Monday, August 09, 2021

Anonymous Asks (157)

“Are visions of Mary real?”

Now, here is an interesting question, and I will admit right up front that I can’t possibly answer it as asked.

When we ask whether a thing is real, we may be asking any of several different questions about it. We may be asking “Did this person actually experience what they say they experienced, or is their claim fraudulent?” Or we may be asking “Assuming they did experience something, was it something that originated with God, or are they deceived about its origin?” Finally, and most importantly, we may be asking “Is what they say they saw authoritative in any way? Does it mean anything to me, or is it just an interesting story?”

Authoritative Visions

There was a time when the vision of a prophet was authoritative. That is to say, the prophet had a real, God-given experience, he communicated that experience, and everyone to whom he communicated it had an obligation to believe him or deal with the consequences. In the book of Numbers, God says, “If there is a prophet among you, I the Lord make myself known to him in a vision; I speak with him in a dream.”

Moses was the exception in his day; God spoke with him “mouth to mouth”, without the usual figurative language and imagery often associated with prophecy. But the prophetic office was a legitimate one. Sure, there were pretenders — sometimes large numbers of them — but it was a period in which God was genuinely communicating with mankind by means of visions, and he expected the seer’s voice to be heard and obeyed.

Even so, compared to the sort of direct revelation Moses received, there was limited value to visions. Some Old Testament visions were obscure. Israel’s law was delivered to Moses on Sinai in a form that required no interpretation. There were no riddles or parables. The Law demanded obedience, but it didn’t require a team of scholars to first sit down and work out what God was trying to communicate. It was delivered in plain language the simplest Israelite could comprehend.

Riddles and Parables

A vision, on the other hand, often had to be interpreted, and there was no guarantee the interpretation, even if correct, would be correctly applied. Ezekiel’s audience heard his message from God, and responded with “The vision that he sees is for many days from now, and he prophesies of times far off.” They didn’t reject the authority of his vision, but they asserted its message was intended for a different audience. There were even times when the meaning of the vision was obscure to the prophet himself. Peter writes, “The prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully, inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories.” They had a message, and the message was authoritative, but it really wasn’t for the audience of their day. Peter continues, “It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you, in the things that have now been announced to you through those who preached the good news to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven.”

Likewise, it was revealed to Daniel that certain of his visions were “shut up and sealed until the time of the end”. They were real, God-given visions with a decipherable message, but that message could not be understood by Daniel or anyone else until the right time came.

So then, the value of a vision for any given generation was always limited to some degree, and many visions were ignored. Hebrews tells us that God spoke at many times and in many ways through the prophets, but none of these were the final word. That had to await the coming of God’s Son in the flesh.

Visions in the New Testament

Visions were common in the days prior to the coming of Christ, and they continued through the early period of the church era. Saul had a vision of the glorified Christ, and later of a man called Ananias. These were clear enough. He also had later visions.

Peter saw a vision that was a little more obscure, but God spoke and gave him an interpretation of the vision that was adequate to enable him to correctly apply it to the question of how he and other Jewish Christians ought to treat Gentile believers. His application was sufficiently defensible that when he told others about it, they too believed he had correctly understood the meaning of his vision, and they accepted what he told them as authoritative, especially once the authority of his vision was confirmed by the Holy Spirit falling upon the household of Cornelius.

Then of course there is John. The whole book of Revelation is a series of visions, and we certainly regard it as authoritative, even if we don’t understand everything about it.

Visions of Mary

So now we come to modern visions of Mary. If we are asking “Did this person actually experience what they say they experienced, or is their claim fraudulent?”, it should be obvious that I can’t answer that. I have no idea whether a claim to have experienced a vision is real or a fabrication, and neither do you. We cannot possibly know if a person who says he has experienced a vision is lying or telling the truth, no matter how pious and sincere he or she may appear. They may be an attention seeker or something worse.

Moreover, even if we assume they did have a genuine experience and are telling us about it in good faith, we cannot possibly say with any certainty that the experience originated with God. They could be deceived about the source of their vision. Demons are practiced deceivers, but there are also many perfectly ordinary sources of hallucinatory experiences: drugs, chemical imbalances, exhaustion, stress, euphoria, and so on. Even if we believe a person experienced something real to them, that belief doesn’t get us any further ahead as to the question of whether their experience came from God or from some other source.

Is it Authoritative?

But, most importantly of all, even if a person has a genuine experience that is particularly moving to them and helpful to them spiritually, it cannot possibly be proven authoritative. That is to say, it cannot have any meaning beyond whatever comfort or assurance it brings the person who experiences it.

When a prophet spoke from God as a result of a vision, the word of God to mankind was incomplete. Right up until John wrote the Revelation, the canon of scripture remained open. We are not in that position today. I won’t repeat what I wrote back in 2017 in a post entitled “Seven Reasons I Don’t Believe You’re a Prophet”, but here’s a link if you’re interested in my reasoning.

In short, then, could somebody really believe they saw Mary? Sure. Is it even possible, though highly unlikely, that they did? I doubt it, but I won’t fight you about it. But can such a vision be authoritative, or have any decipherable meaning for other believers? Not a chance.

No comments :

Post a Comment