Naming the Problem: 4th in a Series

It was Karl Jung who said that most of us are hopelessly unconscious of evil. We have seen the the human authors of the Bible are not most people. They warn us against evil in many forms.

The warn against the evil of human sin. Sin is the transgression of God’s law. God laid down the law through his servant Moses to protect us from ourselves and from one another. Therefore sin is anything we do, or fail to do, by which we hurt ourselves are another. Today, few of us would say, “The devil made me do it.” But deep down in our hearts we sometimes believe it to be so. We excuse ourselves for offenses against our neighbors that would have made our parents blush with shame. Whatever we say about the various forms of evil in this series, nothing excuses us from the choices we make. It was a 19th Century Anglican clergyman, Bishop Beckwaith who said:

Plant a thought and reap a word;
plant a word and reap an action;
plant an action and reap a habit;
plant a habit and reap a character;
plant a character and reap a destiny.

We make our choices, and our choices make us.

The human authors of the Bible also warn against Satan, aka “the devil,” aka “the prince of the powers of the air,” aka “the prince of demons.” The great Oxford professor of English Literature, C.S. Lewis, said that to believe in the devil is to believe that evil is greater than the sum total of its parts. I believe that. I do not believe that the devil is a person, like God is a person. God is the creator, the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. The devil is a parasite. He exist for a little while, in the anxious middle. In the Bible, Satan’s beginning andending is tied to the human race.

The human authors of the Bible also speak of the principalities and powers, which Ephesians 6 defines as, “the world leaders of this present darkness, the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the airy spaces.” In Colossians 1 we read that God created the powers in Christ. Therefore they possess potential for great good. However, since the powers exist in the matrix of sin that is this world, they also possess potential for great evil. Thus, God created the power we call “government” so that human beings could live together and work for the common good. At its best the United States is a benevolent power, for it is a government “of the people, and by the people, and for the people.” We are not always at our best, but even our worst is better than the governments headed by people like Idi Amin, Kim Jong Il , Pol Pot, Hitler, Stalin and the like.

Finally the human authors of the Bible speak of the idols and demons. Idolatry is the major sin spoken against by Israel’s four major and twelve minor Prophets. Psalm 106 idols and demons together. Therein we read:

35 …(the people of Israel) mingled with the nations and learned to do as they did. 36 They served their idols, which became a snare to them. 37 They sacrificed their sons and their daughters to the demons; 38 they poured out innocent blood, the blood of their sons and daughters, whom they sacrificed to the idols of Canaan; and the land was polluted with blood.

The New Testament also speaks of idols and demons. In 1st Corinthians 8:4, St. Paul says that the members of the church in Corinth know that “an idol has no real existence,” and “there is no God but one.” However, Paul always takes idolatry seriously. In Romans 1 he blames idolatry for the wrath of God that is already being revealed against all ungodliness and wickedness of humankind. An idol may be as dumb as a post. It may be like a scarecrow in a cucumber field in that it cannot talk, and it cannot walk, it has to be carried wherever it goes. An idol cannot hurt us, and it cannot help us. (Jeremiah 10) However, if we worship and serve a dumb idol that idol has power over us. Anything we worship and serve has power over us. And, conversely, anything we give power over us, we worship and serve, whether we admit it or not.

Now what about demons? The New Testament if filled with talk of demons. In the gospels demons are said to be the cause of both physical and mental illnesses. They are said to be the cause of an inability to hear (Mark 9:25), and an inability to speak (Matthew 9:33), and of what appear to be epileptic fits (Matthew 17:14-20). Demons are also said to be the cause of anti-social behavior (Mark 5:1-20), madness (John 10:20), and multiple personalities (Mark 5:9)

Jesus cast out demons, and Jesus told his disciples to cast them out (Luke 9:1). Jesus ordered out some demons with a word of command. (Matthew 8:16) Jesus healed some people who were possessed of demons. (Matthew 15:28) Jesus told his disciples that some demons could only be cast out by prayer, and he did not put a limit on how long his disciples would have to pray. (Mark 9:29)

It is the same today. Not long ago I spoke with a woman who told me she had married a highly functioning alcoholic. She said he had gone from highly functioning to barely functioning. In former times he would have been said to be under the influence of “demon rum,” or, in his case, “demon Scotch.” This is a very New Testament description. The woman wanted an immediate healing for her husbands alcoholism; she wanted a miracle. I told her that, in my experience, this kind could only be cast out by prayer and patience; I told her that he need Alcoholics Anonymous, and she need Al-Anon. She agreed. As far as I know she is still praying and waiting for him to hit bottom, and help himself. The hardest thing that those living with a person with an addiction has to learn is that no one can help an addict until that addict is ready to help him or herself. The hardest thing that those living with a person with an addiction has to do is to stop enabling the addict’s addiction. Living with a person living with an addiction takes tough love.

Now, the powers that opposed Jesus, said that Jesus cast out demons by the power of Beelzebub, aka Satan. Jesus responded, “If I cast them out by the power of (Satan), by what power do your (followers) cast them out?” Then Jesus said, “But if by the Spirit of God I cast them out, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.” (Matthew 12:27-28) The fact that demons are cast out, and idols are rejected, is one massive sign that the kingdom of God has come among us. Not long ago a person asked me if l thought the church was the kingdom of God. I said, “No, but I do think that the church is the place where the kingdom of God is most likely to happen.”

Since the time of the Enlightenment, people have stopped seeing demons in every mental and physical illness. Today we look for biological and physical causes. Yet, the wisest among us realize that the mind is deep, and dark, and mysterious, and capable of things that are both wonderful and awful. For instance, in one of his books—I think it was “The Man Eater’s of Kumaron,” Jim Corbett- tells the story of an Indian man who often served him as a guide. He was a brave man, often entering the jungle unarmed in company with Corbett as he pursued a man eating tiger or leopard. One night, as the two men camped in a deep jungle, they heard the night call of a rare bird that is said to be the harbinger of death. The man told Corbett he had to go home to die. Corbett understood superstition, and had no real fear for the man’s life; but he did allow him to go home, saying he would drop by to pick him up after a few days. Several days later, when Corbett stopped by the man’s house, his family told Corbett that the man was dead. .You may say, “That man died of superstition.” That is precisely my point. Anything we give power over us has power over us, and that includes superstition. No wonder the apostle Paul warned the Galatians against superstitiously observing days, and months, and seasons, and years. (Galatians 4:10) The word superstitiously is not in the text, but its meaning is implied.

Now some will ask, “What about a psychological approach to evil?” A psychological approach is certainly compatible with scripture, and many New Testament scholars appreciate the psychology of Carl Jung. Remember, it was Carl Jung who said that most of us are hopeless unconscious of evil. In defining the evil that is in each of us, Jung spoke of several different things. First, he spoke of the shadow which lurks in our unconscious mind. Jung described the shadow as being something like a long back bag into which our conscious mind stuffs all those unpleasant and traumatic events in our life we are fearful of admitting to the memory bank of our conscious mind. Jung said, sooner or later, we all have to unpack the bag. This is what Martin Luther did when he “searched out himself before God.” There is no better way to unpack the bag of the shadow than to search out ourselves in light of God. Jung also spoke of a thing that he called a complex. He said that a complex is a cluster of ideas, some of which are conscious, and some of which are unconscious. Left unchecked a complex can dominate the conscious mind, and make us do things we would not ordinarily do. That is what happened to a woman that I married to her finance some years ago. I performed the service on Saturday. On Monday or Tuesday she called me to say, “I did not marry that man!” “That was not me!” “I was not myself!” At the time I thought, and I still think, that her “let’s get married” complex had kicked in, taking control of her conscious mind. When her conscious mind finally took charge again, she could not believe what she had done.

Or what about this. Suppose a man thinks people are against him. The idea starts small, often with a single individual. Yet it grows and grows. He begins to see every person he meets as plotting against him, even the government. Eventually he buys a gun, and arms himself. He is just one step from a violent eruption which he will justify in his own mind. Perhaps you will remember a shooting that occurred on Old Salisbury Road in the summer of 1988. A man shot 9 people, killing four of them. During his trial he testified that he thought the people he shot were demons that needed to be killed. He was tied and found “not guilty by reason of insanity.” I think it is interesting that “demons” were a part of his thinking, though in reverse!

Along these same lines, I wonder how terrorist bombers get to be terrorist bombers. Certainy they look back across the centuries and consider every affront to their race and religion as an affront to them personally. They may also be personally rejected. In this condition, they are manipulated into become a suicide bomber by those who would never strap a bomb to themselves. In his book, “The Word is Flat, Hot and Crowded,” Tom Friedman says that it is only those who are without hope in the world who are drawn to self destructive violence against others.

Now, having considered, albeit briefly, what the Bible says about demons, how can we sum up? No doubt some of you think that demons are independent entities that go bump in the night. There is some evidence in t e New Testament for seeing demons as independent entities. Others think that demons arise out of the human personality, and are powerless apart from a human host. There is some evidence for this in the New Testament, too. Remember, that, as we have seen, the Bible teaches that idols are demons, and that idols have no real existence beyond what we give them. Therefore some conclude that demons have no real existence, beyond what we give them.

We need not agree as to the nature of demons, nor about the language we use in describing them. None the less, we should agree that demons, however they be defined, invade the lives of those who are open to their influences And their influences may be greater than we are sometimes led to believe. In the Bible evil is always confused and confusing. When the Bible speaks of Satan, and the powers, and idols, and demons, it speaks as if each somehow overlaps the other. Therefore, when the apostle says that Satan masquerades as an angel of light, we can assume the same thing about demons.

I was recently shocked to hear a young girl say that she wished to name her new cat after a demon she saw everyday in a cartoon that she watched on television. I checked out the cartoon. The cartoon portrays the little demon quite innocently. Perhaps its influence is Greek thought. The Greeks though that there were good demons the muses that inspire us to great thought, art, and action; and evil demons, those that plague us. The cartoon is probably o.k. for someone who is able to discern good from evil; but I am not sure all children can. Martin Luther warned his followers against anything that fascinated to no good purpose. That said, I am confident that this particular little girls is intelligent and has the ability to discern between good and evil, and that cartoon “demon: may do her less harm than an unhealthy fascination with her body image, or with her popularity.

I know some of this seems quite benign, but it is not always so. In his book, “The People of the Lie,” Dr. Scott Peck, the Army psychiatrists who investigated the Ma Lai Massacre, tells the story of a young boy he once counseled with. The boy’s parents brought him for counseling because he was depressed. In the course of their sessions together, Peck discovered that the boy’s older brother had taken his own life. Later, Peck discovered, that the parents had given their younger son a gift for his birthday that terrified and confused him. They gave him a .22 caliber rifle that had once belonged to his older brother. In this case, I refuse to connect the dots. I will simply point out, as Peck did, that human beings are sometimes capable of evil that goes beyond our ability to imagine it. In Romans 1, St. Paul said that some of us, are “inventors of evil,” and we must never take that lightly.

Now let me leave you with a better thought. The best way to protect ourselves, and our children against the power of evil, is to become, and remain fast friends with him who cast out demons by the power of God’s Spirit, Jesus Christ. Martin Luther was speaking of Satan and his minions, and of Christ’s victory over them when he wrote:

For still our ancient foe
doth seek to work us woe;
his craft and power are great,
and armed with cruel hate,
on earth is not his equal.

Did we in our own strength confide,
our striving would be losing,
were not the right man on our side,
the man of God’s own choosing.

Dost ask who that may be?
Christ Jesus, it is he;
Lord Sabaoth, his name,
from age to age the same,
and he must win the battle.

Finis

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