallen angels, and Satan precisely because they could subsume these Powers within a secure henotheistic 27 framework in which Yahweh was ultimately sovereign.
…It is far from the case, then, that human beings create their gods. The “spirits” of things emerge with the things themselves and are only subsequently divined as their inner essence. The gods, spirits, and demons are not mere personifications or hypostatizations. That is the language of reductionism; it means that these entitites are not regarded as real, but only as poetic fictions or shorthand for speaking about realities the historian knows how to describe more precisely with his analytical tools. Personification means illusion. The Powers we are speaking about, on the contrary, are real. They work on us whether we acknowledge them or not. They do not depend on our belief for their efficacy. Humans cannot even lay claim to creating these Powers indirectly, by virtue of creating the structures, for studies of primates show that most of the hierarchical features that characterized Babylonian society had already been developed in primate societies.’ To be sure, we do establish new structures and modify old ones. Insofar as we share in the creative process and bring new consciousness to it, we help create the spirituality of things. There is a reciprocity, so we could argue that it is as true to say that the gods create us as to say that we create the gods.
…In the New Testament the idea of heavenly/earthly correspondence is a part of the background belief of the age and is alluded to in a fashion that assumes the hearer’s thorough familiarity with it. When the disciples return from the Lukan mission of the seventy, having successfully cast out demons on earth, Jesus exclaims, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven” (Luke 10:18). Casting out demons on earth casts Satan out of heaven! Or again, Paul’s irritation with women who have uncovered heads at worship is prompted by his fear that the angels, also present when the church worships, will be incited to lust (1 Cor. 11:10; see Gen. 6:1-4). And in the Epistle to the Hebrews the believer already participates in heavenly life on earth: “You have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering” (12:22).”
The Book of Revelation is thoroughly acquainted with this motif. Not only is John permitted access to the divine liturgy through vision (chaps. 4-5), but the prayers of the saints on earth actually constitute an important section of the angelic liturgy in heaven. Rev. 8:1-5 recounts how an angel gathers the prayers that ascend to God and mingles them with incense at the altar before the throne; then when God has, as it were, inhaled them, the angel mixes the prayers with fire from the altar and hurls them on the earth, setting off a chain of physical and historical repercussions in the world. This not only illustrates the unity of heavenly and earthly events but also indicates how the fatefulness of that connection can be altered. Left to themselves, the course of things runs to havoc in a world with an infinity of self-worshiping centers, but when any of that number turn from themselves to the Center of the whole, history itself can be changed. “Peals of thunder, loud noises, flashes of lightning, and an earthquake” (v. 5) throw the river of events out of its bed. The unexpected becomes suddenly possible, because humans on earth have evoked heaven, the home of the possibles, and have been heard.
…The soul or self is the active awareness of the entire living body itself. And yet this “withinness” is experienced as more than simply the sum of its parts, since our bodily parts continually change or can even to a degree be lost without impairing the sense of our selves. In an odd way, we seem to experience our selves as “outside” or “above” or “transcendent” to our bodies, even though the self is clearly the interiority of all that flesh. But this is one of the ways interiority is known. We can discover the self by introspection, reflection, revelation, but some aspects we can find only by projecting that aspect out on other people or things or events and recognizing it “out there” as parts of ourselves. We discover our body as “temple” by going to a temple.
…Once again, the meaning of an ambiguous statement is precisely its ambiguity. The Reign of God cannot just be inner or outer; it must be both or it is neither.
This being the case, the goal of personal individuation becomes inseparable separable from the goal of cosmic reconciliation: “Jesus said to them, `When you make the two one, and when you make the inside like the outside and the outside like the inside, and the above like the below, and when you make the male and female one and the same … then will you enter [the kingdom].’ “49
…The marriage of heaven and earth, which the author of Ephesians describes under the image of the marriage of Christ and the church (Eph. 5:21-33) and which the Book of Revelation depicts as a descent of Heavenly Jerusalem to the earth from God (Revelation 21-22), captures the sense of earth’s real possibilities and of ours with it. Paul describes the same longing in Rom. 8:18-25, when he speaks of the whole creation as groaning in speaks of the whole creation as groaning in travail together for the revealing of the children of God. It is nothing less than the desire for what Dorothee Soelle calls “the indivisible divisible salvation of the whole world.”-10 When God’s children will be revealed, and the groaning over, and every tear wiped from their eyes, is not for us to know. What we do know is that we have been handed the task of making known the manifold wisdom of God to the principalities and powers in the heavenly places—now.