Satan, Demons and Christians

About a week ago I wrote an article on a miracle-healing rally I attended. As always─and increasingly so given how social media is jet-fuel for reactivity─there were folks who thanked me but there were also folks who pronounced the judgment of God on me. Some piously said they would ‘pray for my salvation’ and one well-meaning Facebook commenter even threatened to rip my tongue out.

Guys, I’m touched.

Anyway, I guess other than my tone (which didn’t fit the ‘Sunday best’ flavours of many a sanctified reader), there was at least one passage in my piece which made some devout Christians squirm:

Christians (in general) believe that the whole world is under the dominion of Satan and his despicable minions. In this sense, every tragedy, sickness, greed, hate, evil, perversion and every instance of pointless and gratuitous suffering are results of demonic influence.

Some representative comments about this paragraph are that it reflects ‘outright paganism’, it’s unbiblical, Alwyn is just mocking Christians, Alwyn is disrespectful, Alwyn should have his butt kicked and so on.

What follows is a quick listing of passages in the Bible (see Note 1) which I hope demonstrate the theological validity of claiming that the world is in a very real sense under bondage to demonic powers. I hope the below provides ‘proof’ that Jesus and the New Testament writers saw the world as essentially a battlefield where Satan and his supernatural minions are largely in control, inflicting pain and suffering on creation and humanity:

1. Jesus referred to Satan as the ‘prince of this world’ (John 12:31, 14:30 and 16:11); the word for prince used is ‘archon’ denoting the top official in a city/region in the Greco-Roman world; Satan is also described as ‘the god of this world’ (2 Cor 4:4) and ‘the ruler of the power of the air’ (Eph 2;2); the whole world is declared as being ‘under the power of the evil one’ (1 John 5:19).

2. The New Testament also speaks of the ‘principalities’, ‘rulers’, ‘authorities’, ‘spiritual forces’ (1 Cor 15:24, Eph 1:21, 3:10), ‘elemental spirits’ (Gal 4:3) of the world; death is characterised as an ‘invading power’ which afflicts all living things (Romans 5:12–14, 2 Cor 4:12, Rev 6:8) i.e. there is an unmistakable sense in which demonic forces continue to rule over the planet. In fact, during Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness, Satan claimed he could give Jesus the authority and glory of all the kingdoms of the world (Luke 4:5–6)

1. Satanic forces are also said to be a key influence behind temptations, lying, bitterness, marital infidelity, un-forgiveness, legalism, false teaching, idolatrous sacrifices, etc. (Matt 6:13, 1 Thess 3:5, 1 Cor 7:5, Acts 5:3, Eph 4:26–27, 1 Cor 7:5, Matt 13:38–9, 2 Cor 11:3–4 and so on) i.e. immorality and character failures cannot divorced from demonic influence

2. In Luke 13, Jesus healed a woman whom he claimed was ‘crippled by a spirit for 18 years’, and diseases are often referred to as ‘scourgings’ and ‘whippings’ (Mark 3:10, 5:29; Luke 7:21); the implication is that for Jesus, miraculous healings were primarily about delivering people from demonic bondage and torture

The Devil offers Jesus all the kingdoms of the world, in The Temptation of Christ by Ary Scheffer, 1854

3. When Jesus’ disciples were sent out, their success in ministry was mirrored in the fact that Jesus ‘saw Satan fall like lightning’ (Luke 10:18) i.e. to spread the Gospel was akin to overthrowing Satanic forces

4. Jesus’ calming of the storm (Matthew 8:18–27, Luke 8: 22–25) involved a rebuke which sounds remarkably like a term used in exorcism; it was akin to rebuking a demon (Mark 1:25, 9:25, Luke 4:41). Scholars have noted the strong parallel between Jesus calming the storm and Yahweh rebuking and subduing the hostile waters in the Old Testament (Psalms 18:15, 104:7, etc.). In the OT, Yahweh is depicted as the one who battles and controls the raging sea, a symbol of the destructive forces of chaos threatening to engulf the world; this is probably why in Revelations it’s said that after God’s final victory there shall be ‘no more sea’ (Rev 21:1).

Battlefield Earth

Basically, planet earth today continues to be under the way and even dominion of forces hostile to the good, the peaceful and the godly. A casual glance at world (or even local) news, in fact, serves to bolster the idea that there something ‘super human’ about the kind of evil and malignancy which pervades our societies.

Think World Wars, think Rwanda, think Stalin’s purges, Mao’s famines and so on. Is it entirely outrageous to posit the view that very powerful (even supernatural) ‘minds’ are in control when such epic tragedies occur?

Likewise, the Bible presents certain debilitating sicknesses as demonic scourging (i.e. instances of torture) and it strongly suggests that natural disasters which cause untold misery are the result of demonic agents abusing their power. Put simply, if you and I can hurl cups and Twitter comments at people we hate, surely a malevolent supernatural being can hurl 8.5 Richter scale earthquakes and tornadoes at nations he loves to see in ruins?

Also, the Bible presents personal sins as resulting of demonic influence. In case one is tempted to smirk at this worldview, consider the ‘simple’ sin of adultery. If a married man with young children succumbs to sexual temptation, the results are potentially devastating: a broken family, kids with single parents (or parents who refuse to talk to each other), HIV infection, a lost reputation. Put simply, one single sin (encouraged so heavily by Hollywood and media) can have community-wide effect. The only agents who gain from such an event are those who take pleasure in the suffering of others i.e. Satan and his minions.

Having said that, this is also why every Christian is taught to practice love and forgiveness among their communities, if only to reverse and undo the effects of brokenness.

The key point again: Human misery is a work of demonic art. Thus, a key rationale for all those ‘boring’ spiritual things Christians do (like pray, sing, worship, serve, etc.) is to launch missiles at demonic strongholds.

Prayer in, Paranoia out

All the above doesn’t, of course, mean that Christians should call their pastors each time Microsoft Word crashes. It does, however, explain why when running a rally or seminar, Christians include the AV equipment in their list of things to pray for.

The above doesn’t mean that Christians should hold prayer meetings each time it rains cats and dogs; it does, however, make sense as to why Christians pray for their loves who are driving home on the highway and it starts to pour. Likewise, praying for ‘journey mercy’, say, each time a busload of Sunday School teachers and kids go to Cameron Highlands for a camp is perfectly rational given the association of tragedy with demonic desire and causation.

The above doesn’t suggest that Christians believe that every instance of fever is due to one particular fallen angel invading our bodies. It does, however, clarify why Christians spend time praying for the sick among them. In the context of the miracle-healing rally, I hope it’s now clear why a) worship and singing play a big part in the rally and b) the speaker kept speaking in terms of ‘casting out’ spirits. Again, physical illnesses (especially serious ones) are simply a subset of demonic affliction.

Finally, I don’t think many Christian would suggest that any particular politician in parliament is ‘demon-possessed’; this doesn’t, however, stop churches from praying for those in power and those exercising authority in order that the nation experiences peace, harmony and prosperity.

Put simply, assuming there is a cosmic war going on, ‘spiritual activities’ are simply what the troops fighting on God’s side do.

Hence, another paragraph last week which caused many a knicker to be in a twist:

This is the main reason why there’s Christmas and Easter and why Christians have to drag themselves out of bed on Sundays to go to church: To celebrate and live the fact that Jesus came to kick Satan’s butt.

The above simply echoes what the Bible claims i.e. that the Son of God came to ‘destroy the works of the Devil’ (1 John 3:8).

So, to all those Christian folks still angry with me, take a chill pill. It’s all good. To all the non-Christians reading this, c’mon: Isn’t all this fun as hell?

Note 1: Right off the bat, it should be highlighted that the Islamic view of demonic forces is world apart from the Biblical view, in that the former doesn’t ascribe causal efficacy to demons (also known as the ‘jinn’). Put simply, in Islam, demons can’t seriously hurt or oppress mankind — for Christians, they can.

Edu-trainer, Žižek studies, amateur theologian, columnist.