Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Demons and Daily Living

Stand to Reason columnist Alan Shlemon writes:

“To be honest, I believe in Satan and demons, but my belief in them makes little difference in how I live. There are two reasons for that. One, I often feel awkward talking about them for fear that people might think I’m (spiritually) weird. Two, I don’t know exactly what they do and what I can do to affect their activity.”

I think this is fairly common among Christians. More than a few of us would confess that the oddballs who speak constantly of demonic oppression or the “works of Satan” spook us just a little a bit.

Does belief in demons affect how we live? Not really, at least not in any way we’d notice. Should it? That’s another question.

Sorting Out Who Does What

I would maybe qualify what Alan says in this respect: I think most mature Christians, including Alan, probably have a fairly good idea from scripture what sorts of activities the spiritual principalities and powers are inclined to engage in, even if we are bit short on details and not entirely sure whether they still do exactly the same things in the Church Age. (Here I am thinking specifically of demonic possession and oppression, which do not appear to be anywhere near as common today as they were in the time of Christ. If they are, we have learned to call them by other names, which does not say much for our collective level of discernment.)

In any case, the problem we have is not that we have no clue what demons might be up to or what methods they might use to achieve their agendas, but that we don’t know exactly how much of the evil that goes on in the world today to attribute to them, or which specific events and activities they are instrumental in causing.

For one, the planet itself is broken in certain respects. It coughs up tornados and tidal waves and earthquakes and mudslides and volcanic eruptions and all sorts of things Adam and Eve did not experience in the Garden of Eden, all of which may be tremendously destructive and may even feel oddly personal and malign to those impacted by them. But are catastrophes evidence of demonic activity? For the most part, probably not. They seem to be either cyclical or random.

The Evil That Men Do

Then there are the things men and women do to one another. These may all be prompted by evil spirits, but that is certainly not a necessary precondition to men doing evil. Mankind is fallen, and every intention of the thoughts of men’s hearts is only evil continually. We are perfectly capable of coming up with a lot of this stuff on our own. That may not be to our credit as a species, but it also makes it rather difficult to discern which evils around us are more or less attributable to mankind’s fallen condition, and which are actively demonic in origin and intent.

Further, scripture reminds us that on rare occasions the judgment of God has in this life overtaken men and women who have been particularly wicked. How do we distinguish between horrible things that happen to people because of their own wickedness, and things that happen because a spiteful spiritual entity is toying with them? People have been confusing the two for thousands of years. Ask Job.

So then, most of us have no doubt that Satan and other evil spiritual powers exist and are active in our world, but to attribute any particular event to their activities without solid evidence seems awfully presumptuous. The fact is, we simply don’t know what caused this or that terrible thing to occur, and those of us naive enough to hazard an opinion usually come off looking like superstitious halfwits.

Demonic “Tells”

That said, Satan and his servants have certain “tells” that characterize their work and make it possible to distinguish demonic evil from circumstantial evil, the judgment of God, and sometimes human evil too:

Lying. Volcanoes and hurricanes certainly do great damage, but they do not tell untruths. The Lord Jesus referred to the devil as “a liar and the father of lies”. This is in direct contrast to the character of God, who never lies. Men may certainly lie, and do so in their own energies, but when they do, they are acting in character with Satan himself, and furthering his agenda in the process, if only by contributing to the general confusion. John says, “No lie is of the truth.” God will never work that way. If you see a liar lying, there is a solid chance you are getting a glimpse of Satan at work.

Self-Promotion.I will ascend.” Top spot. That’s Satan’s primary motive. “I will make myself like the Most High.” Satan’s servants are also characterized by self-promotion. They cannot help it. It’s who they are. They want to be seen, appreciated and worshiped. They are insecure and desperate for attention, so they seize opportunities to be noticed. By way of contrast, true servants of God tend to quietly plug away in the background. “He must increase, but I must decrease” is their philosophy. In this they are like the Lord Jesus himself, who did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped. When you see a man or woman pushing their way to the front of the line, be assured the spirit behind them is not benevolent in character.

A Brilliant Disguise. The powers of darkness like to pass themselves off as servants of righteousness. Satan is not crude or obvious in his deceptions. His human servants follow his example, so it is reasonable to assume demons behave similarly. However, it is helpful to be able to distinguish between the useful idiot (who really needs help and pity) and the willing agent of spiritual evil. No small number of religious fools engage in deceiving others because they themselves have been deceived. One can flush them out by asking clear and pointed questions. The fool is simply repeating things others have told him. He is not the brains behind the evil being done, so when you press him to rationalize his agenda in the face of scripture or contradictory data, he will eventually demonstrate his inability to do so. On the other hand, a demonic agenda will rationalize itself so cleverly and apparently sincerely that you may even be inclined to buy in. Satanic power is mysteriously effective at producing compelling evidence in its favor.

Power. Demonic powers are confident and assertive, especially when dealing with weak enemies and phonies. “Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour,” wrote Peter. The seven sons of Sceva attempted to invoke the name of the Lord Jesus as if it were a magic word in order to drive out an evil spirit. Recognizing he was up against pretenders, the man with the evil spirit leaped on them and beat them all within an inch of their lives. In contrast, God most often chooses instruments who appear personally quite weak and unimpressive through whom to demonstrate his power.

Effectiveness Across Time. You can tell demonic activity from merely human plotting because it operates effectively across generations. Spirit beings, both good and evil, are not limited by roughly seventy year life spans. Human beings are. Moreover, the agendas of ordinary men and women, even very evil ones, tend to self-contradict and sabotage one another. One set of bad people with bad ideas will often deliver a nation from another set, because there is no coherent philosophy behind either side. When you see a coalition of various kinds of diverse evils holding together and operating efficiently, especially across long periods of time, it is an indication of spiritual wickedness at work.

Affecting the Way We Live

So should consciousness of demons or Satan affect the way we live? Probably not overtly, but there are certainly things we can do to impede the effectiveness of their activity in our lives.

Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation,” the Lord Jesus told his disciples. “Forgive,” says the apostle Paul, “so that we would not be outwitted by Satan; for we are not ignorant of his designs.” “Give the adversary no occasion for slander,” he tells Timothy, “for some have already strayed after Satan.” He is talking there about women exercising ordinary, everyday self-control and common sense. “You hold fast my name,” says the Lord Jesus, by way of commending a church who dwells where Satan’s throne is.

In fact, the techniques that are most effective against the machinations of demons look remarkably like the way Christians are called to live every day of our lives. If we walk in obedience to the commands of Christ and his apostles, we need not live in fear of specific instances of demonic attack because the things we do naturally will tend to guard us against it.

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