In a recent interview, US Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia volunteered, "I even believe in the Devil."
This provoked interviewer Jennifer Senior to probe: "Have you seen evidence of the Devil lately?" Justice Scalia replied:
You know, it is curious. In the Gospels, the Devil is doing all sorts of things. He’s making pigs run
off cliffs, he’s possessing people and whatnot. And that doesn’t happen very much anymore. …
What he’s doing now is getting people not to believe in him or in God. He’s much more successful
The event to which Justice Scalia referred is at the end of Matthew chapter 8:
And the demons begged Jesus, saying,
“If you cast us out, send us away into the herd of pigs.”
And he said to them, “Go.”
So they came out and went into the pigs, and behold, the whole herd rushed down the steep bank into the sea and drowned in the waters.
Back then, it was pigs jumping off cliffs--the first case of swine flu. Today, does deviled ham have relevance? Pastor Nadia Bolz Weber sees three options:
I don’t always know what to do when it comes to talk about demons in the Bible. Especially
when the demons talk and have names and stuff like that.
I’m never sure if back then they had the exact same things going on that we do, but they didn’t
know about things like epilepsy or mental illness so they just called it all demon possession.
Or if maybe there used to be demons possessing people and sorta like polio and smallpox,
it’s just not something we have around anymore.
Or if we do actually still have demons and it makes it more understandable and controllable
for us if we use medical and scientific terms to describe the things that possess us.
I honestly don’t know.
I too am puzzled. Bottom line, I take spiritual things seriously enough that I wince at the Hollywood cliches of Satan. On screen the prince of darkness is a charming executive with a suave mid-Atlantic baritone, pitching for souls and dispatching often bumbling, comic minions. My problem with this is not comedy. The problem is in trivializing demons and demonizing trivia. Laughter has great power:
"The devil, the proud spirit, cannot endure to be mocked."
— Thomas More
“I often laugh at Satan, and there is nothing that makes him so angry as when I attack
him to his face, and tell him that through God I am more than a match for him.”
— Martin Luther
Martin Luther is said to have thrown an inkwell at the devil. This inkwell story was noted by the Brothers Grimm, famous for their stories of Little Red Riding Hood, and Hanzel & Gretel. A better-documented quote from Luther comes from 1521: "I fought the devil with ink." This most likely refers not to flinging inkwells but principally to his translating the Bible into German and also to his other engaging writings. Variously bigoted, academic, crude, witty, sarcastic, profound, sentimental, cheeky, and humble, if not the first, Luther was arguably one of the best to weaponize ink. For an introduction, try Luther's Table Talk.
Luther fought the devil also with singing. He wrote anti-Devil words and tunes in the popular style of his day. Listen to his big hit, "A Mighty Fortress Is Our God" in its original tune--not the cover version heard in most churches today. The original tune had an energetic off-beat lilt fit for a Renaissance Faire. Oh, wait, it was the Renaissance.
Luther accompanied singing on his lute. He wrote, "Next to theology I give place to music; for thereby all anger is forgotten, the devil is driven away, and melancholy and many tribulations and evil thoughts are expelled." Katharina von Bora became Martin Luther's wife after escaping from a convent in a fish barrel. She was devoted to Luther, who referred to her as "my lord Katie". She skillfully managed the household of 8 despite limited funds and many guests. She bought a farm, raised cattle and vegetables, and brewed beer.
What of devils today? Are demons just a metaphor for struggle, as in the headline, "Rapper fights booze demons"? Are they just another way to sell greeting cards and candy?
"What is this Halloween and devils?" This is what Christians from Taiwan and Korea have asked me more than once. They remarked, "So many ugly things, like the Buddhist demons back home." One cautioned me, "When my mother became a Christian, she burned all that devils stuff."
I have three resolutions concerning the devil and demons.
(1) Do not give the devil more credit than due. I have seen terrible afflictions yield to medication or counseling.
(2) Do not give the devil less caution than due. Like Justice Scalia, I cannot rule out fiendish activity whether on personal matters, social scales, or inconceivably larger. Paul describes an axis of evil:
For 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.
(3) I aim to not dwell on devils and angels. I look to God. This may explain the Bible's brevity on such matters. We don't need silver bullets and holy water. We need God! In his dialogue with the devil, even Jesus was absolutely terse: "Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God." For demons, Jesus typically had just one word: "Go."
... Or is it?
Jesus had a warning for a culture that thought it was clear of demons:
“When the unclean spirit has gone out of a person, it passes through waterless places seeking rest,
but finds none. Then it says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came.’ And when it comes, it
finds the house empty, swept, and put in order. Then it goes and brings with it seven other spirits
more evil than itself, and they enter and dwell there, and the last state of that person is worse than
the first. So also will it be with this evil generation.”
Don't just evict evil. Fill that vacuum with God.
At The Surge we love doing things together... that includes writing a blog! Here are a few of our main contributing authors:
Our fearless leader, Dwaine is the lead pastor at The Surge. His experience in counter terrorism with the CIA prepared him for ministry and he likes dogs and babies even more than E does.
E (short for Eric Reiss) is the Wingman at The Surge and likes dogs, music, Mexican food, his wife Karen and his little girl Evangeline... not necessarily in that order.