Demons are fallen angels. Demons are real. Demon possession is a Biblically supported spiritual phenomenon. There’s no taking away from that. In the Screwtape Letters, C. S. Lewis’ wisdom on the reality of Evil, is super helpful;
All of this came powerfully to mind this week in a reading of John 13:34. Mandatum novum, as it reads in Latin. A new command I give you, says Jesus: “Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
“There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them. They themselves are equally pleased by both errors and hail a materialist or a magician with the same delight.”
For a start, Christians ought to strive for balance here. There are Christians and Churches that are so Demon-conscious that God is inadvertently nudged to the backseat. There are other Christians and Churches that are so oblivious to the Biblical reality of Demons and choosing not to see them, doesn’t eliminate them. Both these positions are far away from the ideal and hence much discernment and balance is called for, here.
The Devil and his minions, have been given limited power/authority by God for a time on this earth, before they are finally judged forever. A Child of God, is often secure under God’s mighty wings and there are numerous Scriptures that validate it and encourage those that trust in the Lord (Psalm 34:7-9, 2 Thess. 3;3-5, Isaiah 54:17, Psalm 23:1-7, Eph. 6:10-15, 2 Tim.4:18, Prov.18:10, Psalm 121:7-8, Nahum 1:7, Psalm 3:3-5, Isaiah 43:2 etc.)
However, there are men of faith and right standing with God, like Job, Paul (2 Cor.12:7, “…thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me”), Simon Peter (Luke 22:31-32, 31, “Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift each of you like wheat. But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith will not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.”) and others, that the enemy attempted to bring down. But the Lord, kept them under his watchful care and was with them all through their darkness, giving them sufficient grace, cover, prayer and protection. Satan could touch their body and perhaps their mind – but never, ever their being!
It such contexts, it is commonly suggested that the person under such spiritual (demonic) attack could either be “oppressed” or “possessed” by demons.
- Oppression is understood to be an external–influence by an evil spirit on a person. External, because the evil spirit is outside the person and not within. Influence, because the evil spirit, doesn’t have total control on the person, but only a degree of influence. The volition of the person is not compromised, here.
- Possession, is understood to be an internal-control by an evil spirit that has entered a person. The person who is possessed is subject to the free and random control of the evil spirit and his personal volition is redundant, for the most part. (NB: A true disciple of Jesus Christ, cannot be demon possessed. This is addressed at length as a separate question in this series)
Let’s get back to our current question, pertaining to Psychological ill-health and demon-possession. While the above are spiritual possibilities and we have scriptural precedents, to support them to a credible extent, we are to exercise caution and refrain the temptation to go overboard about these.
The locus classicus, Matthew 8:28-34 and Luke 8:27-33 (Jesus restoring the two demon-possessed men) supply most of us with the ‘theology of demon-possession and psychological ill-health’, and most of our ideations and extrapolations on psychological illness and its association with demon possession, come from our reading of this text! But we would do well to understand that other cases of demon-possession elsewhere in the Gospels, give us more to think. There is a mute man (Matthew 9:32-33), who was demon-possessed that was brought to Jesus and he drove the demon out and the man, spoke. Clearly, there is no documentation in this passage to show that he was psychologically ill, though he was demon possessed. There are more examples, to prove this point – a deaf and mute man (Mark 9:25), an epileptic (Luke 9:37-42), a blind and mute man (Matthew 12:22), none of them seemed psychologically ill, though they were demon-possessed.
At least, three findings emerge from our readings, pertaining to psychological ill-health;
- First, all demon-possessed people are not psychologically ill.
- Second, all psychologically ill, need not be demon-possessed.
- Third, some demon-possessed persons, may manifest with psychological illness.
Therefore the causal association between Psychological ill-health and Demon-possession is more nuanced than we often popularly assume. And given the context of Psychological illness, a potential misattribution here, could prove irreparably grievous.