Demon = Enemy

Continuing to pursue the study of the spiritual landscape of spiritual warfare, I’m in the process of defining terms. It sounds pretty easy on the surface, but it has rapidly become very complex. I believe Paul has left references in his letters to teachings he gave in person, not in writing (or at least not writing we have now). 

This is not specific to the spiritual arena, there are plenty of tantalizing tidbits on which he does not elaborate. These can be frustrating at first. Then, once the frustration subsides, I remember that we have what our Savior has preserved for us. We have what we need for a relationship with Him. The point of Scripture isn’t “spiritual warfare” but “walking with our Creator”.

With that context, the frustration goes away completely. I don’t need to know. I may want to know, but my Master does not consider it important enough to explain. Probably, because He knows it would easily become a distraction from what He does want me to know.

One of these terms that you would think would be easy is “demon”. Just for fun, look up “daemon” in a modern dictionary, and you will find a reference to a “computing” definition. It is a term referring to a background program, not under the control of an interactive user. So, if you go to your “Task Manager” in Windows, and select “All Processes”, everything below the line of “Background Processes” would probably fall into this category. Which means, that, as most of you have suspected all along, your computer is demon-possessed, and probably by “legion” (mine had 86 processes running in the background).

Okay, on to what Scripture says about these things. They’re bad. ALWAYS. That’s important because they aren’t always a reference to something evil in the surrounding cultures. In the Ancient Greek used in Scripture, in “secular” usage anyway, they are references to divinities or deities. That makes a lot of sense as Paul writes to the Corinthian church about food sacrificed to idols. It puts the discussion in a whole new light, or could.

When Paul is in Athens, involving himself in discussions in the market, he is brought before the Areopagus because “‘He seems to be a proclaimer of strange deities,’—because he was preaching Jesus and the resurrection.” (Acts 17:18b NASB). Guess what Greek word is translated as “deities”? Yup, “demon”. For the people of Athens, they were not necessarily evil, just generically divine. So, that’s the cultural context in which Paul moves people to belief in Jesus.

For Jews, any sort of belief in “demons” was relatively new, and probably developed due to greater interaction with Greeks. They struggled to come up with some sort of way to discuss monotheism with these philosophical polytheists. It wasn’t easy, and adopted some of their terms to describe distinctives. They did this by “redefining” Greek terms in light of their belief in Yahweh. It led to some interesting, often confusing, writing.

By the time Jesus walks upon His brief segment of human history, belief in demons among the Jews was wide-spread. They were blamed for just about everything bad. That caused the “Rabbis” all sorts of problems, because, when there’s only ONE God, even what seems bad comes from Him. Some sort of understanding of a “creation in rebellion” emerged, and satisfied both popular Jewish and Rabbinic Jewish understanding of demons. When Jesus appears, He confirms this understanding, even expanding and explaining it in more detail.

For disciples of Jesus, as we examine the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures, belief in demons essentially includes these few elements:

  1. Demons exist in a state of rebellion against their Creator and ours.
  2. Demons interact with the created order of this planet, environmentally and personally.
  3. Demons will never exercise complete control over creation.
  4. Demons will fail in their rebellion, and they know it.
  5. Demons seek to take as many people as they can with them in their failure.

They represent a “lost cause”, a hopeless collection of beings who seriously should have known better. On the other hand, they know our Savior in a way we have not yet experienced. It is interesting to me that these beings, fallen angels or whatever, started a hopeless rebellion in the first place. Their “arche”, Satan, was able to persuade them to join a hopeless cause that would lead, inexorably, to eternal punishment. 

That may sound crazy, but isn’t that precisely what is happening in this world? Doesn’t the bulk of humanity seem to be on the same path as these hopeless spiritual rebels? It does seem to extend the crazy perspective of “this present age” into the realm of those we cannot see, where a war we barely perceive is fought in the presence of our Creator. It doesn’t help make sense of this place and people. It just helps explain and “normalize” the weirdness around us. None of if makes much sense to me.

So, bottom-line: We, who walk with Jesus, win. Demons, who rebel against Jesus, lose. Demons are the enemy of our Savior and, therefore, us. This world seems full of hopeless losers. We must be in prayer for the liberation of our fellow people. That is spiritual warfare as we know it.


When Did That Happen?

I want to share something I stumbled on that some of you may already know, but I never considered before. For me, it’s one of those things around which I have spent a bunch of time, but never considered in its context. It has to do with the “Fall”. We usually think of it in terms of “Fall of Man”, but there is another element that begs the question, “What else fell when man did?”.

It’s related to the question of “Why curse the ground?” When Yahweh curses Adam for eating of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, the punishment includes “Cursed is the ground because of you,” (Gen. 3:17). Why do that? What did the “ground” do for which it needed to be punished? Why did Adam’s mistake result in the curse of “nature” or the “natural order”? Doesn’t it seem a bit like Yahweh slapped a bystander watching the spectacle from across “police tape” or something?

While it’s true that the ground was part of Adam’s calling (Gen. 2:15), the calling seems more closely tied to Eden specifically, from where Adam was cast out. Why, then, go on to curse the ground? And the curses in the garden did have to do specifically with their design, the serpent (loss of legs, enmity with people), the woman (help-mate and child-birth), and man (keeping the garden).

But that wasn’t the weird part. The weird part that I stumbled on was this: what happened in the spiritual realm when the garden was shut to humanity? Think about this, if Jesus stills a storm by rebuking it (Matt. 8:26, Mark 4:39, Luke 8:34) doesn’t that seem to personify something about the “natural order”? Was that part of the Fall? When did the natural order start to defy its Creator?

I have always thought of demons using (or abusing) the natural order for their own purposes, not actually having the responsibility over the natural order. That would be “animism” to consider the natural functions of nature to have a spiritual entity responsible for them. And yet, Jesus and His disciples do seem to encounter more than their fair share of storms on Galilee. And Jesus speaks to the storm like a person, demonstrates these storms have no power over Him, but rather the other way round. He walks on water, in a storm. He truly does what He wants with regard to “nature”.

Did this corruption of creation (see Rom. 8:18-20) occur at the Fall in the Garden? Was it there that the spiritual forces responsible for maintaining the natural order rebelled? It may seem like the natural order is…well, orderly. But does it seem in subjection to its Creator? It is, in a sense, as He created it (Gen. 8:20-22), and will continue to be. Yet, it still seems “broken” somehow. 

As I have studied Scripture to attempt to glimpse the “spiritual realm”, it has seemed to me that nature seems to be sometimes at odds with our Creator, but not always. As if the rebellion isn’t constant. Perhaps it’s too much to personify it like adolescents telling their parent, “Leave me alone, I got this!” And, for the most part, do. But then, also abuse the power, and throw tantrums when they don’t get their way.

On the other hand, I have also assumed, for most of my life, that God simply did what He wanted with nature, and it was always Him, blessing or punishing. Now, I’m not so sure. God promises the Sons of Israel good harvests and plenty of good weather if they obey Him. But, does it happen that way? Or, in spite of good behavior, did the late rains not come, or early rains come late, or whatever? What was it that made the competing religious views make some sense to the people for whom God parted the Red Sea, showed up in smoke and fire on Horeb, gave them victory over powerful nations, and planted them in the land? I don’t know.

What if the weather wasn’t, and isn’t, always what our Creator wants? He can obviously step in and correct it, but doesn’t always, or has very violent intent with it. But why rebuke something you caused in the first place? Isn’t that a correction? When did nature “rebel” against her Creator? When did that happen? Was it always that way, and the garden was this perfect “bubble” within the chaos outside? 

All I have are clues to such answers, not clarity or certainty. How does that work? Am I being “superstitious”? That’s what it feels like, I feel silly working through this. Yet, Scripture depicts this weird milieu of spiritual reality somehow superimposed over physical realities, natural and political. It’s weird. And I’m not sure how much of it is our Savior accommodating the human condition of the day, and how much is an accurate description of spiritual reality.

So, did Adam and Eve start a spiritual rebellion on earth? Was it already going? Or did the enemies of our Creator take over from the “good guys” when the serpent succeeded? When did that happen? I shiver, and not just because it’s a cold foggy day here. It makes me want to “go home”. I don’t know how much I like this place any more.

Struggling With The Sins of Others

I am absolutely not a fan of “pride month” being June. It’s the month I was born. Now, instead of being able to do fun things to celebrate me, I find my plans blocked by parades and celebrations I find extremely “uncomfortable”. Okay, I don’t actually plan to go anywhere for my birthday that this will be a problem (except for this year, and we’re going anyway). Honestly, it’s this month-long celebration of a behavior that is so clearly a violation of my religious beliefs. It’s as if that’s the point, to offend.

Scripture isn’t “obscure” on the topic of gender-identity. It isn’t one of those “grey areas”. Paul begins his letter to Rome with these very clear statements:

For this reason God gave them over to degrading passions; for their women exchanged the natural function for that which is unnatural, and in the same way also the men abandoned the natural function of the woman and burned in their desire toward one another, men with men committing indecent acts and receiving in their own persons the due penalty of their error.
(Romans 1:26-27 NASB)

Now, to be clear, this is a translation of an ancient version of Greek, no longer in use. So, English translators do their best to render the original meaning into English. It’s tough, though, to really get the descriptors Paul uses here to work well in English. Most of the translations I’ve looked at (here it’s the New American Standard) agree on the gist of Paul’s point. It’s wrong, people know it, and our Creator has stopped trying to stop them from harming themselves.

So, am I right in being bothered by a month of “pride” in what my Savior calls “degrading passions”? Well, maybe. Although, the chapter of Romans doesn’t end there. 

And just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God any longer, God gave them over to a depraved mind, to do those things which are not proper, being filled with all unrighteousness, wickedness, greed, evil; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, malice; they are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, arrogant, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, without understanding, untrustworthy, unloving, unmerciful; and although they know the ordinance of God, that those who practice such things are worthy of death, they not only do the same, but also give hearty approval to those who practice them.
(Romans 1:28-32 NASB)

You see, the list isn’t restricted to LGBTQEtc-type sins. There’s actually a long list of behaviors that “miss the mark” of righteousness with our Creator. The key is how this paragraph begins, “And just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God any longer,…”. It is this statement that forms the basis on our Creator’s “handing over” of these people. It’s not that they are LGBTQ-whatever. Look at the rest of the paragraph’s behavior list. How many of those are mine? Way too many, honestly.

I’m not going to go through the list with a “done that” “not done that” marker. You get the point, and you could do that yourself. The point is that Paul is making it clear the problem is actually wide-spread. The Jewish readers would have been horrified and appalled at the sexual sins listed, but then they would find themselves on the list at the end. The point isn’t whether you find yourself on the list, the point is “acknowledging God”.

Look at how Paul leads into this discussion:

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse.
(Romans 1:18-20 NASB)

Our Creator is known. He has revealed Himself through what He has created. So, people, also His creations, are without excuse regarding acknowledging their Creator. But it goes on:

For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures.
Therefore God gave them over in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, so that their bodies would be dishonored among them. For they exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen.
(Romans 1:21-25 NASB)

Did you notice the pointed accusation in verse 25, “…and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator…”? Do you catch the point? I know that I struggle with that. When I think of what people think of me more than what my Creator thinks of me, I fail precisely at this point. Then I gossip, I slander, am arrogant, boastful, insolent; am basically selfish, self-centered, and fear the creatures rather than the Creator.

So, yes, a month dedicated to celebrating any one of these failures of humanity is frustrating and confusing. But what should I expect from such a world as Paul describes? Isn’t every day some sort of celebration of these things? Don’t our entertainment choices celebrate the list of sins?

I still don’t like it, I feel uncomfortable with the topic, and I don’t want the topic of “gender identity” pushed in my face. And yet, I am right there with them with my own vices on this list. The sad reality is that I am not going to be pleased with the reading of the “books” in Revelation listing everything we’ve ever done, both good and bad. I’m going to have a lot more bad than good, that’s just the truth about me.

On the other hand, I believe my name is written in the Lamb’s Book of Life. At the end of the process, it’s not what’s written in the books, but rather my name being in the Book of Life that matters. What’s in the books may be embarrassing, but that will be overwhelmed by the joy of my name being in the Lamb’s book of life. 

My Creator is my Savior, and not because of something I’ve done. He is my Savior because of what He has done. He loves me. My actions on that list have not voided His love for me. So, I can only assume that this is true of anyone who’s behavior is on that list. The key is whether we acknowledge our Creator. 

So, at the end of my line of thinking, I’m still uncomfortable and frustrated. I am also more mindful of the wide arms of my Savior. If He accepts me, He will accept anyone who acknowledges Him, anyone who believes that He exists and is a rewarder of those who seek Him. Will the behavior change? Mine has. On the other hand, some hasn’t. But how I view my behavior has completely changed. I accept my Savior’s view of my behavior, His definition of good and evil, His desire for my actions toward others. Perhaps that’s the litmus test of acknowledging our Creator as our Savior.

What do you think? Or is that a dangerous question?

Revenge By Good Behavior?

Teaching young people, high school-age or middle schoolers, is more like leading wading through a dense jungle together with them, than actually teaching, in a traditional sense. Yesterday, I was asked, “If doing good to people ‘heaps coals on people’s heads’, are we doing good to people to get them angry? Isn’t that manipulative?” I don’t think that question would even occur to most adults. On the other hand, I don’t think most adults ask about what they don’t understand, at least not about the Bible anyway.

Romans 12:20 NASB

Well, I figured the best approach to any sort of answer was to examine the context. Here’s the verse where the phrase is found. It’s a quote from Proverbs 25:21-22. The reference to “burning coals on his head” is probably cultural, and doesn’t mean what it sounds like. I couldn’t find an explanation though, and it seems the imagery remains a mystery.

Paul doesn’t just quote this proverb without some sort of helpful context. Look where it occurs in his discussion in Romans 12 (where application begins):

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. Be of the same mind toward one another; do not be haughty in mind, but associate with the lowly. Do not be wise in your own estimation. Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men. If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, “VENGEANCE IS MINE, I WILL REPAY,” says the Lord. “BUT IF YOUR ENEMY IS HUNGRY, FEED HIM, AND IF HE IS THIRSTY, GIVE HIM A DRINK; FOR IN SO DOING YOU WILL HEAP BURNING COALS ON HIS HEAD.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
Romans 12:14-21 NASB

The quote is bracketed by “Vengeance is mine, I will repay” from Deuteronomy 32:35 reserving vengeance to Yahweh, and the summary statement, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” That last statement probably provides the best understanding of “heaping coals”. It is probably not meant as a punishment as such, but more like an incentive to repentance. Although, vengeance of Yahweh could feel like hot coals on the head. Even so, the vengeance would, hopefully, lead the person to repent.

These verses leave disciples of Jesus with the clear call to treat those inside and outside the church well, even (or especially) when persecuted. We are to associate with the lowly, to be at peace with everyone, and leave revenge to our Savior. Bless others, join them in their pain and joy. Don’t make it about you. And “be of the same mind”. When does that happen? We are all about factions, differences, politics, race, sexual orientation, whatever. 

What would the world think of a group of people who lived out these principles? Wouldn’t it be interesting to find out? I’m struggling with the part about not making it about me. I always seem to catch myself after I snack on my foot. But what if I really tried, worked at trapping that thought before I spoke? What if I did good, fed my enemies, treated them with kindness? What if I wept with those in mourning? What if I rejoiced with those rejoicing without wondering when good stuff will happen to me? What if I was like minded instead of contending for the wrong priorities?

What about you? Can this be you? Can you be like this? Will you? Perhaps we can help each other work at it together? What a thought.