When I was young I tried my best at psychokinesis (greek combination of two words: ‘mind’ & ‘movement’). I would sit on my bed, have as much faith as I can muster, and believe the door into moving. I would close my eyes and repeat “I believe the door can move, I believe the door can move” hundreds of times, and peek to find it closed. I would turn to the door and say “In Jesus name, move!” and wholeheartedly expect it to do so. I would even create immense emotional excitement within myself by repeating, “it’s moved, its already done, I know it!”I can honestly testify that in each of those moments, for a time, I genuinely believed that the door had moved, or had convinced myself of that before opening my eyes. In fact, some of the times I even told myself, “there is no reason to test it by looking at it for proof, it’s already done” and I would open my eyes on another part of the room, to prove I wasn’t doubting my faith. For five to ten minutes I would go about genuinely convinced that the door had moved a bit, without even looking at it. Yet in the end, the door didn’t move.It was with deep regret that I realized I would be a failure at Benny Hinn’s School of the Supernatural (as well as Hogwarts). Most people reading this would think that I was being utterly childish and ignorant, and I would certainly agree. Yet the reasons I believed it was because I approached the Bible with my “childlike faith” and simply listened to certain faith-healing preachers. I approached the Bible without using ‘modern scholarship’ and the ‘proper exegetical and hermeneutical’ approach. Instead I simply read it as plainly as I could, believing each word just as it appeared, and to most others around me. To reiterate, I read the Bible as plainly and simply and honestly as I knew how, and that led to me to psychokinesis.
Pesky Passages about Psychokinesis
Below are a couple of these “pesky” things that Jesus is recorded saying that made me believe in psychokinesis. Now before we begin, lets review the most common way to interpret the Bible amongst fundamentalists and evangelicals. (And that is the very point of this post, to review that particular method of Biblical interpretation). Here is a “rule of thumb” given by the well-known Bible teacher, who has written popular books on hermeneutics (interpreting the Bible), Dr. Norman Giesler:
“You’ve got all kinds of interpretations of the Bible. Why? They’re not taking the literal meaning of the Bible. They’re taking allegorical meanings, or mystical meanings, or parabolic meanings and all kinds of crazy meanings. They’re looking “behind” the words instead of “in” the words. They’re looking beneath the words instead of in the words. They’re looking around the words instead of at the words. Look at the words! Get a text in context. Find out what it says and take the literal meaning, because if the literal sense makes good sense, seek no other sense lest it result in nonsense. (1)
What a quotable quote! No wonder Giesler is so popular. So that is what I did with the to-be-mentioned saying of Jesus. I sincerely looked “at the words” instead of looking “behind, beneath, or around” the words. I took the “literal meaning” instead of trying to seek the “allegorical, mystical, or parabolic” meaning. And quite frankly, the literal meaning made the most good sense, and trying to explain away the “literal meaning” was more confusing “nonsence” than simply accepting the plain, clear, and simple reading. Now, onto the passages:
“Truly I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and cast into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says is going to happen, it will be granted him.” (Mark 11:23)
“And He said to them, “Because of the littleness of your faith; for truly I say to you, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible to you.” (Mat 17:20)
“And Jesus answered and said to them, “Truly I say to you, if you have faith and do not doubt, you will not only do what was done to the fig tree, but even if you say to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and cast into the sea,’ it will happen.” (Mat 21:21)
“And the Lord said, “If you had faith like a mustard seed, you would say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and be planted in the sea’; and it would obey you.” (Luke 17:6)
If we follow the plain, clear, and simple literal reading, that is advocated by many of my Christian brethren, including Dr. Normal Giesler, what kinds of things can we “learn” from the above passages?
1. Real physical objects are discussed in this text
Mountain, sea, mulberry tree are all real physical things, there is no indication in the text itself that these are references to spiritual, allegorical, mystical, or parabolic things/ideas. We would have to take each word and arbitrarily reinterpret the meaning of each word in order to imply these physical objects mean anything other than physical objects. Or else have access to accurate historic knowledge about what objects were interpreted as referring to ideas in that particular culture and time.
2. These objects can be physically moved by the power of our personal faith
There is no indication in these passages (or the whole chapters) that something else like God’s will can prevent the moving of a mountain. It is very clearly and plainly stated that with faith “nothing will be impossible for you” which explicitly makes the focus on the person who has the faith, not on other peoples feelings, or even God’s desires. It may seem obvious, to those who have a long history of interpreting these texts, that this should only apply to things that are Gods will, however, it is not in the itself, this is a logical addition make by Christian thinkers. Taking these passages literally, at face value, without adding words, shows only one determining factor, our personal faith/doubt.
3. One must speak directly at the physical object and “it will happen.”
There is no mention of praying towards God and asking him to move it, but rather the clear, plain, simple reading of the text dictates we ought to say it TO the object (“you will say to this mountain”). There is no indication that this involves the invocation of God’s name, no petition to God, no direct mention of God at all. We would have to replace the written text that is clearly a command to an object with a prayer towards God, in order to claim this refers to prayer. It simply does not say “pray” but “say.”
4. The faith is not a faith in God, but faith that a certain event will happen.
This is specifically taught against in the plain, clear, simple, and literal meaning of the text. It is said “whoever … believes that what he says is going to happen.. it will be granted.” This very specifically states that the specific thing a person has to believe in is not necessarily God, but rather in “what he says is going to happen” in order to make it happen. We would have to replace the Biblical text “what he says is going to happen” with the word “God” in order to make any other literal reading possible.
5. Objects will obey us, the text makes no mention of God
If we have the required amount of faith in the things that we declare. One of the sayings very clearly, plainly, and unavoidably tells us about the mulberry tree’s response to our faith, saying, “and it would obey you.” This specifically does not say “and it would obey God” instead the text, as it is written, says “it would obey you.” In order to make the clear meaning different, we would have to take the word “you” and replace it with “God,” or else add a phrase saying it would obey you “at God’s command.” This is not added in the Biblical text.
Yikes! It’s no wonder that the word of faith movement grew so powerfully in the 70’s and was one of the leading Christian movements in the last few decades.
The Interpretations Often Given
Below is a sampling of the views given by different Christians when reading this passage. Interestingly, they are all over the place.
Andrew Womack: “Jesus said we should speak to the mountain, or the problem. Most people speak to God about their problem, but few follow Jesus’ instructions and speak directly to the “mountain.” God has put certain things under our authority, and we must exercise it. When a problem stands in our way, we must speak to the problem and command it to get out of our way in the name of Jesus.” (2)
Mark Driscoll: “However, Jesus’ specific claim that faith could move mountains was without parallel. The restructuring of the natural world was meant to reveal the presence of God’s future kingdom, a thought that was emphasized by the Old Testament as well as other Jewish texts. Therefore, Jesus’ statement in verse 23 was meant to indicate that the day of salvation had already dawned. Jesus’ statements cannot be taken to mean that God will grant every prayer for every person at every time. Prayer, therefore, has less to do with obtaining things and more to do with an ongoing life with God.” (3)
Haydocks Catholic Commentary: “Ecclesiastical history informs us, that St. Gregory of Neo-Cæsarea, surnamed Thaumaturgus, whose feast is kept Nov. 17., [literally] performed this miracle, removing by his prayers a mountain that obstructed the building of a church.” (4)
Linda Josef & Sid Roth: “When most of us read this passage, we gloss over the literal meaning about moving mountains because we cannot imagine how beliefs and words can move big, solid things like mountains…. Through our eyes we may see a mountain made of rock or a tumor made of cancer cells. But through our understanding, we can see a vibrating heap of electrons and weird, subatomic particles that will respond to the energy we produce by what we believe and what we say. The visible world was created by the Word of God. The most powerful way to change the visible is by speaking the Word of God. All sounds have energy that can affect matter, but to change reality, we need the supernatural, creative Words of God.” (5)
Pulpit Commentary “The Lord signifies that a very slight real faith, which he compares to the mustard seed, that smallest of grains, would be of power sufficient to accomplish what seemed to them impossible. In other words, he says, “If you have any real faith at all, you will be able to win the victory over yourselves necessary for a perpetual loving judgment of others.” (6)
Gills Commentary “for such a tree to be plucked up by the root at a word speaking, is very wonderful and miraculous, and beyond the power of nature; and much more for it to remove into the sea, and plant itself there, where trees grow not; and to believe this should be done, and such a word of command obeyed, one should think required very great faith; and yet, if it was but as a grain of mustard seed, which is very small, it might be done. The design is to show, what great things are done by faith, and what an increase of it they should have.” (6)
Rick Renner: “Jesus specifically said that you must literally speak to the sycamine tree. The word “say” used in Luke 17:6 is the Greek word lego, which means to speak, but the tense that is used depicts a strong, stern, serious, deeply felt kind of speaking. In other words, this isn’t a person who mutters thoughtless nonsense; this is a person who has made an inward resolution and now speaks authoritatively and with great conviction. Your voice represents your authority; therefore, when you raise your voice, you release your authority. That is why you must speak to these attitudes and not just think about them” (7)
Chuck Smith “Let me suggest to you that a mustard seed is quite small. And when it is planted in the ground and covered with dirt and there germinates. As that mustard plant begins to grow from the little seed, it begins to move, in a sense, especially to its size the mountains of dirt above it that it might break forth and grow up into a mustard bush. So faith as a grain of mustard seed. There is that life principle there that can move mountains.” (8)
David Guzik “You may have unforgiveness and bitterness that is deeply rooted within you; it may be like one of those trees that sends down deep, strong roots. But through faith, Jesus can rip those roots clean out; it can be pulled up by the roots and be planted in the sea. The faith that we must have is a faith that has more to do with what kind of faith it is than with how much faith there is. A small amount of faith-as much as a mustard seed (a very small seed)-can accomplish great things, if that small amount of faith is placed in a great and mighty God.” (9)
Gloria Copeland “Every word you say is important. To have faith for healing operating in your life, you must have confidence not only in God’s Word, but in your words. Mark 11:23 says,“For verily I say unto you, That whosoever shall say unto this mountain, Be thou removed, and be thou cast into the sea; and shall not doubt in his heart, but shall believe that those things which he saith shall come to pass; he shall have whatsoever he saith.” Faith comes by hearing and goes by saying. Faith is released by your words. When you take the Word into your heart and it comes out through your voice, it becomes God’s Word applied to the problem. If you will keep your words in agreement with God’s Word, they will change your natural circumstances.” (10)
Vincent Cheung “This biblical understanding of faith returns the fulfillment of Mark 11:23 to the sovereign hand of God. In the process, it destroys the false teaching in question without compromising the principle taught by Jesus “ that if we have faith, we will have whatever we say. The difference is that whether we have faith, or whether we have this kind of faith, is entirely up to God. He might deliver it to us by means of his word, but hearing his word does not guarantee this kind or level of faith… so whether we will have this kind of faith is up to God, and at any time, it is possible that he will grant this kind of faith.” (11)
Tom Rietveld: “Think about this. -Even in Jesus’ time, about 6 or 8 burly men could dig out a mulberry tree, carry it to the sea, wade out in the water, and stick it in a hole. Not much faith there-just a lot of grunt work. -I’m convinced that the key to understanding this word picture is in the process of uprooting. I believe the statement about uprooting the mulberry tree, or removing it’s roots has to do with what’s in our heart, or our core. It signifies hidden things we have to deal with before God will increase our faith. Folks this is what Jesus is saying to our church, “Before you can rest in the assurance that God is in control of all circumstances, you need to do some uprooting.” (12)
Derek Prince: “Miraculous faith that is a gift of the Holy Spirit: This kind of faith resembles “a word of wisdom” or “a word of knowledge.” A “mustard seed” of this kind of faith is all that is needed. A word spoken with this kind of faith is as effective as if God Himself spoke it.” (13)
Matthew Henry “It may be applied to that miracle of faith, which all true Christians are endued with, which doeth wonders in things spiritual. It justifies us (Romans 5:1), and so removes the mountains of guilt, and casts them into the depths of the sea, never to rise up in judgment against us, Micah 7:19. It purifies the heart (Acts 15:9), and so removes mountains of corruption, and makes them plains before the grace of God.” (13)
What have we learned? What is the point? That we should try to believe in something to happen and “it will obey you”? That is certainly not my point. My aim is to invite us to think and reason about how we interpret the Bible compared to how we say we should interpret it, and to realize the two often diverge. I want us to understand that none of the interpretations given in this case are the “plain, clear, obvious, or simple” way to interpret it, instead most are complicated and thoughtful interpretations that required crafty thinking, deductive reasoning, and logical leaps. The only ones among those interpretation that seem to fit the “literal, simple and plain” interpretations are those coming from Rick Renner and Haydock’s Catholic Commentary. The others diverge into a other theological trajectories with growing hermeneutical complexity. Which one do I believe in? Honestly, I am not even sure, though I think that even while it makes the most sense literally, the main idea is not literal but rather “allegorical, mystical, or parabolic.” Either way, that ever elusive “simple, plain Bible reading” is not really as simple or plain as we assume. Let us remember then, that this cosmos is infinitely complex, and thus everything in it also requires complexity and nuance.