The Devil, You Say


What can be said in the aftermath of the Virgina Tech slaughter? Better commenters than yours truly have offered insights I could never hope to provide. In lieu of this, I considered not saying anything at all.

But a quote from one of the survivors of the attack reminded me that some aspects of this horror have kept to the shadows. Garrett Evans, who received a gunshot wound, said of his attacker:

An evil spirit was going through that boy, I could feel it.

I don’t know anything about Evans’ religious beliefs, but I do know this: too many people in America don’t want to hear talk of evil spirits.

I don’t think a culture exists on this planet that conjures up more imagery based in the supernatural than ours. We drop spiritual allusions into almost every conversation, The devil, you say...codify curses around Biblical terminology, and talk about God, angels, demons, and what else as if God, angels, demons, and what else moved in next door.

But our context for that talk rarely strays from a Halloween-like understanding of spiritual forces of good and evil. Our post-Enlightenment rationalism outstrips any idea that realms exist outside of the one that serves up a mocha latté to die for. About as close as any American desires to get to the demonic is requesting The Exorcist from Netflix.

So we laugh and make jokes about something that’s not even remotely funny. And when the object of our derisions lashes out, we wander around asking, “How could this possibly happen?”

In truth, how could it not?

I’ve written before on the demonic (“The Chthonic Unmentionable” and “Battling Beelzebul“), so I don’t feel I need to retread that ground. Yet I wonder how many of us take the Enemy of our souls seriously. Given that so many Christians appear to live in a perpetual shadow, continually caught up in destructive behaviors or thoughts, it makes me wonder if we believe this truth from Jesus:

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy.
—John 10:10a

The thief took 33 lives at VT, didn’t he? He killed and he destroyed. So I find it fascinating that almost no one has taken Garrett Evans’s comment and run with it.

How do we on a daily basis confront this thief who comes to steal, kill, and destroy? How much has been stolen, killed, or destroyed in your life and mine because we attributed to “coincidence” or the “fickleness of life” what should have been linked to the chthonic operating in the shadows?

Brothers and sisters, let’s not be blind to this. We have an Enemy. He may be mortally wounded, but a weekend filmfest alone should convince you that the bad guy we thought was shot dead still may stir enough to pump a few rounds of hot lead into some poor unfortunates before he expires. So it is with our ultimate Enemy.

If we want a personal revival in our own lives, we need to wake up to the fact that we weren’t taken off Satan’s hitlist the second we fled to Christ. Nor did evil up and die when Jesus said, “It is finished.” Evil’s vanquishing still awaits the final trumpet. Until that time, we can’t act as if the devil’s not there.

Because, if you listen in your spirit, you can hear him roaring.

Battling Beelzebul


"Lucifer" by Franz von StuckFor we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.
—Ephesians 6:12 ESV

Want a surefire indicator that the Holy Spirit is moving in a church?

1. The lowest floor of the church building floods during a rainstorm—and the church is near the top of a hill

2. Cars are vandalized in the church parking lot—and the church is located near the edge of a quiet rural area

3. Someone makes arson threats against the church—and the church is located near the edge of a quiet rural area

Our church meeting last Sunday was powerful. The Holy Spirit was moving in the midst of His people. He’s been moving this way for a while now. In the last few months, we’ve seen amazing healings (including a man with terminal heart disease whose body was so bloated with fluids he could barely move, but he was dancing in church just two days later, cured of his disease and fifty pounds lighter), people are being convicted of sin, the word of God is going out mightily, new people are coming in, we have baptisms about every other week, and on and on.

So, of course, the Enemy takes notice because the last thing he wants is for any of that kind of thing to occur. If you haven’t guessed already, the three assaults listed above happened at my church in the wake of the powerful move of the Lord last week.

Last year, I wrote a widely disseminated post called “The Chthonic Unmentionable” in which I wondered why Evangelicals cringed at the “Devil” part of of the triumvirate of “the world, the flesh, and the Devil.” I’ve been around long enough to know that most Evangelicals will mentally assent to the existence of Satan, but to ascribe to him much more than existence is too much to ask. Better to say nothing and maybe the demons will go away.

Despite Martin Luther’s inkwell and his penchant for aromatic responses when assaulted by Satan, I didn’t hear much more about the demonic growing up until I got involved in an Assemblies of God church. At that point, I wondered why no one had told me anything about this important fact of life. After a personal encounter with a demon-possessed person (mentioned in the link above), I suddenly realized that all those Gospel “stories” about Jesus casting out demons weren’t something that merely happened in Palestine circa 30 AD.

Like C.S. Lewis, I believe there are two mistaken notions about the demonic:

1. We focus on them.

2. We ignore them altogether.

To the first point, I once visited a church that considered Frank Peretti’s This Present Darkness akin to The Bible: The Sequel. I saw a guy casting a “demon” out of his chair before he sat down for the meeting. Must’ve had a bad run-in with tack at some earlier point in life and didn’t want to take any chances sitting on anything possibly more evil. What else could explain that kind of fruitcake behavior?

On the other hand, we’ve got folks in the American Church who would take a look at the three negative things that hit my church and its folks this week and sum it up with a shoulder shrug. “Just a string of bad luck,” they would say, or “Horrible coincidence.”

Let me simply say this: The Enemy HATES you. Lucifer and his legions would gleefully destroy your body, your home, your marriage, your children, your church…anything and everything is fair game to them, save for God’s grace on your life. Many Christians do suffer from those attacks; justification does not end our encounters with the demonic! When a marriage goes south in the Christian community, Satan orchestrated that destruction from the first “I do” to the last “This marriage is over! I’m out!”

We’re fools if we don’t take this war seriously—and it is a war. Jesus confessed this to Peter:

“Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.” Peter said to him, “Lord, I am ready to go with you both to prison and to death.” Jesus said, “I tell you, Peter, the rooster will not crow this day, until you deny three times that you know me.”
—Luke 22:31-34 ESV

Satan wants to sift us. Jesus countered that demand with prayer. All our resolve will not help us one lick unless we put on our blood-bought spiritual armor and walk as warriors against the infernal.

Ephesians 5:18 ends Paul’s admonition concerning defense against the demonic with this command:

praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints, and also for me….
—Ephesians 6:18-19a ESV, emphasis added

Are we praying in the Spirit that the Lord would destroy the works of the Enemy in our lives and in the lives of Christians around the world? Are we putting a priority on the kind of travailing prayer that Pauls speaks of? Because the chthonic is actively plotting ways to make each and every Christian rue the day he or she confessed Christ. Believe it. They don’t toss up their hands and go, “Oh well, onto the next one.” No, they never stop their assault.

We would do well to remember that the unsaved have no protection at all against the wiles of the Enemy. They are fair game 24/7/365. For this reason, we Christians should never deal smugly with the lost because not only are they under a powerful delusion inspired by Satan, but they live lives perpetually assaulted and have no clue that such a battle rages. I dare any Christian reading this to turn their noses up at the lost in light of this. It’s not just the afterlife that will be a living hell for the lost; it’s a living hell right now. Our response to their plight and to God’s plucking us out of a similar fate should be the same: humility.

We must never take the demonic lightly. Great times of encountering God in power are countered in every way possible by an Enemy who seeks to kill, maim, and destroy. Take that as a corollary.

{Image: Lucifer by Franz von Stuck, 1894}

When Believers Stumble: Underestimating Satan


Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.
—1 Peter 5:8 ESV

One of my post from last year that generated considerable buzz in the Godblogosphere was “The Chthonic Unmentionable.” Beyond the unusual word that everyone puzzled over, the gist of the post dealt with the odd lack of discussion of the demonic in many Evangelical circles. Considering Peter’s admonition above—and the prevalence of verses referring to demonic activity in the Scriptures—it’s foolish to be silent on this issue. Yet we play dumb and continue to blame ill on chance/fate, rather than on the Enemy of our souls.

Here’s just a few grenades out of Satan’s arsenal:

  • Causing disease—Job 2:7
  • Counterfeiting miracles—2 Thessalonians 2:9
  • Accusing the Righteous—Zechariah 3:1
  • Snatching away the message of God—Matthew 13:19
  • Tempting men to sin—Ephesians 2:1-2
  • Tormenting the saints—2 Corinthians 12:7
  • Mishandling the word of God—Matthew 4:6
  • Disguising himself as an angel of light—2 Corinthians 11:14
  • Opposing believers—Ephesians 6:12

And the list goes on and on.

One of the sad outcomes of scientific rationalism is that Satan has been transmogrified from a real entity into a myth, a psychological malady, or a pointy-tailed object of mirth. Long before Nietzsche announced the death of God, Satan was well on his way to being mentally expunged from his role as ruler of this world, relegated by sections of American pseudo-Christianity to a box in the far corner of the basement. Keith Green, assuming the voice of the Enemy, once sang:

Still my work goes on and on
Always stronger than before
I’m gonna make it dark before the dawn
Since no one believes in me anymore
Well now I used to have to sneak around
But now they just open their doors
You know, no one watches for my tricks
Since no one believes in me anymore
Well I’m gaining power by the hour
They’re falling by the score
You know, it’s getting very easy now
Since no one believes in me anymore
No one believes in me anymore
No one believes in me anymore

With the inroads that modern psychology made in the 20th century, evil had its persona stripped away. Our culture of victimization effectively eliminated the idea of a personal devil even as we chatted up Jesus as our personal Savior. 21st century devil?The language of psychology routed the hellfire and brimstone language of the 19th century Church and Christians bought the lie. Pay no attention to the devil behind the curtain!

The result is that too many of today’s Christians have a pathetically underdeveloped understanding of the Enemy and the strategies he uses to oppose us.

Now yes, there are some parts of the American Church that have elevated the Enemy to a place of importance he does not deserve. As C.S. Lewis once opined, there are two errors: ignoring the demonic and giving it unnecessary attention. I’ve seen both sides. I once visited a church where people carried around copies of This Present Darkness with their Bibles (no joke) and would try to cast demons out of the metal folding chairs set up for use by congregants for the morning’s church service. Stupidity doesn’t file a flightplan.

Still, for every church that shows an unhealthy obsession with the chthonic, there’s a dozen shrugging it off altogether.

Bitterness has derailed more than one Christian, and when it’s directed at God it’s an especially foul misplacement. Satan long ago threw up his hands and said, “Hey, bub, don’t look at me,” so we did. Instead, we made God the culprit when evil creeps into our lives and the seed of bitterness takes root. We’re told that it’s okay to get mad at God. We forget the words of Jesus:

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.
—John 10:10 ESV

We need to do a better job in the American Church of understanding the opposition of Satan, ascribing the blame to him rather to God. Yes, we know from the Book of Job that Satan has no ability to afflict apart from the sovereignty of God over the affairs of all men, but this does not change the fact that

The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil.
—1 John 3:8b ESV

We don’t take that verse seriously enough. We talk about many reasons for Christ coming, but in too many sectors of the Church today we tend to focus on rainbows and ponies, love and peace, not on the annihilation of the Enemy’s work.

How many instances of what we see every day played out around us are the result of Satan’s handiwork? I would venture to guess a lot more than we usually care to admit.

We all know about the Full Armor of God in Ephesians 6. But do we really believe there’s an enemy to fight, a real “someone” who wants nothing more to crush us out of the sheer joy of seeing us in pain?

When we hear the lion roaring, what do we tell ourselves that sound is?

When I was a freshman at Carnegie Mellon University in the early 1980s, free-standing arcade video games were in their Golden Age. I dropped a lot of quarters into a few of them to pass the time, but I was the undisputed champ at one game in particular, Atari Tempest. (In fact, I ran across the Guinness Book of World Records officially sanctioned top score and I had once easily surpassed that in a five hour marathon playing session in Pittsburgh in 1982, quitting only to save my bladder from bursting. One quarter, five hours of play. But I digress.)

The one thing I’d mastered about that game was the perfect timing of the ultimate panic button, the “Superzapper.” With one button push, a Tempest player could wipe out every enemy on the screen (and a handful with a reduced-power semi-zap later in the same round.) You get in deep doo-doo in that game and the Superzapper becomes your ultimate weapon.

God has equipped us with a series of Superzappers for overcoming Satan that never fizzle out during a round. We have the Full Armor, and we also have the Blood of Christ and the word of our testimonies (Revelation 12:10-11)—they are the ultimate arsenal against the enemy.

The tendency in Tempest was to forget that the Superzapper was available, and I believe that too many of us forget about the weapons God has made available to overcome the Enemy. We fail to discern demonic activity, too, ascribing it to bad luck, being in the wrong place at the wrong time, and so on. We should not be surprised, then, when some Christians flail uselessly against problems that have their source in forces of darkness, fighting them with earthly weapons. Too often, we’re prescribing an aspirin for a case of flesh-eating bacteria.

Which of us would want to confront Satan and have him say to us:

Jesus I know, and Paul I recognize, but who are you?
—Acts 19:15b ESV