How do you see the world? The ancient Hebrews had no single word for the material space we occupy, such as "world" or "cosmos." The parts of our material space they described simply as heaven and earth (Genesis 1:1); heaven, earth, and sea (Exodus 20:11); heaven, earth, and water under the earth (Exodus 20:4); heaven, earth, sea, and the deep (Psalm 135:6). The earth was like a saucer surrounded by water and resting upon water (Genesis 1:1, 6-8) or foundational pillars (Proverbs 8:27-29). In short, there was a bit of firmament sheltering a flat earth from a surrounding watery chaos.
The Creator saw everything that had been made "and behold it was very good" (Genesis 1:31).
You know what happened next. Adam breaks the Creator's one rule (Genesis 2:17), and as a result he and Eve were banished from the good life in the Garden of Eden. Life outside the Garden was difficult, threatening, and ended in death (Genesis 3:16-19).
The Apostle Paul uses the banishment of Adam and Eve to explain why human beings die. They die because of Adam's sin (Romans 5:12-14, 17). And perhaps even the physical creation was also affected by his sin, for Paul describes the creation as being in bondage to decay waiting for redemption (Romans 8:18-21).
Today even the most ardent Bible believer knows that this ancient story is mythical because they have seen photographs taken from the moon of our blue and white, more-or-less spherical, planet surrounded by limitless space in a cosmos of billions of galaxies and planetary systems—with not a drop of water around it.
The world into which Adam and Eve, the progenitors of humanity, were forced has a bizarre landscape. Things are not what they seem on the surface. Horrid demons lurked about (satyrs, Leviticus 17:7; the night demon Lilith, Isaiah 34:14; the noonday devil, Psalm 91:6). For the one sharing the Bible view of world there is a plethora of such demonic entities and evil forces that must be negotiated. For example, the Prince of the Power of the Air (Eph 2:2; John 14:30, 16:11) leads a consortium of demons and evil spirits that threaten harm to human beings.
We are not contending against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places (Ephesians 6:12).
Evil and unclean spirits fall upon humans unawares, possess them, and cause them to behave insanely (Mark 5:1-10); they infect them with deafness, muteness (Mark 9:25), infirmity (Luke 13:11), and epilepsy (Matthew 17:15-18); they empower in them the black art of divination (Acts 16:16) and the performance of signs (Revelation 16:13-14), and even cause prophets to lie (1 Kings 22:21-23)—and who knows how much more. Satan can even transform himself into an angel of light (2 Corinthians 11:14), so that a person never knows if s/he deals with a good or evil force. There is also a cadre of good spirits and angels at work in the world; a Great Spirit assigns angels to watch over "little ones" (Matthew18:10).
Fortunately certain human beings, empowered by benevolent spirits can combat these evil forces. For example, Jesus gave his disciples authority to cast out unclean spirits (Matthew 10:1) and in addition commissioned them "to heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers" (Matthew 10:7). In other words the world is a place of constant struggle between the spiritual forces of good and evil, and the contested territory is precisely the mind, health, and behavior of human beings—at least that is what the Biblical writers want us to believe.
Strange things happen in the Biblical world: axe heads float (2 Kings 6:4-7), donkeys talk (Numbers 22:21-30), the dead won't stay dead (Matthew27:51-54), people defy gravity and walk on water (Mark 6:45-52), on command the earth stops rotating (Joshua 10:12-14), snakes carry on conversations (Genesis 3:1-5). There are magic cloths that heal diseases and drive out evil spirits (Acts 19:12; Mark 5:24-30).
I don't find the world I live in to be as described in the Bible. I have never personally encountered the spiritual forces. True, the world I live in is dangerous, but pretty bland when compared to the world seen through the eyes of the Biblical writers. My life and welfare are always at risk from natural forces and even nature itself, but I have never been threatened with harm by evil spirits or demons. I have never met an angel. In the world as I experience it people who die stay dead, and day passes into night with amazing regularity.
Did a world, such as described in the Bible, ever actually exist, do you suppose? Or did it only exist in the imaginations of the ancient writers and in the minds of those who choose to believe them?
What kind of world do you live in?
Charles W. Hedrick
Missouri State University
See "Wry Thoughts about Religion" Blog: March 13, 2013.