Something and nothing

Hence, as to the eating of food offered to idols, we know that “no idol in the world really exists” and that “there is no God but one.” Indeed, even though there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth—as in fact there are many gods and many lords—yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist (1 Cor. 8:4,5).

What exists? Does Satan exist? Demons? Principalities and powers? Maybe / maybe not. Let me assume for a moment that the devil is not a ‘personal’ entity. I can certainly understand the arguments for that position, yet regardless of the position taken the conflict is real; if demons do not exist as personal entities our commission is still to cast them out! I have had personal visitations from powers that have manifested in personal form and I remember one from my first visit to a particular nation. Manifesting in personal form I still remember the eyes, the stance with NO nervousness nor intimidation she informed me of where she was situated and what she controlled and nothing was going to change! The experience was real, the after-effects were real enough, certainly when I was literally evicted from the country, escorted by four armed guards back on to the airplane; I was, and remain, convinced of the reality of the conflict. But did ‘she’ exist as a personal entity? And if so from back in time as one of the devil’s fallen angels?

There are so many experiences, but theologising from experience is never wise… nor is developing a theology without reference to experience.

In writing about what I believe it becomes evident that there are many, many gaps as I do not have things tied up. It does seem certain to me that there are beliefs that ‘create’ powers. This creative power is very evident in the more extreme form of conspiracy theories that abound. In believing something I give power to the thing I believe exists, even if it does not exist. Paul seems to be wrestling with this aspect. There are no gods beside the one God… but there are gods and lords.

Earlier in 1 Corinthians Paul has said that,

God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to abolish things that are (1 Cor. 1:28).

‘To abolish’ (καταργέω) carries a wide range of meaning from literally to obliterate / annihilate through to render inoperative. That leaves us some possible options. And my non-dogmatic response is that there are spiritual entities (or at least the presence of spiritual presences that manifest as entities) that we ‘create’ through our beliefs, and beyond that there probably are ‘fallen spiritual beings’ that exist and get attached to what we create, behind which seems to be ‘the Satan’. [The story of the demons going in to the pigs seem to suggest that they were at some level ‘beings’ independent of the Gadarene gentleman.] So perhaps the wide range of meaning seems appropriate. Abolish what we create, thus giving no / less space for spiritual powers (demons) to operate thus rendering them inoperative.

Beliefs get us so far… our stance (‘stand’ being such a strong word in Ephesians 6) and our prayers are there to bring solutions that our beliefs might never be able to do.

Freedom from the big bad devil

Someone who impacted me a lot was the late John Barr (d. Jan, 2001). He was a great public figure but what impressed me much more was the time he had for people at a private level, marked by who showed up at his funeral. In this post I unapologetically draw from his perception of ministering healing and freedom to people. He said:

  • There are wounds to be healed
  • There are bondages to be broken
  • There are demons to be cast out
  • There are sins to be forgiven.

Any breakdown such as above can be counteracted when another lens is used, but I have found those distinctions to be helpful. The last three posts have been on the big bad devil so maybe start with ‘demons to be cast out’. What is a demon? Multiple choice answers to the question:

  • Evil spirits, originally fallen angels, servants of the big bad devil. (Probably only fully formulated in the Second Century by the Christian theologican, Tatian.)
  • The ‘spirits’ of the offspring between humans and angels (the ‘strange’ text of Genesis 6 and also of Enoch (not written by the aforementioned!)).
  • Not ontological, yet present as personal realities… ‘created’ through the circumstances, choices or events. (The work of Water Wink in the bigger picture on principalities and powers, where he posits spiritual powers being the interiority of a corporation.)
  • All of the above / none of the above / some of the above / not got a clue.

(The last option was the opt out option – always good to have one of those! The varied possible answers I increasingly favour as it seems Scripture does not give a simple answer to many of the questions we ask… and I do see Jesus as teaching but not tying a whole bunch of stuff up. There are probably answers in the book, but maybe the answer to our question might not be what we need.)

I am very happy to cast out demons, and very happy for someone sharper than I to say ‘that is not what really happened’. Well possible… though if a freedom comes and there is some parallel with what Jesus did then I am happy to be wrong. Could the person have found freedom through some sort of counselling / inner work? Probably. But probably not in every situation.

The huge danger of ‘demon casting out of’ is that every situation is a demon, and of course demons can be seen through the eyes of one’s theology – and the damage caused with certain ‘conversion therapy’ practices is anything but aligned to the practice of Jesus.

(And on the multiple choice question I actually, when push comes to shove, land on option #3, in spite of many experiences of ‘demons’ manifesting. I land there tentatively as the interaction of the spiritual realm and the material realm is somewhat complex. I even had in one situation certain occult priests manifest materially inside a locked building – they really should not have been there with the poison they were carrying to put in our food… that was naughty!)

Those undefined ‘demons’ always look for a landing place. Persistent behaviour, hence the instruction to ‘not give the devil a foothold’. Behaviour such as unforgiveness, anger, addictions. As per Jesus’ instruction the need to sort out the door of ‘entry’ is a necessary part of coming to freedom.

A whole complex area, with the verb used maybe indicating a spectrum of coming under the influence of demonic powers. Hence in some situations ‘deliverance’ maybe can come through something other than some form of exorcism, in other situations the freedom accelerated through the deliverance, and probably other situations where freedom will only come through the demon being cast out.

‘My method / teaching is correct’ does not normally cut it. Paul did not say ‘the greatest of these is [my] truth’. Back to how we relate to people… love.

In this vague post let me also touch on ‘sins to be forgiven’. Two thoughts that I am pretty close to thinking is definitely the truth(?)!! Sin is better defined along the lines of failing to act as a human, in other words failing to image God, falling short of the glory of God. Yes involves guilt and also shame, but not the fear of being dangled over hell fire. The judgements of God are over humanity and our corporate falling short – hence ‘all have sinned’ cannot be reduced to you + me + this person + that person… it is we all, as a whole, whether Jew or Gentile have sinned. I am not minimising personal ‘sin’ but I am solidy putting corporate sin on the page – sady witnessed to for all to see / increasingly experience with the crisis our planet and life-styes have produced.

There is though also the personal aspect of sin, and in the context of this post they are to be forgiven. Second thought, we need to see forgiveness as freedom, the same forgiveness word being used of untying a ship to go on her voyage. It is more than a release from guilt (or shame if that is the dominant culture), but the word of forgiveness is to untie and say go – maybe like the woman caught in adultery, the non-condemnatory response of Jesus was freedom for her, but there was also a ‘go’ word in the forgiveness.

Kick out demons, proclaim forgiveness on the foundation of repentance. Yes, but how? My way, your way, the highway, whatever way. The way seems secondary, the means is love and the result is freedom. Oh, and the best of us (even me) are finding freedom bit by bit, it is a process, and in the process we might categorise what needs addressing differently, but I am grateful to Mr. Barr whose four phrases have helped me on my journey.