The spiritual works of darkness and the question of existence
It was fitting that while my sons and I were watching football on Saturday afternoon that an advertisement came on promoting a new series of films in the Exorcist family. The original movie was a sensation when it first came out. Based upon a book with a similar name it has entered into public consciousness in such a way that there is no need to explain the story. We all know it. It is interesting to me at least that as anti-supernatural as our culture has become over the past two-hundred years, and really before that in the writings of Rousseau and others, it still is scared out of its wits vis-a-vis the idea of demon possession. Is the reason for that because deep down we all know its real?
Good horror always has as its foundation the fear of the unknown. What made Hitchcock so popular is that he became famous for illustrating that phenomenon. It is what we don’t, or can’t see that makes us actually afraid. In today’s entry into our series on things that go bump in the night we are going to look at what the Bible has to say when it comes to human beings and the continuing concern of the devil’s entering into control over the body and soul of a person.
We know the Bible teaches that this is not only possible, but is a fairly normal circumstance in the sense that its happening is not against the plausibility structure of reality. In fact demon possession goes all the way back to the Garden itself. Satan we know is a fallen angel. He is not a serpent; however, he does in fact inhabit the serpent, giving it voice and agency, in order to lead the first couple astray. Other cases in the Old Testament include Saul’s dealing with a distressing spirit in 1 Samuel 16. The Scriptures recount the situation for us:
And Saul’s servants said to him, “Surely, a distressing spirit from God is troubling you. Let our master now command your servants, who are before you, to seek out a man who is a skillful player on the harp. And it shall be that he will play it with his hand when the distressing spirit from God is upon you, and you shall be well.”
You notice in the way that the servants speak that the existence of a demonic inhabitance is not foreign to them. They seem to be fully aware of what is happening, and in an interestingly 3,000-year head start to a similar solution found in the latest season of the Netflix show Stranger Things they believe that some kind of soothing music is the answer. Now, some people I read in preparation for this have taken what is happening to Saul and applied some kind of seizure or mental breakdown to provide an understandable explanation for the odd event. The problem with positing a chemical or biological rejoinder is that the men and women in the days of the first king of Israel were fully cognizant of medical emergencies and would have noted that instead of witnessing the way that they did. In all matters surrounding the question of demonic activity it is preposterously rude to insinuate these folks in the Eleventh century B.C. were so dumb as to be unable to distinguish the one from the other. They could, and did. It was as real then as it is now.
Going back to Saul for a moment there is something else we can learn from this story, and that is by what power these demonic beings are under. Do they do things of their own volition or is something else involved? We certainly confess that all this happens in accordance with the will and command of God. Verse 14 of 1 Samuel 16 says, “But the Spirit of the Lord departed from Saul, and a distressing spirit from the Lord troubled him.“ And it would be through God’s anointed, David, that the being would be dismissed, “So it was, whenever the spirit from God was upon Saul, that David would take a harp and play it with his hand. Then Saul would become refreshed and well, and the distressing spirit would depart from him.”
This last truth is what we will spend the rest of our time on for today. We often associate the control that our Lord has over demonic beings most directly with the Gadarene Demoniac. There we have a man with a Legion of them inhabiting his body. They talk to Jesus as if they know Him. They call out to Christ by name and ask to be sent into the pigs, which He does, and they run into the sea fulfilling their destiny. The whole scene is quite dramatic. Yet it provides everything that we need to know about demon possession and what we are to do about it. Some people are in fact possessed and they need to be exorcised. To go back to our opening gambit many Protestants have failed to remember that this is not merely a Roman Catholic thing. We do need to understand that demon possession does in fact still happen, even in our circles. But why does it and what can we as believers do about it in the present day and age?
In Deuteronomy 32:16-7 Moses warns the Israelites, “[Your fathers] provoked Him to jealousy with foreign gods; with abominations they provoked Him to anger. They sacrificed to demons, not to God, to gods they did not know, to new gods, new arrivals that your fathers did not fear.”
There we see the seeds that fruit into the subject at hand. One of the delusions the Lord provides to those who seek after idols is that the idols themselves are granted power and are able to do things. It was through demonic possession that men like Muhammed were moved to write a totally heretical holy book, and that Joseph Smith was able to lead so many astray. The reason for the soothsayers and shamans found in myriads of cultures is that the demons have been accorded real power by God to effect real life examples of the gods doing stuff to the extent that what Hebrews 11:1 defines as faith could be exhibited in the hearts and minds of those being destroyed. The aforementioned David gives credence to this in Psalm 106:37, “They even sacrificed their sons and their daughters to demons.” People do not do things like this without the spiritual gift that they feel after completing the worship of evil. In a related matter whenever we see and hear of unspeakable crimes committed rashly and with malice it is not a cop-out to make the argument that in fact what took place was demon possession, either in a literal sense, or that the demons were persuasive in moving the act to happen. But it’s not just mass murderers who give evidence of demon possession. Often it is the most coherent and educated leading scientific wickedness towards unimaginable horrors of testing unproven medical cures on unsuspecting people. Many cases as they say.
In closing, we’ve touched on some Biblical arguments for the existence of demon possession and talked a little bit about some of the modern examples. Next week we will expand on this question and seek some more explanation about how all this works.
Here’s some reading:
Blessings in Christ,
Rev. Benjamin Glaser
Pastor, Bethany ARP Church