What’s your take on demons? Perhaps you’ve read C.S. Lewis’s famed novel, Screwtape Letters. Or the popular theo-thriller, This Present Darkness, by Frank Peretti. Wildly different (you could say Peretti’s book is literally “wild” in a negative sense), both books illustrate an exploration into the presence of evil in reality. And you wonder, are demons still around? What influence do they have? Is there really a spiritual battle waging that I’m supposed to participate in?

I started thinking about these books recently after preaching on the story of the demon-possessed man in Mark 5. Yes, that’s the story where Jesus sends a group of impure spirits into a herd of 2000 pigs, only to see the pigs stampede into a nearby lake. It’s quite the story!

Interestingly, in reading this story along with other biblical accounts of demons, we actually know very little about how they operate. Yet somehow people have a perception that influence by demons is like catching a cold – unpredictable and out of our control. From this story, however, one thing is very clear: demons have no power against Jesus. All they do is beg, groveling at the feet of Jesus. Far from spiritual warfare if you ask me. In his book Demons, Lies & Shadows, biblical scholar Pierre Gilbert states this dynamic quite plainly:

The Gospel Mark portrays Satan as a nuisance, not as the all-powerful being he was often believed to be. Demons, for their part, are shown to be powerless in the presence of Jesus Christ. They are more like flies to be shooed away than overwhelming ork-like creatures that fiercely feed on the souls of helpless men. This characterization of satan and demons is extremely important to note. Most often, people then and now, have had the propensity to attribute enormous powers to these beings. In terms of the way Mark depicts demons in his gospel, it is more correct to think of demons as empty shadows than to cultivate the images of powerful angels of darkness we too often see on Hollywood screens (100).

From the story in Mark 5, I think it’s safe to say we shouldn’t overemphasize spiritual warfare! There is a real danger with a witch-hunt like approach to spiritual beings. We can assume too much influence in people’s lives, even breaking relationships or creating unnecessary psychological damage in people's lives. I’ve seen individuals go through a prayer deliverance session, where in 10 minutes personal baggage is uprooted in connection to a supposed demonic influence. Sadly, this left them in an emotional wreck, unsure how this experience of “deliverance” made sense of their newly discovered personal wounds. It’s sad, really.

Gilbert suggests we’re far better off following the “James Protocol” - prayer for healing (James 5:14). If we look at the Mark 5 story, the result is the same: restoration. The rest of the passage describes two other individuals also experiencing restoration after an encounter with Jesus. In our desire to understand confusing (and biblically vague) topics such as demons, we can miss the point of the story: restoration is found in Jesus.

Demons? I'd rather look for restoration.


Anonymous said...

You, and Gilbert, make an important point. Thanks for this reminder.

David Warkentin said...

Thanks Dora, it's a topic too often left unaddressed or misunderstood. I've also heard Greg Boyd's book, "God at War," is a great resource.

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