I was sitting at a red light recently and people all around me were acting crazy. One young man was blaring his radio. Someone else came roaring around the corner. Even I was crazy, for I found myself thinking the words, “A Spirit of Chaos is here.”
That reflex — thinking that there are spirits lurking everywhere — is a hold-over from my time in evangelical culture. I can’t say I bought into it, but there was often talk around me of “a Spirit of Such-and-Such.” This was not a figure of speech. My friends literally believed that local events were sometimes due to the presence of one spirit or another.
There is ample justification in the Bible for this view. For example, Isaiah 19:14 says that God sent “a spirit of confusion” upon the Egyptians, causing Egypt to “stagger in all her doings like a drunken man.” In 1 Kings 22:23, God allows a “lying spirit” to be “put in the mouths” of some false prophets. On a positive note, in Mark 9:14-29, Jesus heals a boy who in all likelihood just had epilepsy, but the healing is put in terms of casting out a spirit.
Returning to the traffic light, my next thought was, “Wait a second! Spirit of Chaos!? I’m free from that kind of thinking!” Free I am, and it’s a wonderful feeling.
You see, as much as invoking spirits can provide an explanation for almost any human behavior, it is a very unsatisfying one because you never know what a spirit will do next. Even the Holy Spirit, Jesus said, is like the wind: You can hear it, but you never know where it came from or where it is going.
Ancient people blamed spirits for everything from confusion to epilepsy to insanity. They understood so little about certain things that positing spirits may have felt like progress. Not to brag or anything, but we moderns can do better.
Better not only in explaining bizarre and frightening conditions, but in understanding the behavior of people at traffic lights. Where our knowledge is incomplete, we can try to learn more.
That gives me much more hope than the always-impossible attempts to predict the behavior of the spirit world.