AN OLD INSURANCE company term for natural disasters is "acts of God," which unfortunately links the Holy One with everything awful and unforeseen that can befall humanity, as if God were not just capricious but wrathful and cruel. Jesus, of course, depicted his Father in a completely different way, and in [Acts 16:16-34] we see how Paul has learned from Christ how to discern rightly what is indebted to God and what is a counterfeit—an important lesson for all of us.

Luke, Paul, Timothy and Silas are in the Roman colony of Philippi, in the province of Macedonia, where Paul founded a Christian community for which he has great affection. But a slave girl, whom the King James Bible describes as "possessed with a spirit of divination... which brought her masters much gain by soothsaying," follows the entourage, crying out, "These men are the servants of the most high God, which shew unto us the way of salvation."

Some preachers working the crowds would be flattered by that line, and even encourage the girl to continue her wild form of advertising their mission as an act of God. But it is implied in the passage that despite her glorifying words, Paul looks deeply into the girl's ravaged personality and recognizes an alien spirit that has overtaken her. Evil is seeking to ally itself with Christianity for its own corrupt purposes, either to discredit the faith or to hide behind it. Like Jesus, who was so often first proclaimed a deity by demons and always immediately ordered them to be silent, Paul is grieved by the girl's announcement and commands the force that has possessed her to come out "in the name of Jesus Christ." The spirit complies, and the girl seemingly becomes normal again. She can no longer foretell the future or read hearts and minds, but she is freed from the domination of wickedness. Her well-being, for Paul, is far more important than the shamming grandeur of her false praise.

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June 21, 2010

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