An excluded middle denies the presence or at least the power of the spirits. Animism, on the other hand, seeks to control a situation by means of the spirit world: you need to have the most powerful spirit in order to get what you want. One way of viewing Jesus then, is as the most powerful spirit.
Moses Matonya argues in his book Real Power: Christ’s Authority over the Spirits that Colossians is a fine place to start if we are to understand Jesus’ power and supremacy. He uses it to assure Christians:
- that Christ, not the world, is in charge of the powers.
- that no Christian is in debt or bondage to powers, so there is no need to placate them.
- that every Christian is safe in Jesus’ hands, despite the powers’ continuing animosity.
- that there is no need to doubt or supplement Christ’s power.
This might sound good in theory, but Matonya pushes it further, asking what reason there is in an animistic worldview to believe that Jesus is this powerful. Thinking of Jesus as the most powerful spirit gets you part way there, but who’s to say a more powerful spirit won’t come along? In an animistic worldview, that’s a perfectly reasonable question to ask. However, Christ is not just the most powerful spirit. He’s way higher up the hierarchy because he is the Creator God (see diagram below).
The Creator God is over all spirits; he’s superior and he rules all things. If Jesus is to be the certain conqueror, in an animistic worldview, this only makes sense if he is also the Creator God. Jesus conquers because he’s already superior. It’s not that Jesus became superior to the spirits by winning the battle against them; he won the battle against them because we was already more powerful. Jesus as Creator and Jesus as Conqueror are linked in the animistic worldview.
Grounding Jesus as conqueror in Jesus as creator is entirely consistent with the emphasis of Colossians. Starting with Jesus as the creator, Paul moves to the deity of Jesus and then to his victory. Jesus as conqueror is linked to Jesus as creator. Jesus as conqueror is no surprise; it’s simply a recognition of who he is.
This has several implications for understanding who Jesus is and who we are in his world:
- Permanence. The power of the spirits may come and go but the power of Jesus the Creator God remains constant.
- Incomparability. Even the powerful spirits of the chiefs are no rivals to Jesus the Creator God.
- Confidence. The spiritual battle never takes place between equals. It never was and it never will be. You can be confident that Jesus will win and confident to come before him to ask him for what you desire – he’s the Creator God so it’s all his to give anyway.
- Intimacy. In Christ, God himself as come near. The power of the Creator is with us and we know him.
This teaching is essential for placing Jesus within the animistic worldview and for the Christian’s confidence in the face of powerful spirits. In the final post, I’ll deal with what to do when none of this seems true or when it looks like the spirits are more powerful than Jesus.
But coming up in the next post, we’ll build more on this idea of intimacy. Previously, ancestors were the way that people were able to have contact with the spirit world; could we understand Jesus as ancestor in this context….?
Tamie Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at meetjesusatuni.com.