Apparently the Demons Are Going Berserk
The charismatic Christian who works at our local hardware store is good guy with a strong faith, though he has, from my point of view, some unfortunate excesses. Nonetheless, he was right on target the other day when he commented, “The demons are going berserk.” And so they are.
C.S. Lewis in the preface to his book The Screwtape Letters, noted, “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.”
While I’ve never disbelieved in devils or demons, I’ve pretty much lived as though they have little influence, being quite satisfied with human foolishness, selfishness, wickedness, and sin to explain most of the ills of the world.
Not any more.
How Does the Devil Operate?
While I don’t want to join the ranks of those who see a demon behind every head cold and hang nail, there are goings-on in our world today that are so irrationally evil as to admit to no explanation but a supernatural one.
In 1974, Pope Paul VI spoke about “Confronting the Devil’s Power” at one of his weekly audiences. “What are the Church’s greatest needs at the present time?” he asked, “Don’t be surprised at Our answer and don’t write it off as simplistic or even superstitious: one of the Church’s greatest needs is to be defended against the evil we call the Devil.”
“Evil is not merely an absence of something,” he went on, “but an active force, a living, spiritual being that is perverted and that perverts others. It is a terrible reality, mysterious and frightening.”
How does the devil operate? Pope Paul explained, “He undermines man’s moral equilibrium with his sophistry. He is the malign, clever seducer who knows how to make his way into us through the senses, the imagination and the libido, through utopian logic, or through disordered social contacts in the give and take of our activities, so that he can bring about in us deviations that are all the more harmful because they seem to conform to our physical or mental makeup, or to our profound, instinctive aspirations.”
That is, the devil works by convincing us that evil is good, that what is unnatural is natural, that what is contrary to human nature is the height of humanism.
Seeing Demonic Activity
How do we know it’s the devil? Pope Paul provided a helpful though incomplete list. The devil is active:
- “Where the denial of God becomes radical, subtle and absurd.” What else could inspire clergy to gather outside a clinic that does late-term abortions to pray, “Keep [the staff] safe and keep them strong. And may they always know that all that they do is for Thy glory”? This only makes sense if the god invoked is Molech, the ancient Near Eastern god whose worship demanded tossing live children into blazing fire.
- “Where lies become powerful and hypocritical in the face of evident truth.” While lies and hypocrisy have always been central to politics (read Livy), our current political situation is beyond all bounds and may well be beyond redemption. Neither politicians nor journalists maintain credibility and the public knows it.
- “Where love is smothered by cold, cruel selfishness.” The vileness of the ongoing clergy sex crisis in the Catholic Church comes to mind as do the many in the Church hierarchy who are unable or unwilling to address the central issues — and to come clean themselves. And don’t call it a “clergy sexual abuse” crisis. Its demonic character goes beyond that.
- “Where Christ’s name is attacked with conscious, rebellious hatred.” In the media, Hollywood, universities, and politics. Whatever Brett Kavanaugh did or didn’t do when he was a teen, the real issue — the real hatred — is for his faith. It was the same for Amy Coney Barrett. Christians are attacked because Christ is the enemy.
- “Where the spirit of the Gospel is watered down and rejected.” It’s hard to imagine the Catholic clergy sex crisis happening in an environment where the Gospel is believed, preached, and lived out at full-strength. “He who is dishonest in a very little is dishonest also in much,” said Jesus (Luke 16:10). Sadly it’s true.
- “Where despair is affirmed as the last word.” According to the Center for Disease Control, suicide rate in the United States has risen 30% since 2000. Women’s suicide rate rose by 50%, but the greatest increase was for girls ages 10 to 14. Their rate tripled.
By Grace the World Can Change
It all smells of burning brimstone, but that is no excuse for defeat, despair, or “fighting fire with fire.”
Instead, Pope Paul commented, “We could say: everything that defends us from sin strengthens us by that very fact against the invisible enemy. Grace is the decisive defense. Innocence takes on the aspect of strength.”
“Innocence takes on the aspect of strength.” That’s a call to holiness and a tall order in 2018. But by grace it’s possible. And by grace and holiness the devil can be defeated and the world can change.
That begins by knowing our enemy.