Thursday, October 29, 2015

Do Demons Exist?

For the final entry in this month’s monster miniseries, we will take a look at the creatures of darkness which inspire all others, and to which all others aspire. And this may be the most important question in the list. Do demons exist?

My take on this refers back to some of what I wrote in "Do Ghosts Exist?" and “Do Witches Exist?” While I do not believe in those things, I do believe in demons and I believe demons are the explanation for the activity people have attributed to ghosts and witches. I believe in the existence of personal powers of evil.

Demons in the Bible

I do so because the Bible could not be more explicit about them. Nowhere in Scripture does it speak of a need to convince anyone of their existence. Rather, their role is discussed because their existence is held as self-evident.

I don’t want to overload this article with references, which I would do if I attempted to be comprehensive. As it is, I want to give a few examples to show just how thoroughly the Bible treats the question of the existence of demons.

In Job 1–2, Satan is the adversary of Job who attempts to get him to curse God. In Matthew 4:1–11, Satan tries to tempt Jesus and convince Him to give up on His mission from the Father. Jesus casts a legion of demons out of a man in Luke 8:26–39, just one of numerous exorcism stories.  1 Peter 5:8 is one verse among many that tells us to beware of the attacks of the Enemy. And in James 2:19, the apostle speaks of the demons’ intellectual knowledge of God to illustrate that intellectual knowledge cannot pass for true faith (while treating the existence of both God and demons as mere common sense).

Demons in the Culture

Going by the Bible alone, the existence of demons should be obvious. And yet, there are people who would mock you for saying so. Why? Why is it so easy to doubt that they are real?

An old standby will probably be referred to here. “Science allows us to put aside such superstitious nonsense.” But just like it did in "Can Zombies Exist?", this answer runs into a problem. Science is knowledge of the physical world. Or rather, it is observation of it. Science can only tell us about the things our physical senses can make out, or that can be guessed about them, and it can never do so completely. No one has absolute knowledge, and science cannot speak to the things outside its ken.

Don’t get me wrong here. Science is a marvelous good. It has made our world a much better place. But we should not confuse its ability to make us more comfortable with an ability to tell us why we are here, or what is (or is not) beyond the world. It cannot do those things. It was never meant to. To expect it to do so is to elevate it from a method of study into a faith. Which, of course, would not be very scientific.

Anyway, many people these days doubt the existence of demons because they accept a model of the world that does not allow for them to exist. Furthermore, and more importantly, there is no obvious evidence that they exist, of the kind secularists demand.

Evidence of Demons

It is often said that “the absence of evidence is not evidence of absence,” and that is true. However, it is easy for me to understand how it would point people to a faulty conclusion. Demonic activity is not what it once was, seemingly.

Actually, that should be treated as an open question. There are many places in the world where demonic activity of the type discussed in Scripture is considered a regular occurrence. In the modern Western world, these things are less common, but that does not mean they are not going on anywhere.

Furthermore, this begs the question of the type of activity. We do not see demons roaming around in monstrous shapes, or haunting locations, or possessing people so regularly that Westerners can take their existence as an obvious fact. However, they still may be active in the world.

Recall 1 Peter 5:8 that I referenced earlier, along with Luke 4:6 (from another account of the temptation of Jesus) and Ephesians 6:16. Throughout the Bible, Satan and his forces are represented as having a dominion in this world, and of being very jealous of it. They want control, and they look to destroy those who challenge it. That does not mean they have to be seen doing it.

Which is the most important point. The demons are fighting a war, and they are very strategic about it. And of course, deception is often an important aspect of strategy. The Bible treats the existence of demons as obvious, but it also notes that their behavior is not always what it seems. In John 8:44, Jesus calls the devil the father of lies, and in 2 Corinthians 11:14 the Apostle Paul says that Satan can disguise himself as an angel of light. The enemy can trick us, and is very good at it.

The seeming lack of demonic activity is really nothing more than dissembling. It is useful to them to be less obvious than they once were because it allows them greater control. Pretending they are not there gets people to drop their guard, which opens the door for increased influence. Think about it. The most effective manipulation is the one you do not know is happening. As “Verbal” Kint said in The Usual Suspects, “The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn't exist.”

Change in Tactics

But why did the demons ever have a different approach? I think part of the answer is in 1 Corinthians 10:20. Service to idols is service to demons. The ancient idols were representations of forces beyond human control, forces people attempted to placate because those forces were so often destructive. My belief is that the main tactic of the demons in the past was fear. They tormented and oppressed humanity in order to keep them in a position of subservience. It was their path to power.

So what changed? Why retreat into the shadows? Because of Jesus Christ. I already mentioned one exorcism above, but it was by no means His only one. Beyond that, Jesus also gave power over the enemy to His disciples, as Luke 10:17 tells us. And that power is more than just the ability to cast them out.

The strength of the demons had been in their ability to intimidate mankind. Humans are slaves to the enemy when there is no hope. The demons hate the Gospel because it is the ultimate message of hope. Christians carry the news that there is an end to despair. We do not have to go to Satan for table scraps in a short and dreadful life, because Jesus through His own blood provides an eternal and abundant one with Him.

This is the most important thing I think I can say on this subject. Christians should not run from discussing the existence of demons, even though we might face derision for it. We should not run from anything. And we should not have a fortress mentality. This world is already Satan’s kingdom. We are invading it, not the other way around.

Going on the Offensive

We often have this mindset that we need to defend ourselves. While that is true, we are supposed to be moving forward while doing it. Remember Ephesians 6:16? You don’t have to stand still while carrying a shield. In fact, if you do, you will usually end up losing ground. You use a shield to keep yourself safe, but with the other hand you can go on the offensive.

This is also what Jesus meant in His response to Peter’s Great Confession in Matthew 16:18. He says, “The gates of Hades shall not prevail against it.” When we read that, we somehow take it to mean that darkness is advancing on the kingdom of God, but it will never break through. Read it again, though. Is that what it says? No! Gates don’t advance against anything. Gates are on a fortress. When Jesus says the gates of hell will not prevail against His church, He is saying they will not prevail to stop it. The church will break through them and conquer.

Demons do exist. And they are very powerful, so we should not think of them flippantly. In fact, that is what they want. It suits them just fine for people to dress up in red costumes with horns and tails and pitch forks. They want people to treat them as a joke, because that way they will drop their guard.

We must be careful not to do so. But even more importantly, we should not fear them. Ultimately, because of what Jesus has done, they fear us. We need to move forward, confidant in the power of our Savior, and continue the conquest of the enemy’s dominion until the day the Lord comes to end this war once and for all.

Happy Halloween

If you fear demons, or any other monsters that lurk in the darkness, the best piece of advice I can offer you is to step into the light. I would be lying if I said I do not have moments of weakness and fear. But ultimately, when they press in on me most closely, I find renewed confidence because I do not look for it in myself. I look to Jesus. What He did for us gives us so much more than we can give ourselves. I have victory in Him, even in my weakness. You can have it, too.

When we look at anything that inspires fear, whether witches, or zombies, or ghosts, or vampires, or demons, or any of the other threats, perceived or real, that surround us in this world, we only need to know one thing to be free of them:

Neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:38, 39).

Knowing that, nothing seems quite as scary in the end. God is love, and love casts out fear (1 John 4:8, 18). The only thing to really be afraid of is deciding to stay away from Him. Eternal life and victory cannot come through anything else. I hope you know that, and lean on it. That way you can have, and I wish you, a truly Happy Halloween. 

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