Public interest in the supernatural is at an all-time high in modern America. Of the movies that I see promoted on cable or satellite TV, or by providers such as Netflix and others, a significant number contain a theme revolving around ghosts, the paranormal, evil spirits, zombies, and other such manifestations of supernatural phenomena.
A significant percentage of new television programming at least on the surface appears to share this fascination with these things.
Recent surveys taken of Americans indicate that many believe in the existence of these manifestations of the paranormal. Ironically at the very same time, those surveys show a decline in the belief in angels, Heaven and Hell, and the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.
How is it out of the question for rational people to believe in these Christian concepts but it is perfectly acceptable to believe in ghosts and zombies?
An interesting survey of Canadians from 20 years ago indicated that more people believe in witches, ghosts, and magic spells than in the classic doctrines of the Christian faith. Yet these very same persons indicated that the major reason for their rejection of concepts such as the Virgin Birth or Resurrection of Christ was that such things cannot be embraced by rational minds.
There is a distinct disconnect, an incongruence of thought, inherent in this abject contradiction..
But let us briefly delve into a related issue that many people seem to question whenever a major movie focuses on the concept of the demonic--do demons exist?
The short answer is that the Bible says that they do, and Jesus believed that they do.
When Jesus cast out the group of demons named 'Legion' who had possessed a man living in the caves of the region of Gadara, He spoke to them, and they knew Him. He commanded that they leave the man, at which time they entered a herd of pigs in the countryside nearby. The pigs then ran off the edge of a cliff and drowned in the water below. Luke 8: 26-40.
Theologians have offered various interpretations of this event. Some view it as symbolic. And indeed, there is a symbolic, allegorical element to the story, pointing to the fact that human beings are beset by their own 'demons' that need to be cast out. Such demons may be addiction or a mental health issue that renders a person incapacitated.
It is this to which a person refers when they say something like, "I struggle with my own internal demons."
Theologically speaking, the demonic can be viewed as anything that keeps a person apart from God. In order for an individual to take his or her rightful place in union with God through faith in Christ, their demons that prevent their movement toward that faith must be 'exorcised.'
But, as with all statements in scripture, the literal cannot be dismissed outright. Only a correct literal understanding of the meaning of the words within their original context can lead to a correct symbolic interpretation. And here, it is most obvious that Jesus encountered a man who was beset by a most unusual circumstance. A presence had entered his being, leading him to do things beyond his control. He shrieked. He harmed himself. He raged out of control. And he spoke in a pattern that indicated multiple voices. Whatever it was that controlled the man was plural. There were many.
The point of the story is not to lead to an unhealthy fixation on the demonic but to demonstrate the power of Christ over everything, even the most despicable forces of darkness in the world.
And make no mistake, in this world evil is very real. You may call it 'the force of evil,' or 'the powers of darkness,' or 'the demonic,' but whatever term you use you are referring to a fact of life--there is evil in this world.
Some people have been forced to stare right into the face of pure evil. Those who witnessed the Holocaust, for example, and lived to tell about it, often state that they stared into the face of pure evil when they looked into the faces of the Nazi SS officers, or the Gestapo, or even Adolf Hitler himself.
How else can we account for the senseless murder of 6 million Jews and another 5 million political dissidents, gypsies, mentally ill persons, and homosexuals? And an entire nation was complicit in this evil, blinded by their loyalty to a self-proclaimed 'savior' who would restore Germany to greatness and insure her superiority over all other nations on earth.
I have only rarely experienced the presence of the demonic. It happened to me twice, both of which occurred when I was a theological student working on a Master's degree. I will not go into detail quite yet, but I will say that the feeling was distinct and real. And the events surrounding those two experiences can only be explained by the supernatural. I never wish to encounter such a presence, such a feeling of impending doom and darkness, ever again.
In my training for Pastoral care I was privileged to be a chaplaincy resident in 3 different hospitals, one of which was a state mental hospital. Later as a full-time staff chaplain I served a hospital that had a sizable psychiatric program. I can say that in all of my years working with the mentally ill I have never encountered what I would term as 'the demonic.' I encountered troubled people who were in significant internal pain. And I discovered that once I got to know them, that beneath their rather intense manifestations of anger, or discontent, or anxiety, or hopelessness, there was a human being, most of them likable, who needed help.
These persons were not 'demon possessed' but very sick. And many of them improved with the proper medications and psycho-spiritual interventions and support.
Interestingly, I never encountered the demonic in a mental hospital. But I did in places one would not expect to find it, such as a theological school. I encountered it again on a long, little-traveled road in the middle of nowhere, puzzled as to the shiver that went up my spine and the feeling of coldness that came over me when I drove by a certain spot. It was so overwhelming that I began to shake and I sped up to get out of there as quickly as possible.
It was later that I discovered that the area had been the scene of a brutal murder of young woman by a man who was out to do nothing but kill--anybody, anywhere, at random. There are other aspects to that murder that I will not discuss due to their sensitivity, but suffice it to say that the circumstances surrounding that particular homicide were so evil that its only explanation is the demonic.
Can demons 'possess' people against their will? Not if one's spirit is filled by the presence of Christ. A Christian has the gift of the Holy Spirit that is given to us immediately when we place our faith in Christ. No force of evil can possess us when we are possessed by the very Spirit of the most High God, our Heavenly Father. But this does not mean that we are immune from the influence of the demonic. Having the Holy Spirit in ones life and being filled with the Spirit are two different things. A life filled with the Spirit has no room for the presence of evil. But a life that is only partially filled by the Spirit can certainly come under the influence of evil.
This is why it is important for Christians to seek to be filled by the Holy Spirit each and every day, leaving no room whatsoever for evil to take root.
Perhaps we will revisit this issue as needed, given the high level of interest expressed by many in the subject. It is certainly a rich topic into which to delve.