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I'm Supposed to Believe in the Devil?

If there’s one man in the gospels I think I understand, he’s the one who tried to get into the boat with Jesus.

This is that Bible story that makes the hairs on your arm stand up, at first anyway. The man shared his skin with demons. He lived his nightmare among the tombs. He screamed all night, every night. He cut himself with stones. Then one day he spoke those chilling words to Jesus with a voice not his own: “My name is Legion, for we are many.” I dare you to think of these words tonight as you climb the base­ment stairs.

 

These evil spirits, of all crea­tures, knew the “Son of the Most High” when he stood before them. They knew that who-do-you-think-­you-are look on God’s face, that exquisite anger when someone so evil has touched one dear to him. They knew when they weren’t wanted, and they just went away. Why? Jesus told them to.

Imagine you’re that man. No more chains that can’t keep out the horror, or no more nights spent alone with evil. No more torturous fear that no one can touch. It’s over. Because of Jesus. It’s enough to make you wade out in the water and throw a knee up over the side of an old wooden fishing boat, spending not a sin­gle thought on where the boat is going. Anywhere with him is fine with you. You’ve never been more sane than at this point, right now, locking eyes with Jesus, begging, “Take me with you.”

Jesus’ answer is not no; it is “not yet.” “Go home to your family and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.”

You see, we are talking about the devil, but that doesn’t mean it’s going to be about fear. It’s about grati­tude, the kind that puts a lump in your throat and a shine in your eyes. There’s a thank you God’s lips have formed in your heart, one you’ll never get over as long as you’re in your right mind. Only remember the differ­ence between the One who has you now and the one who had you before.

Please read Mark 5:1-20.

Do you feel a chill as you imagine a séance? Does your skin crawl as you think about the pointer on that Ouija board that moved by itself? And if so, why does it crawl? Think about it. Just as humor isn’t humorous if there’s no grain of truth to it, what if it’s the same way with horror? Consider movies like The Exorcist and novels by Stephen King. What is the bit of truth behind the terror?

I once sat through a long night with a young woman who was literally paralyzed with fear of the “man” that came to her every night, whispering, “Stay away from those Chris­tians. You’re mine.” Unable to speak, trembling, barely able to move for the fright, she would jump and shriek as if she was being prodded and poked. I’ve heard similar accounts from people I know well . . . how it took four men to hold down a frightened, frightening child as he struggled for sev­eral hours. This from level-headed people who know what psychosis is, and what it isn’t. Believe me, even in my Chris­tian circles, we are not at all prone to see demons within every tortured mind. But sometimes you can’t deny them. Psychologist and author Gary Collins commented, “Whereas twenty-five years ago the suggestion of demonic activity would have been immediately dismissed, many psy­chologists are beginning to recognize that maybe there are more things in heaven and earth than our philosophies can account for.”

Normally, it seems Satan is content to be dismissed as an ancient superstition. He may be better served by disbelief than by outright worship of himself. It’s rather elementary that if the devil were shown to be real, Jesus would be also. By howling at me in my bed Satan could accomplish noth­ing other than chasing me closer to Christ. Yet even when he refrains from unmasking himself in overt supernatural displays, it’s clear he’s been busy. Some things can only be called evil.

Horrid fascination with the occult steadily grows. I’ve seen videotape of a rock star hollering, “Who wants to go to hell?” and ten thousand teenagers chanting, “We do.” Some of those teens will kill themselves, not because they’re des­perate or scared but because they aren’t scared enough. For God’s sake, they’re curious!

There are people who would kill God (again) if they could. What they can do is kill Christians, more in this cen­tury than in all those that have come before, more because of the faith they hold than the beliefs of any others. (You didn’t know that, did you?) There are people who take pleasure in the pain they are able to cause others. The com­mandment of Satanism, “Do what you will is the whole of the law,” has won cultural acceptability as a valid personal philosophy. The end-times prophecy “People will be lovers of themselves” rings true as more and more people cele­brate pride and self-preoccupation as virtues. And Christ is still the name most often taken in vain. People have learned these things from one who usually wishes to remain anony­mous but whose footprints are unmistakable.

You may have a big problem with the notion of a devil. But once you realize that all the beautiful things in this world are personal—that there is a good and beautiful Someone smiling behind every good thing—it’s no stretch to realize the same is true about evil. Evil is personal too. There’s a dreadful someone behind it all, a twisted mind, an evil intention. Beneath the sounds of human wreckage— another family torn to weeping pieces, another woman undone by her own desires, another little boy destroyed by another sick man—you can almost hear the sound of some­one laughing.

But let’s be very clear about who the devil is, very clear about how the Scriptures consistently portray him. Don’t think of the devil as the opposite of God. He’s bad enough to be that, but he’s not big enough. The devil is powerful but he’s not a god; he is not even close. He’s merely another creature. By the way, hell is his prison cell, not his home.

God made angels to watch over us that are so beautiful that people who saw them were tempted to worship them. Satan and his demons were originally holy angels as well. All angels were given the same freedom offered to Adam and Eve. God’s desire was that in his creation would be found such a thing as love, for love is the highest possible good in the universe. But to offer that highest good—the freedom to love God and one another—required the pos­sibility that they would choose not to exercise it. They were not to be only puppets, and their praise was not to be merely automatic noise. This choice was not a mean­ingless exercise with nothing at stake, not an experiment to be started over anytime it went wrong. The game would have to be played out no matter what. They would have to live and die with their decisions, just as God would. Espe­cially God.

Satan and his kind are the angels that made that unsmil­ing, insanely proud choice against the Lord of heaven. That God allowed that event and all its consequences is the awful, necessary part of his beautiful plan, one that includes things not otherwise possible. Consider that deeper revela­tion of God crying on a cross, that deeper joy on the other side of the grave, and that deeper glory of the saints in heaven, singing the song of the redeemed in the presence of the Lamb and then bending their faces toward transpar­ent gold.

Ever since he fell, Satan has been about taking you with him instead, possessing you, although not necessarily in the overtly terrifying way we see in the gospel accounts. He wants to keep you in the spiritual dark he authored.

“The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbeliev­ers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.”

The devil will do anything, say anything, to obscure the lovely face of Christ, to keep us blind to our soul’s only treasure, and to savor the ancient human shame. In this he is tireless. He knows no mercy, and he will not stop. From all around, day in and day out, come messages meant to deceive you about God—he isn’t what you need, he can’t be known, he won’t forgive, he isn’t to be trusted, he isn’t good, he isn’t even real. This is satanic language from “the father of lies.” And the really chilling thing is that the brainwashed don’t know they are brainwashed.

Saint Augustine, a Christian bishop from the early fifth century, for a time felt the devil’s claim on his own soul. Although as a young man he had given himself over to sex­ual immorality many times over, that wasn’t what brought him the fiercest terrors of conscience. Instead, it was the fact that he had once stolen some apples. While his sexual sins could be explained by his physical desire for pleasure, there was something else in his theft of apples. The bald fact was that he didn’t really want them. What he wanted was the sheer malevolence of taking them and destroying them. Augustine saw in himself a satanic love of being bad, an unholy pleasure in despising God and rebelling against the good. It scared him to death. What about you? Is it really so unreasonable to pray the words Jesus left behind for you, “Deliver us from evil”?

Your cry has been heard. Your prayer was answered long before you had the heart to pray it. “Now the prince of this world will be driven out. But I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself.” Jesus proclaimed this shortly before he died. Even as he hung on the cross, as Satan’s defeat was being written in holy blood, the “drawing” had begun. As if a spell was being broken as the holy wind blew around that hill, a dying thief begged, “Jesus, remember me.” A murderous centurion said, “Surely this man was the Son of God.” Like a broken spell. As the cry “It is finished” still rings through every world there is, a noose still tightens around Satan’s neck.

There’s an Old Testament prophecy about the Lord that reads, “He will pursue his foes into darkness.” Though these words were written against the vicious nation of Assyria, I can’t help but relate them also to that day when the risen Lord Jesus descended into hell to declare his victory over our merciless enemy, the devil. Similar are the chilling words God spoke to Nineveh, as captured by the original Hebrew. It literally reads, “See me . . . against you.

And it’s my enemy, Satan, I think of as the prophecy goes on: “Everyone who hears the news about you claps his hands at your fall, for who has not felt your endless cruelty?” And I clap my hands as well.

So when a petrified girl heard the father of lies say “You’re mine,” I only had to read to her the Word of God.

“Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine.” It was nothing less than the voice of her mighty Savior-God.

“Don’t cry. It’s over now. I’ve got you. Don’t be afraid.”


These are Satan’s things—lust and lies, pride and pain, hatred and hell.

These are God’s—the Word and the water, the bread and the wine, the promise of forgiveness in Jesus . . . and all those who believe.

He says to all who run to him for refuge, “I am for you.”


From More Prepared To Answer © 2004 Northwestern Publishing House. All rights reserved.

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