When I was a young and enthusiastic charismatic I bumped up against the dark side when I spent some time with those who were big on “Spiritual Warfare”. It got called that because no one normal really wants to talk about demons and exorcism and such things.
At one stage I underwent some “Prayer Counselling” as part of a campaign of “Spiritual Warfare”. This consisted of being told to confess all my grubby little sins and thoughts to the counselor in order that various spirits and demons could be cast out of me.
I was left pretty confused by the experience as the core of my faith was in a God who forgave my sin and failure and empowered me for change. Once and for all. The idea that I needed to revisit and confess in order to be freed from some spiritual deficiency or demonic influence was quite incongruent. Others who undertook the same “counselling” suffered significant psychological injury.
I have no problem with prayer or counselling. Quite the opposite. But under the guise of that warm and affirming title lay a dark and manipulative practice that has no place within Christian ministry. I no longer believe in a personal devil or Satan, nor in a realm of demons who are trying to trip me up at every turn. I don’t believe in curses, or magic or charms or the like either. I know others that do and the power such things hold within their lives.
It’s not just because I’m a child of a more “scientific” age. It’s not that I only tend to believe in the evidence of my senses. I am convinced that there is much more we don’t know about our world and lives than we do know.
It’s not even that my cynicism and (perhaps) healthy scepticism makes me suspicious of the controlling motives of those who espouse a world of “unseen powers and principalities”.
No. I see, through Jesus, a God who is greater than our fears and failings. The gospels (especially Mark) have many stories about Jesus casting out demons. Not to convince us that there are such things. In his day they were an expected part of life. Rather these stories are to show that Jesus, through God’s presence in his life, has authority over the dark and hidden threats to human existence. God, in Christ, shines light into those dark corners to bring health and freedom.
Paul’s exorcism of the slave girl (Acts 16:16-34) is done as an act of reflexive annoyance at that spirit’s distraction from his mission. The consequences were quite profound and dramatic, for the slave girl, and for Paul and his friends. There was no sense that Paul felt threatened or fearful of the spirit. Perhaps Paul was thinking about this event when he later wrote …
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8: 31-39)
The true demons of this age, and all ages, are those who seek to diminish and manipulate us through fear, uncertainty and doubt. Those who suggest that we are somehow beset by evil powers because we deserve to be oppressed and that THEY are the only true saviour for what threatens us. They are the real demons we need to have cast out of, and from us.