Laughing at Satan

One of the nice things about pastoral ministry is that there can be a variety of things and issues that you are called to attend to.  This suits my ADHD personality very well!

I’ve been called on several times over the past decade to do house blessings.  Sometimes there was a concern about a new apartment or home and what or who might have lived there before.  It’s a beautiful opportunity to think  and pray about what happens in a home and each room of a home, and invite God’s blessings and presence to infuse and direct everything that happens there.  I enjoy doing these.  And I enjoyed doing one two weeks ago in response to some reports of possible apparitions appearing to some of the members of the family.

But that didn’t put an end to the apparitions, and in fact things seemed to escalate until this week I was trying to provide wisdom and counsel in a situation of possible demonic oppression and possibly possession.

This is an area that Lutherans are not known to shine in, frankly.  The Roman Catholics tend to be the go-to source on dealing with demonic powers, and my initial attempts to locate resources were failures.  Fortunately I have a friend and colleague with many decades of experience in counseling church workers and dealing with a myriad of issues at play in their lives.  He was able to direct me to the following resources which I am ordering to help learn more about this topic.  A buddy forwarded me this anecdotal resource, a collection of some of Martin Luther’s writings on the topic.

I have to admit I like Luther’s basic approach.  What does Satan want us to do, in regards to him?  I think C.S. Lewis said it well when he said that the goal of Satan is to make us magicians or materialists – to drive us either to obsessing about demonic activity and being terrified by it, or by driving us to consider the spiritual topic all bunk and fluff, glancing skeptically at any notion of the demonic but also, more importantly of the divine. Either one is desirable but each has drawbacks, and the combination of the two is preferred.  When the humans disbelieve in our existence we lose all the pleasing results of direct terrorism and we make no magicians.  On the other hand, when they believe in us, we cannot make them materialists and skeptics.  (The Screwtape Letters).

Or, to quote Verbal (Kevin Spacey) from The Usual Suspects, The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist.

Biblical Christians will acknowledge based on Biblical authority that demons (as well as angels) exist and are assumed to be active in the world.  We are called to acknowledge a spiritual realm that works around us and in us just as we acknowledge our personal natures as both physical and spiritual.  We are called to reject philosophical (as well as, but different from, economic) materialism – philosophically the notion that there is no spiritual realm and there is only the material realm.  We are called to be on guard against an enemy we cannot see, who is not flesh and blood, and who is supported and aided by a host of spiritual entities united in their hatred of God.  Being unable to hurt God, they seek to destroy what God loves – his creation.  Which includes us.

That’s kind of terrifying.

Except we aren’t called to be terrified.  We’re called to be wise and discerning.  We’re called to be on guard.  But we aren’t called to be terrified.  And this is grounded in the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  God promised Eve in Genesis 3:15 that one day one of her descendants would crush the serpent’s head, even as the serpent struck his heel.  One day one of Eve’s descendants (a human being) would destroy the power of sin introduced into the world through Satan (the serpent), but that the serpent would seek to destroy him and his work.  But whereas the human’s blow would be fatal, the serpent’s would not.  Satan sought to derail God’s plan of salvation in stirring up opposition to the Incarnate Son of God, Jesus, and culminating in his betrayal, arrest, execution, and burial.  Under the terms of the Law, that should have been the end of it, but Satan’s estimation.  The tomb is the indignity from which there is no escape.

However Satan forgot or misunderstood that the Law condemns to death only the disobedient, only those who fail to perfectly live out the will of God the Father as revealed in his Word.  Jesus, without sin (Hebrews 4:15), could be put to death physically, but could not be kept their by his moral guilt.  Satan sank his teeth into the heel of God’s Son, but God’s Son crushed the serpent’s head in the process.

So what is to be the Christian’s response to the reality of a mortally wounded Satan and his minions in the world?  That’s what I like about Luther’s approach.  As I started my research to try and figure out how to do an exorcism, I presumed that it would be a complicated affair.  Should I have a cross or crucifix?  Should I make commands in the name of Jesus?  Should there be candles or incense or holy water – things that under normal circumstances I dismiss as superstition or aesthetics, but which maybe have special use or power against demons?  Am I preparing to enter a battle where I contend with the spiritual?

Naw.

We are called to resist and protect ourselves against the machinations of the spiritual world (James 4:7, Ephesians 6:10-17, 1 Corinthians 10:13, Romans 12:21, 1 Peter 5:8-9, etc.).  We are called to remember that we share in Christ’s victory and therefore have already overcome the powers of evil (1 John 4:4, Isaiah 54:17, Romans 8:37, etc.).  There are accounts of people casting out demons (Acts 16:18, etc.) , and there are also accounts where even Jesus’ disciples were unable to cast out demons (Mark 9:14-29).  We have victory over evil spirits and need not fear them, but we may not always be able to make them do what we want.

But we don’t have to grant them any more power or influence than absolutely necessary.  We don’t have to make a big deal about it, puff it way up, blow it out of proportion, or grant that they have any real power or authority.  We can make ourselves and our environments inhospitable.  If God the Holy Spirit chooses to chase them off, thanks be to God.  If the spirits grow tired or annoyed at their lack of influence, thanks be to God.

Our power is not in things – not even in things that are helpful like crosses or rosaries or Bibles.  Our power is in the Word of God and our faith and trust that God’s Word is to us and for us, tangible in the spilled blood of the Word made Flesh, tangible in the tomb that was filled for three days and then empty forever.  God’s Word and assurance to us is our power.  We let that Word do what it will.  We dwell on that word rather than on anything that would lead us to obsess over the hypothetical powers or methodologies or names of evil spirits.  C.S. Lewis said the devil can’t stand to be mocked.  Luther seems to have been of the same frame of mind.

That’s helpful to me.  Hopefully it’s helpful to you.  Whether you’re seeing things or not.  Whether you’re feeling the presence of evil or not.  Be aware.  Be watchful and on guard.  But most of all be in the Word of God, trusting in that Word rather than any other, so that no matter what does or does not happen, your life in Christ is secure.

 

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