Making Sense of the Wild World in Which We Live
To expand on the theme of last Tuesday’s post and to answer some pushback this week we will continue to think through the subject of demon possession. Whereas we’ve touched on some Biblical arguments for its existence we’ll be exploring what we should be looking for to see its happening in 2023 and also to do some world building to better get an idea what is going on in a literal sense. Part of the need of this series is helping believers to understand the world in which we live. It’s already been noted that many Christians either explicitly or by good and necessary consequence of how they think about the creation just assume the spiritual does not interact with the physical. To put it in big word terms the noumenal and the phenomenal are separate and never the twain shall meet. However, there is a big problem with not coming to terms with the natural as it is. By denying the possibility of demonic activity in the bodies of men you are by definition messing with something like the Incarnation itself. Now, certainly we do not believe that God inhabited an already existing man, that would be heresy, and more akin to what the Arians/Jehovah’s Witnesses teach. Yet if we are going to mess with the interactions of spirit and flesh there is a lot we’d need to answer for in regards to metaphysics and the like.
That being said we would be wise to do some metaphysics for a second and get back to first principles. All orthodox believers confess that man is body and spirit. He is flesh and soul. In his work on this W.G.T. Shedd provides some helpful background in regard to obliging us to get at the root of the query.
The difference between the soul and the body is as he writes:
Spiritual substance is distinguished from matter by the characteristic of self-motion. Matter must be moved from without, by another material substance impinging upon it. But mind moves from within. Its motion is not from an external impact, but is self-created.
In English what Shedd is saying there is witnessed for us both in the creation of Adam as a living soul in Genesis 2:7 and in the valley of dry bones of Ezekiel 37 when the wind or ruach brings life to the reorganized flesh-born skeletons. Without the image of God upon the man he is but a bag of internal organs. That image really is the will, or desire, or thinking purpose applied to the physical activities of brain waves and arm movement. Why do we need to cut our hand off if it is causing us to sin? It’s not because the hand is bad, it is what the soul, the thought engine, is encouraging the hand to do. That is part of Jesus’s point there. Our image is broken, and central to what the Lord has done at the cross and which we have received by the application of His righteousness in the work of salvation is having our compass fixed. Our soul was as damaged by the sin of Adam as is the fact we now physically die because of it. This may seem super deep, but it is necessary for our rightly grasping what is happening in demon possession.
As spiritual beings, fallen angels, demons have both agency to make decisions and existence to such a degree that they individually have a history. In other words when Christ is conversating with them in the gospels it is an actual thing happening in real life. They know each other. It’s neither a parable nor a vision. But an actual discussion between two living entities, one Divine, the other created, but both as real as sunshine.
Duncan MacDougall in the year 1907 performed an experiment in Haverhill, Massachusetts designed to weigh the soul to prove its existence. It was assumed that if the soul was real, and if it left the body at death, then the difference in weight between a person before and after the ceasing of the beating of the heart would change in composition enough to be measured. It was termed the 21 gram experiment for that is what MacDougall claimed was the result. For our purposes today we need to understand that this was nonsense. Well-meaning maybe, yet a man greatly in need of some theological education. The reason I bring this up is that we need to be reminded that when we talk about souls and bodies that we are speaking about one substance that has no physical form and one that does. Demons when they possess a body are not gaining physical control, though their work almost exclusively will have physical consequences, think of the boy possessed in Mark 9 who tosses himself on the fire. These wicked angels are to be seen as assuming activity over the will of the creature. The person will not glow nor get devil eyes or any sort of thing. However, they shall not seem themselves.
We’ve done a lot of setting the stage to get us to the main section of the question answering. How do we see demon possession today and how common is it? I posit that it is a lot more common than we realize. In fact most of the things we associate with mental illness are not issues with brain chemistry (that is not to deny that some people do have and suffer from mental illness), but involve spiritual warfare. Much good support can be found by reading Travis Fentiman’s enthrallingly potent personal experiences at this link. Other examples are the way some people are so easily led astray by false teachers, popular examples of the past through the present being men like L. Ron Hubbard, Shoho Asahara, Jim Jones, and other purveyors of mass delusion. We could probably name some politicians at this point as well, and there is probably some truth that you don’t get to some levels of power without in a literal sense making some deals that will require much of your future. It is not merely their skills as leaders, but diabolic intuition provided by dark angels that gave them the authority to accomplish what they accomplished. While H.L. Mencken famously said, “No one went broke underestimating the taste of the American public” it is not the case that these men were able to lead many to their deaths merely by their own wits. They had outside help which gave them the appearance and form of power, that led to their destruction.
On that front we have to ask ourselves what benefit is there to deny the link between the two? Well, I think it goes back to our rebellion against the Creator. To give credence to these truths would be to admit in the existence of God. I mentioned in the post last week that Hollywood loves to exploit the activities of the demonic. They are ironically helping to perpetuate the truth of the goodness of God by keeping the nastiness of the depravity brought out by the spiritual works of darkness in human life.
In closing, I feel like we haven’t touched on this enough so next week we’ll actually come back around and deal some more with the whole question of demonic activity in the Twenty-First century and what we as Christians can do about it. Our goal here is not to be carnival barking in order to draw unnecessary attention to a shocking concept of reality. Hopefully, our time is beneficial to better know why things are so unsettling, and why they have always been that way.
Here is one more word:
Blessings in Christ,
Rev. Benjamin Glaser
Pastor, Bethany ARP Church