Q. A friend of mine believes everything bad that happens to him is due to a demon. I don't feel its necessary to worry about demons when I am surrounded by the love and power of God. Am I right, or is he right, or are we both wrong?
— Jodi James, Westville, Indiana
A. I think you're both right. Your friend is right to be convinced that, as Martin Luther put it, "still our ancient foe doth seek to work us woe." And you're right to feel that it's not something to worry about obsessively.
Too often Christians think of the demonic as nothing but medieval foolishness; we picture a guy in a red suit with a pitchfork, and feel too sophisticated to believe in that. But this is analogous to the non-believer who pictures an old guy with a long white beard and concludes that it's nonsense to believe in God.
We can get an idea of how seriously we should take demons by looking at Jesus' response. He spent a large part of his healing ministry combating them. The Cross itself was like a cannon aimed at the Devil's headquarters. The battle with the Evil One has eternal, cosmic importance, and Christians who ignore that are omitting a sizeable chunk of their salvation story. Which is just how the Devil wants it.
While the Resurrection represented a massive defeat for Satan, skirmishes still go on. We hear the apostle Paul continuing to warn Christians to be alert to the danger: "For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms" (Eph. 6:12 NIV). St. Peter agrees: "Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour" (1 Pet. 5:8, ESV).
Notice what Peter exhorts: "Be sober, be watchful." He does not say, "Be terrified, obsessed, and fascinated." If one way to fall off the balance beam is to assume that demons don't exist, the other is to relish thoughts of a demon who has been assigned as your personal adversary and imagine him hiding the car keys or bumping coffee on your tie.
The corrective is to remember that the Evil One is not interested in ruining your tie or your day; he's interested in ruining your soul. His goal is to coax you into sin. He'll want to do this with utmost subtlety, like a pickpocket, so that you don't realize till too late what you've lost (your temper, perhaps, or your chastity, honesty, or serenity).
Your friend may be leading a very colorful life as he imagines that all the "bad things" that happen to him are caused by a demon, but the more likely evidence of demonic influence in his life are the "bad things" that he does. Show-offy supernatural phenomena are exceedingly rare, and fixating on it is itself a kind of temptation. Yet we face demonic activity every day, in the form of subtle influences that hope to lead us into temptation.
Be sober, be watchful, but do not be neurotic.
Frederica Mathewes-Green is the author of The Illumined Heart (Paraclete Press).
Copyright © 2003 by the author or Christianity Today/Today's Christian magazine.
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