I have often thought about demons and how and why a person would become possessed. I’ve seen movies that traded on this subject, and Hollywood has made a lot of money producing films that exploit our fear of an unknown and unseen world. However, I have not found Hollywood an accurate commentator on God’s word. Going to the world for my information about the Bible is like asking Pharaoh about the God of Israel or Herod about Jesus Christ. They have heard about what God has said, but they really don’t know what is true and what is not. Awhile back, I exchanged some commentary on my blog with a gentleman concerning the existence of Satan. As we discussed what I believe about this being, the subject of demons came up. At that point I hadn’t written anything on this subject, and to merely offer some thoughts seemed to me to be insufficient. I promised that I would write about my understanding sometime in the near future, and so here we are.
Everything I’ve read in Bible dictionaries and commentaries approach the subject of demons from a standpoint of already knowing something. It is a dangerous matter to add to the word of God and explain Scripture in the light of what one already believes (Revelation 22:18). Nevertheless, I have not found a shortage of people who take a little of the world, mix it with the word of God and come up with a fearful unseen world. My dilemma in understanding the subject of demons has been that the traditions in the Church of Jesus Christ seem so much like what I have seen in the movies! We visualize demons as powerful beings that inhabit an unknown and unseen realm. Sometimes they invade our world by taking up residence in someone’s body. What could be more fearful than that? To make matters worse, these beings seem to be able to take up residence in whomsoever they will, without our invitation or our ability to prevent it.
I have heard it taught in the Church that demons come by invitation only or through an overactive curiosity of their activity. I have to wonder how this doctrine fits in with the Scripture where a father came to Jesus about his only son, who is possessed by a demon. The account is in Luke 9, Mark 9 and Matthew 17. The Synoptic Gospels put this incident on the next day following the Transfiguration (Luke 9:37). The problem with the Biblical account in contrast to the teaching that I have heard on the subject of demons is that this is not merely a son (Luke 9:42; Matthew 17:18), nor was the one possessed an overly curious young child (G 3812; Mark 9:24). When Jesus asked the boy’s father how long it had been this way with him, his father answered that the child was as Jesus saw him since infancy (G3813; Mark 9:21). I have to ask, how does an infant invite a demon into his life? How does an infant become overly curious in matters from which he should stay away? I’ve heard some say that this is epilepsy and not really demon possession. I’ve also read in one commentary, which tries to make this into two different healings, one for a deaf spirit and another for epilepsy. Yet, the Scriptures say that Jesus cast out an unclean spirit, and that a demon threw the young boy down and convulsed him (Luke 9:42).
How can I have any real faith at all, if I play games with the word of God? Either the Bible is true, or it is a collection of some of the shrewdest stories I’ve ever read. If we can agree that the word of God is truth, how do we reconcile the fact that the Bible says this little boy was possessed by a demon from infancy? Either God is willing to permit an otherwise healthy baby undergo demon possession that included all the horrible details revealed here without any human choice or provocation on his own part, or our understanding of demonology is grossly in error.
I believe I know my God well enough to say that he would never do this thing that we have imagined concerning the Scriptures. Let him who will, believe that God would say “Yes!” to a demon asking permission to possess a little baby, but I cannot fathom the merciful and loving God, whom I worship, to be so insensitive. Remember we’re not speaking about someone abusing his free moral agency. We’re speaking of willingly depriving a person of free moral agency at birth. If I understand the current teaching about possession, this demon would have had to ask and get permission from God to take away the free moral agency from this little one at infancy. No, God is just not like that!
For my next few blogs, I hope to show by using the Bible itself that much about what we think we understand about demons is in error. I will come back to this event in Luke 9 to show the boy was never possessed by a sentient, evil spirit at all, and I will offer a reasonable explanation for what occurred. If you are interested, I hope you will stay with me in the next week or two while I investigate what the Bible has to say about this subject.